Health food cafes become easier to find

Posted May 3, 2015


With the enormity of the fast food industry and ever-growing obesity rates in America, health food cafes have begun to stage a counter-revolution. Business trends indicate they are popping up everywhere, making it easier than ever to eat healthy.

In the Coral Gables/South Miami area, they have become especially prevalent. After all, having a year-round bikini body doesn’t come from eating McDonald’s every day, does it?

However, the popularity of healthy eating and specifically health food-oriented cafes doesn’t appear to have a longstanding history in South Florida. Just as recently as 2010 the Miami New Times reported vegan restaurants as “rare,” and claimed they catered mainly to the “granola-munching, Birkenstock-wearing demographic.” The article struggled to name five restaurants with this “style.

The next logical question, then, lies in the how. How have these cafes begun to build an empire? It seems, as it is subtly evident in the following establishments, they are banking on looks: the look of the food, the look of the menu, and the look of the establishment itself. They match these looks with interests of growing populations of hipsters, providing an environment that is appetizing and aesthetically appealing—a place where you feel “hip.”

For this reason, these restaurants could be easily mistaken for a quick fad, sneaking their way into acceptance through the pseudonym of health food only to progressively move toward strictly veganism. However, veganism may soon be considered the ultimate form of health food thanks to new supporting information.

“Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” is one example of this information. Directed by Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, the documentary goes one step further in explaining the detrimental effects of animal agriculture on our entire planet, pointing to veganism as not only the only health option, but as the only option for a healthy, sustainable society.

In addition, Internet personalities of veganism have been thriving. “The Banana Girl” appeals to younger generations of women looking to lose weight.

Essentially, the expectations of the growing health food establishments consist of: varieties of raw fruits and vegetables presented in different ways, a lot of whole-wheat ingredients, and anything that can be claimed as “unprocessed.”

A new restaurant, Temple, goes all the way to declare itself vegan. GreenLife Miami Organic Bistro is sticking to the more preliminary stages, claiming simplicity of organic, unprocessed foods with vegan options. Meanwhile, Green Gables Café offers extremely vegan options and extremely non-vegan options, while keeping it all under the health food umbrella.

For those who like to stroll around the Sunset and Red Road area where South Miami and Coral Gables come together, Temple has smoothies fit to replace your regular Starbucks coffee in-hand while shopping.

And that’s not all they have for the snacking type. What sets Temple apart from the other cafes are the little vegan protein bars, and the little “shot” bottles, or as they refer to them, “Elemental Elixirs.” These elixir “flavors” include ginger, wheat grass, aloe, and more. They’re great if you’re looking for a specific health need, or simply if you’re someone who appreciates the “fun-sized” things in life.

I wish I could express the same appreciation for the food; however, as much as I wanted to like it due to the unique ambience of Temple, it was too over-the-top. In other words, when they say vegan they mean it. Their salads aren’t for the casual healthy eater. In fact, the pungency of the flavors was so notable that it prevented me from wanting to return.

Their attempts to be “savory” are simply overdone. For example, the “Heart & Soul” salad has everything from beets to fennel, and oranges to edamame. Just because these taste good on their own doesn’t mean you should throw them all in a salad and expect it to be a masterpiece, Temple.

But enough about the flavor failure of the salads. I would hesitate to try any of the “Pots,” for fear they may blow up my taste buds (in a strictly negative way).

The smoothies are average at best, but undoubtedly more pleasant to get down than the other menu items. “Kale to the Chief” even goes as far as to capture the essence of the word, “yummy.” On that note, “Recover Story,” puts a much-needed twist on a classic smoothie, adding mango and pineapple into the mix of banana and vanilla protein.

So, it turns out the drink options offer a bit of redemption for Temple. This also includes the “Wonderful Waters” options, which appear to be a rip-off, but surprisingly taste as refreshing as they sound.

As I mentioned earlier, the ambiance of Temple is incomparable. It’s as if you took the everyday outfit of a hippie/vegan/philosophy major and turned it into restaurant decor. I would even go as far as to say I felt more “in the element” sitting in this cafe than the recently opened Mellow Mushroom.

Unfortunately, the owner seemed less confident than I was when I complimented his establishment.

“Really…?” he said, with a subtly surprised expression.

Thankfully, the attitudes of the cashiers were in stark contrast — highly confident and knowledgeable about their food. That didn’t end up being entirely necessary, for the menu includes little symbols to show which item has which health benefit.

If you aren’t at the extremist end of the healthy eating spectrum, but still like to see your body function at a fairly optimal level, perhaps the new GreenLife Miami Organic Bistro is a better option.

This cafe has opened up in a familiar spot for hipsters, next to the beloved Pasión del Cielo coffee shop in the heart of Coral Gables. The location could prove advantageous for the recently opened establishment, or it could backfire.

On one hand, it’s convenient for all of the office people looking for a new spot to relax for a half-hour at lunchtime and it’s in a spot where it cannot remain undiscovered. On the other hand, the question is whether or not these office dwellers will want to trade in their daily latte with custom chosen coffee beans for a cup of understated, yet equally as tasty Jaguar coffee.

If anyone is looking to eliminate their coffee habit altogether, though, look no further. The drink options at this place blow Temple’s little “Elemental Elixirs” out of the water. Although there may not be as much variety, think quality over quantity. The freshly bottled juices are nothing if not ethereal. Moreover, they taste as though they were just made before you walked in the door. They have it all, even the superficial, yet clever names.

“Yes, I’d like a FCK Cancer 1, please.”

If you’re feeling a little uncertain about saying the above juice name out loud, not to worry. You have the option to satisfy your Kombucha addiction instead! It’s difficult enough to find good Kombucha even in grocery stores. Thankfully, GreenLife carries the same brand as Fresh Market and multiple flavors of it.

As far as food is concerned, there is definitely a little room for improvement. At this point in time, I would recommend the food to someone who is more concerned with eating healthy and less concerned with thoroughly enjoying his or her food. This is, admittedly, an extremely small percentage of people. However, at least I would recommend it in the first place as opposed to Temple.

Where Temple errs on the side of making their food TOO flavorful, GreenLife errs on the opposite side, making everything a few steps under the level of greatness. The food is simply, “okay.” I would eat the tuna salad or a breakfast wrap again only if it’s convenient for me to do so. Essentially, GreenLife is one of those places whose Instagram pictures set the bar too high; the food is much more disappointing in person.

Although the element of simplicity doesn’t exactly work for the food, it does work for the ambiance. Unlike Temple, it’s not as blatantly hipster or Asian-infused. Instead, its appearance resembles what I would imagine Chipotle would look like if the space was cut in half and they eliminated the assembly line. In essence, there wouldn’t be a problem if you decided to hang out in GreenLife and write a paper. But then again, Pasión del Cielo is right next-door…and they have couches.

I’ve been critical of these cafes, which is a little unfair considering they are just starting up. They are both in the first year of existence, and both have exciting and unique things to offer the health-conscious community.

Fortunately, there is a mecca in our midst for Temple and GreenLife to learn from. Green Gables Café has been doing it right for over five years now, and should continue to be considered the go-to health food spot.

Unlike Temple and GreenLife, Green Gables is not in a prime location. It’s not next to any shops you would casually walk by on a regular basis. Instead, it sits wedged between large office buildings. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth looking for.

The food options for vegans, vegetarians, and simple fast-food haters are more than plentiful. The variety is evident within the “Burgers” section of the menu alone; including a black bean veggie burger, a vegan burger, a turkey burger, and a burger salad. As far as the vegetarian and vegan choices are concerned, they are so delicious that even meat-eaters can’t resist a bite.

If you have yet to give up omnivore tendencies, include a pulled turkey breast sandwich or a light Albacore tuna salad sandwich in your next order. Don’t be concerned with the lack of name creativity, either. The actual taste of the food makes up for it. While the salads are no “Heart & Soul,” they do have the flavor power to speak to your soul implicitly (especially the citrus cilantro).

Arguably the best thing about Green Gables Café is the guilt-free dessert irresistibly sitting at the bottom of the menu. The whole-wheat chocolate cookies beat Nestlé Toll House 10 times over; and the carrot cake and pecan brownie taste like mom’s home-cooked specials. That’s not even half of the dessert menu.

Despite it’s admirable qualities, Green Gables would do well to improve their drink menu. GreenLife’s Kombucha and Temple’s smoothies sound infinitely better than the “lemon water,” which tastes exactly how it sounds—bland. Yet, the “lemon water” is simply not enough to belittle the greatness that is Green Gables Café.

With the prices in a similar range for all of the cafés, this one unarguably offers the best value for the price as well as the widest variety. It’s a great lunch spot, a great take-out spot, and a great breakfast spot as well. Now, if only it were open on weekends ….

  • Temple
    • 5831 Sunset Dr., South Miami, Fla. 33143
    • 305-397-8732
    • Hours: Mondays-Saturdays 8 a.m.–8 p.m., Sundays 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
    • Cuisine: Lunch, vegan, smoothies, juices
    • Price: $$
    • Dress Code: Very casual
    • Payment Options: Cash, credit card
    • Rating: 3 out of 5
  • GreenLife Miami Organic Bistro
    • 104 Giralda Ave., Coral Gables, Fla. 33134
    • 786-409-5592
    • Hours: Mondays-Fridays 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Closed Sundays
    • Cuisine: Breakfast, lunch, salads, wraps, sandwiches
    • Price: $$
    • Dress Code: Very casual
    • Payment Options: Cash, credit card
    • Rating: 3 out of 5
  • Green Gables Café
    • 327 Alhambra Circle, Coral Gables, Fla. 33134
    • 305-445-7015
    • Hours: Mondays-Fridays 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
    • Cuisine: Breakfast, lunch, sandwiches, salads, organic
    • Price: $$
    • Dress Code: Very casual
    • Payment Options: Cash, credit card
    • Rating: 5 out of 5