I have always been kind of uncomfortable with the while concept of obligatory gratitude. All the treacly demands that I practice daily gratitude, that it’s some kind of moral obligation, always seems insincere to me, and more than a little manipulative. You know, gratitude, great. And floss your teeth. And vote. And make sure to drink eight glasses of water a day. And so on.
But through sheer excellence of execution, Café Gratitude makes it work. They actually deliver what they promise. They really do seem to celebrate cooking, eating, sharing, the inherent healthiness and humanity of properly-made food that managed to be, as my mother used to put it, good and good for you. It really works, this place does, and you leave feeling a little healthier, a little smarter and a little more careful. That’s not a bad deal.
Gratitude is in the middle of downtown Santa Cruz, which means you’re going to need to use one of the many parking garages/lots in the area. They all accept either cash or plastic, and three hours in one of them will cost about three dollars.
Address: 103 Lincoln Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 427-9583
10:00 – 22:00, seven days a week.
Hippie Central. Lots of dreadlocks, inspirational posters, long skirts and other back-to-nature-y stuff. The staff is particularly interesting – these are people who take organic food seriously, and aren’t kidding. The room itself has a very high ceiling, lots of light, and hangings, brightly colored posters and so on.
The Service: Great. Again, these are people who really know their food, and care about it. They’re on top of things, but never in your face, and kind of professionals at being laid-back, mellow and friendly. I liked ‘em.
Pretty expensive. $90 for two, including drinks and dessert. The portions are adequate, but not enormous.
It’s wonderful – creative, vegan, often raw, and really nicely flavored.
For starters, we each had juices. This isn’t apple juice or something poured from a can, but juices pressed on the spot, made from a really interesting array of ingredients. I, for example, had an “I am Healthy” – juice of kale, celery, cucumber and lemon juice. It was great – the lemon juice took some of the veggie edge from it, made it taste citrus-y and refreshing, along with being healthy. It was terrific.
A note on the names – every single dish in this place is called “I am WHATEVER” – great/transparent/fortified/healthy/rejuvenated/cool. You have to get past the hokiness of this, and resist making jokes like “I’ll have the “I am fat” or the “I am hung over” and once you get into the spirit of things, it’s kind of fun.
As an appetizer, we split an “I am Honoring” – this was … ready? …sprouted sunflower seed pâté with Mexican guacamole, cashew nacho cheese, spicy tomato salsa & live carrot-flax crackers. Basically, this is various kinds of organic pate-like stuff, served with crackers and/or pita, surrounding a salad. It sounds weird – I have no idea what sprouted sunflower seed pate is, but man, was it good. Fresh, fresh, fresh, and with none of the heavy, greasy texture of regular pate that makes you think you’re going to leave with gout.
In addition, I also started with one of their specials, corn chowder. This was vegetable-based rather than the usual milk and butter-based soup, so it was rich and spicy without being heavy. Really good.
Entrees? Beth had “I am Transformed” — Corn tortilla tacos filled with black beans, local brown rice, guacamole, salsa fresca, and spicy cashew nacho cheese. I had “I am Warm-Hearted” — pan-seared polenta topped with spinach and mushroom ragu, cashew ricotta and almond-sunflower parmesan. It was all really good, but also completely indescribable.
I mean, seriously what on earth is cashew ricotta? I looked it up. You soak cashew nuts in water, then put them in a blender with yeast, garlic and lemon juice. Basically, in other words, it’s pulverized cashews, which have the consistency, eventually, of ricotta cheese. It’s not cheese, of course, or anything like it, but it’s used in these recipes. Virtually every ingredient Café Gratitude uses is so exotic, or so unique, that I have no idea what to say about it.
What I can say is that the food here is really good, and the entire place has a kind of sincerity that’s hard to believe until you go there, you see what they’re up to, and you then believe it. And are, of course, grateful.