Plant-Based Made Easy with Café Evergreen
by Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer
Plant-based nutrition. Now there’s a subject I could talk “nerdy” on for hours—and it turns out, I am not alone in my nerdiness. Ted Weinberger, who operates Café Evergreen in Nokomis alongside his wife and business partner Annette, shares this passion for plant-based living and is dedicated to sharing its benefits with our local community.
As this plant-based movement gains traction and popularity in wellness spheres, Weinberger is occupied in the kitchen of a historic post office–turned eatery on U.S. 41, crafting unique and inspired dishes that make the plant-based concept feel more accessible to an even wider range of palates. What he creates is tangible—or taste-able—evidence that plant-based eating is not just a trendy buzzword spoken about in yoga studios, but a lifestyle practice that sustains, nourishes and rejuvenates all aspects of well-being.
In the conversation below, I discuss with Weinberger the artform of combining delicious food with nutritious value, and he exposes the “secret sauce” of how Café Evergreen packs both flavor and health into one irresistible, award-winning menu. No seriously—the restaurant snagged a national award this year. So that’s kind of impressive, right? Exactly.
Natural Awakenings: How are you working to familiarize the community with plant-based eating?
Weinberger: Cafe Evergreen has been in this local market for eight years which has created an opportunity to share the benefits of lifestyle and nutrition with hundreds of people.
When someone views our menu, they’re not only getting an education—no processed foods, no GMOs, no high-fructose corn syrup—they're also being exposed to plant-based foods that taste amazing. Our servers train for more than three weeks to expand their knowledge of nutrition. This makes both the servers and managers excellent resources for our guests.
We also partner with initiatives like “Plant Pure Community” to participate in their restaurant campaign, and we have a strong presence on websites such as Happy Cow and the Venice Foodies Blog.
NA: What are some of the most popular plant-based items featured on your menu this season?
Weinberger: Cafe Evergreen takes pride in having a menu that is flexible. All of our items are made to order, allowing our customers to fully customize their meal.
We have also added the option for guests to choose which protein is served with their dish. One evening, they might choose wild-caught shrimp for dinner, and the following afternoon, they could have falafel or organic tofu for lunch. The combinations are endless.
Currently, our most popular appetizer is Raw Avocado Sliders, featuring housemade, raw dehydrated onion bread, ripe organic avocados, fresh pico de gallo and local micro greens. For an entree, people tend to love our Kelp Noodle Stir-Fry, made with raw kelp noodles, fresh vegetables, quinoa rice pilaf, gluten-free tamari and coconut. This meal has been crafted to excite the senses of smell, taste, touch and sight.
Finally, our Evergreen Club Sandwich has outpaced our popular Black Bean Burger in the past year. After it won “Best Vegetarian Sandwich in America” in 2018 from Restaurant Hospitality Magazine, there has been no comparison. This sandwich puts on full-display the capabilities of this restaurant and its talented staff.
NA: Speaking of this award you recently earned, can you describe how the honor came about?
Weinberger: We have always earned excellent reviews for our Evergreen Club, both from guests and the local press.
This sandwich was truly a winner from the time we introduced it, and we attribute its success to the wide array of amazing ingredients. The club sandwich comes loaded with cheesy quinoa cakes, roasted pickled beets, vine ripe tomatoes, locally-grown micro greens and zesty pesto ranch served on toasted wheatberry bread.
Let me pause for a second while I take a bite—okay!—we then received an invitation to enter our sandwich in a nationwide contest. After entering, we are proud to share that we earned the recognition of “Best Sandwich” in the vegetarian category, the only winner to come from the state of Florida as well.
NA: What are the benefits of plant-based eating, and how can people ease into this lifestyle?
Weinberger: There are four common reasons I observe people transitioning to a plant based diet— health, religion, environment and ethical treatment of animals, all of which I will take a minute to address more in detail.
First, it has been proven that following a nutritious plant-based diet as a young person can reduce the prevalence of cancer as an older person. Recent studies have shown that young girls living on a plant-based diet lowered their risk of breast cancer by 25%. Other studies have shown an improvement in heart function, skin health, energy levels and weight maintenance. Our motto at Cafe Evergreen is “healthy food for a healthy life” which points toward a direct connection to the healing power of plants.
Many religious groups are also plant-based due to their individual belief systems, two examples being Hindus and Buddhists. In addition, the health of our environment impacts many people’s decision as well. Once you realize that one acre of land can produce 20,000 pounds of plant-based food verses 165 pounds of beef, you start paying more attention. Eating a plant-based diet reduces carbon footprints on the earth significantly.
Next, there is the ethical treatment of animals to consider. We believe and understand that it matters what animals consume and how they are raised. For this reason, at Cafe Evergreen we only trust free-range and grass-fed beef from Fort McCoy, Florida. I appreciate the care these manufacturers show for the animals and encourage others to follow the same standards.
In most cases, adopting a plant-based diet can be simple, but it’s most effective to ease yourself into the lifestyle. When you feel the pressure to change your habits all at once, you are more prone to temptations. At Cafe Evergreen, we make this whole process stress-free.
It's helpful to remember that you might not have a positive response to using plant-based proteins immediately since the body is not working efficiently enough to digest them. This is not a cause for worry though. We have found that guests who order our probiotic beverages—housemade kefir water or kombucha—for a month before implementing major dietary changes can reap the nutritional benefits of a plant-based protein diet without a nauseous stomach.
Food should be enjoyed, and eating is not supposed to be about punishing yourself. We are here to assist people in improving themselves, not making them “perfect.” An ideal start for anyone introducing healthier practices is to enjoy our fresh juices instead of a soda. You could also join our “Meatless Monday” initiative which we have participated in for eight years. Just supplementing one meal a week can lead to more positive changes.
In addition, we have chosen to eliminate the use of fryers in our restaurant. This means no deep-fried foods to tempt unhealthy cravings. Instead, savor our delicious baked sweet potato fries or roasted cauliflower. We also serve gluten-free, vegan desserts like our Chocolate Mousse with tofu. This cafe will ensure your taste buds are prepared to make the switch—I guarantee it.
NA: What should people know about this lifestyle as a sustainable practice—not a fleeting trend?
Weinberger: I think a plant-based diet is not so much about being “trendy” as about people applying common sense to their own lives. The term “pant-based” means incorporating more plant products and proteins into daily eating habits.
This does not necessarily require eliminating meat altogether—it just means increasing your vegetable intake, while reducing your intake of animal products. Some people might choose to remove certain types of animal products from their diet completely, but here at Cafe Evergreen, our goal is to help you find that balance.
Much of today's conventional medicine is about treatment, not prevention. But I think the benefits of eating higher quality food is greater than spending money on medications. When we opened this restaurant eight years ago, our mission was to ensure the food tasted delicious. Guests don’t normally care if our grilled avocado with a spicy red sauce is plant-based—they just appreciate the flavor.
I never create a new dish with the mindset it needs to be nutritious. My first commitment is to taste. Only then, do I work on the “healthy” aspect. When people visit my restaurant, I tell them, “Life is full of choices. At Cafe Evergreen there are no wrong choices!”
Café Evergreen is located at 801 S Tamiami Trail, Nokomis. Breakfast hours are Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lunch and dinner hours are Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 941-412-4334, email Eat@CafeEvergreen.net or visit CafeEvergreen.net.
Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer is the Managing Editor of Natural Awakenings Sarasota–Manatee. She also works as a freelance writer, blogger and social media marketer based in Southwest Florida. Her personal blog HealthBeAHippie.Wordpress.com features practical tips for embracing an active, nutritious and empowered lifestyle.
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