For 10 years, I was a
. Then I got pregnant. Suddenly my true carnivorous nature took over, and I never looked back. But I still have a place in my heart for plant-based vittles. If you feel the same way, pay a visit to Grassroots Natural Market & Kitchen in South Pasadena.
Grassroots is not strictly vegetarian. They serve hormone-free chicken, turkey, pork and eggs. But what makes this place so special is the alarming variety of non-animal proteins that grace their buffet. Things like turmeric-laced scrambled tofu, spicy ground soy, gouda-like smoked tofu, beans of all varieties, and vegan beef share the counter with quinoa salad, beets with walnuts and lentils with feta. All natural, all nourishing and all unexpectedly flavorful.
When I say Natural Market & Kitchen, you’re bound to imagine some Formica tables surrounded by shelves stocked with jars of protein powder. And you’d be right. But this market is cheerier than most and doesn’t smell like vitamins. The dining area is roomy, and there’s a sunny outdoor patio. The line to order stretches through the store like a gluten-free linguine noodle but moves quickly thanks to the numerous smiling, efficient food preparers.
There’s always a hot special of the day, like enchiladas or curry ($11.95), but most people come for the burritos, wraps, salads and bowls ($7.95-$9.95). In a nutshell (organic of course), the same combinations of ingredients are served in a bowl or in a whole-wheat tortilla. For instance, there’s a Cuban bowl and a Cuban burrito, both with black beans and plantains. There’s a Mid-East bowl and a Mid-East wrap, both with hummus and tabouli. And pretty much all the burritos, wraps, bowls and salads contain a smorgasbord of veggies: cucumbers, tomatoes, big chunks of avocado, onions, lettuce and more.
I think the bowl situation is far better than the wrap because the strong flavor of the whole-wheat tortilla overwhelms the delicious insides. Besides, who needs it when the bowls and salads are more than filling? Not only do you get beautiful vegetables and proteins, you typically get to add sour cream and cheese, either the dairy or soy variety.
My favorite menu item? I’d have to say the Cuban bowl ($7.95). The warm, sweet plantains blend nicely with the spicy pico de gallo and black beans. If you go on a day they’re offering Spanish brown rice instead of the regular, go for it. The tomato sauce has a nice kick. But those with a more sensitive palate can get simpler items like freshly made soup of the day where the inherent goodness of a lowly vegetable shines through.
So shake off the belief that health food is bland. Sure, some of the food at Grassroots could use a shot of hot sauce, but it’s nice to know there’s a place where people of all dietary needs can get their nutrition exactly as they like it.
Grassroots is also famous for its legendary apple-walnut muffins. They’re giant and chock full of apple chunks. They sell out quickly, so get there early in the day. They also serve some great-looking breakfasts until 4 p.m. on weekdays with an expanded menu on Saturdays until 1 p.m.
LISA DUPUY has been writing about food, travel and entertainment for 25 years. She welcomes comments at LDupuy@aol.com.
What: Grassroots Natural Market & Kitchen
Where: 1119 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena
When: Monday to Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Closed Sunday
Prices: Bowls, wraps, burritos and salads $7.95-$9.95
Contact: (626) 799-0156 and