I’m currently on a mission to explore vegan restaurants in every city I visit. So you can see why I was straight-up GIDDY when I heard Cafe Gratitude was opening in San Diego’s Little Italy. This restaurant is a fave of stars like Beyonce, Jaz-Z, Alicia Silverstone, and Anne Hathaway. PLUS, Jason Mraz is part-investor! He lives in San Diego so I am wishful thinking that anytime I pop into this place, he will be there singing a tune (I doubt he carries his guitar and microphone to brunch, but a gal can dream!) or maybe he’ll be sitting at the bar enjoying some kombucha and gluten-free banana bread.
My fiance who loves to eat steak and potatoes, chicken and rice, and ahi tuna is definitely NOT a vegan. But he was willing to join me on this plant-based adventure to Cafe Gratitude for which, I’m very grateful.
As soon as we walked in, I felt right at home. The smiles from the staff and welcoming atmosphere felt very refreshing. I also love the floors and furniture. Their interior decorator did a wonderful job to make sure this restaurant was bright and cheery, with an added touch of GLAM!
Once we were seated, our lovely server explained the menu. Everything listed was in the form of affirmations. When ready to order, you say “I AM __name of the dish____”
First things first, I was thirsty so I ordered “I AM ECLECTIC” ($7 Kombucha Arnold Palmer: Living Tea kombucha, lemon, and agave.) Chris ordered “I AM COURAGOUS” (coffee.) I thought it was so sweet to see him play along with the affirmations. The server also gave us a question for the day which was “What are you grateful for?” So while she was getting our drinks, we actually discussed what we are grateful for. I love that game! You can never be in a grumpy mood when you’re thinking of all the things you love in your life, right?!
I actually got a little teary eyed when my “ECLECTIC” appeared because not only was it delicious but it was also environmentally-friendly. Lately, I’ve been noticing all the plastic around us and it’s been making me sick to my stomach. Plastic lasts for hundreds of year but sometimes we may use a plastic spoon or straw for a only couple minutes. Is it really worth destroying our planet? I think not and I hope you agree! I’ve been trying to live plastic-free. But so many things are packaged in plastic and it’s just a crying shame. It’s become quite a challenge to stop using it. Even the little keys I’m using to type this are made of plastic. So is the camera I used to take pictures. It’s really hard to stop using it all together, but at least being aware and cutting back a bit will hopefully make a little difference in improving the world. That’s why when my glass showed up with a paper straw in it, I was overcome with gratitude! How appropriate, huh?!
The CIO (Chief Inspirational Officer) Ryland Engelhart came by our table to introduce himself. And since I’m always a reporter at heart, I asked tons of questions. Ryland explained his family always lived vegetarian. Growing up in Upstate New York, they had a garden and they appreciated the Earth for all that it provided. This same philosophy of organic, whole foods carried on into his adult life and now his purpose is to share that type of pure and sustainable living with their thousands of customers around the country. I felt very lucky to be in his presence. While he has a brand new restaurant to run (4 days new!), he was able to sit down next to us and chat it up! Our hippie ways were certainly similar and we were excited to see how Chris would feel about the food. He said meat-eaters and children are the best taste-testers when it comes to plant-based cuisine.
First we ordered an app, “I AM SERENE” ($6 Cinnamon roll: gluten-free pastry, flax eggs, cinnamon spice swirl, powdered sugar glaze.) We got the last one of the day! Phew! Glad we didn’t miss that bit of bliss. I thought it was better than any cinnamon roll I’ve ever had! It tasted sinful but also healthy. It wasn’t too sweet and it wasn’t greasy at all, so I must admit I ate a tad more than my half.
For our meals, Chris ordered “I AM NOURISHED” ($13 sourdough french toast, housemade tempeh chorizo, sautéed kale, chipotle coconut bacon, cashew cream, and maple syrup.)
And, I ordered “I AM TRUSTING” ($13 gluten-free tempeh, seasonal vegetables, shitake mushrooms, spinach, scallions, cilantro, avocado, and gluten-free sourdough toast.)
I rarely get to enjoy a variety of breakfast foods. Most restaurants usually only have sauteed veggies and potatoes for brunch as their vegan options. So this was a real treat to get to enjoy many different well-cooked veggies, wondrous flavors, and hearty tempeh. Tempeh is a little bit foreign to me, but I think I’ll be adding it to more of my dishes now. Ryland explained it’s fermented soy beans, meaning it would be the least-processed version of soy (aside from edamame.) It provides plenty of protein without the stigma that comes with soy milk and tofu. The dish had a bit of a kick to it, which I LOVE! I usually add hot sauce to my veggies, but this didn’t need any at all.
As for Chris’s french toast, he ate them all up. But he did say “it’s different,” which I think is to be expected. The gluten-free sourdough was pretty incredible and he LOVED the coconut bacon! Just the sound of that is mouth-watering, isn’t it?! I don’t think the dish was as sweet and buttery as people might be used to. It’s REALLY good, it’s just not the typical Denny’s-style french toast that one might expect. The cashew cream was also actually creamy. Halleluya! Chris always complained of the grainy-ness of vegan “cheese” and “creme.” Turning nuts into a creamy substance is an art form and takes real talent (and a good food processor?) Cafe Gratitude has figured out how to do it right – nice and smooth!
We were extremely full, but I was still so in awe of the menu. I added “I AM ACTIVE”($4 metal-extracting shot) to my order. The elixir comes complete with pineapple juice, celery juice, cilantro, a probiotic formula of fermented kelp, miso and chlorella to pull metals from the body. I washed down my yummy brunch with a cleansing shot.
And, well, simply because I can and it was there, I ordered “I AM HOLY”, a donut. To-go, of course! I mean, who can eat THAT much. So…well… I opened it up in the car to gaze longingly at it. And somehow… I’m still not so sure how… it kinda… sorta… disappeared.
OK, OK! I took one bite and was going to save the rest for later. But it was TOO GOOD TO STOP! The strawberry essence and nice, spongy, sticky, sweetness of it was too enticing. My mouth liked it, A LOT.
I’m sure many vegans out there understand, when you find a vegan, gluten-free pastry or dessert it is such a cherished piece of heaven. I closed my eyes and felt every little piece of it, simply grateful that a talented pastry chef figured out how to make a donut that actually left me feeling good and healthy afterwards.
I had all the right nourishment I needed to feel pumped and energized for our paddleboarding session! That post, next.
Cafe Gratitude‘s new San Diego spot is located at 1980 Kettner Blvd. in Little Italy. Hope to see you (and maybe Jason Mraz) there!