Getting healthy, one bite at a time in Midtown Ventura
By JR Grant 12/05/2013
2991 Loma Vista Road
Formerly the Crazy Doctor Cafe near Community Memorial Hospital, the new owner and chef of the Midtown Cafe are sticking to the healthy theme of its predecessor, which they helped design, but with a unique flare for tantalizing the taste buds. Chef Nick White and owner Dale Panopio are offering one of the healthiest menus in the county, and after several visits, I can’t wait for more samplings and continued patronage for the organic fare and many vegan and vegetarian food creations.
I have always enjoyed a mixed fresh fruit juice or smoothie option for a quick healthy snack. Midtown Cafe offers a variety of options, plus also a wide range of nutritious power boosts that are being called tonics. The morning after a crazy night, or when one is feeling in need of a boost, order the Recovery Tonic. Basically, this is your choice of a shot, maybe a few blueberries or hibiscus tea with a mixture of reishi (a mushroom immunostimulant), eucommia (a Chinese herb made from a specific tree bark) and he shou wu (the Chinese dragon herb known to stimulate blood flow and aid the nervous system). Chinese herbology aside, Midtown Cafe offers all diners many organic, vegan and raw dishes that certainly seem appropriate fare in a neighborhood of doctors’ offices and located between two hospitals.
French toast with fresh fruit and agave.
Even the nonvegetarian lunch I ordered the other day seemed healthier and prepared with the best ingredients possible. The Crazy Hot Pastrami, a grilled sandwich on thinly sliced rye, had a good-sized portion of very lean pastrami, a small slice of creamy and nutty Swiss cheese, lightly roasted julienned red peppers, some caramelized onions and a good dollop of Dijon mustard. The accompanying side dish was a very small scoop of vegetable fried rice and, although I initially thought the dish presented itself as meager, conscious eating and a savoring of the flavor combinations proved it to be a perfectly hearty and satisfying meal.
I can also say the same thing about lunch another day when I ordered the Savory Raw Veggie Burger (raw, vegan and gluten-free), which consisted of a sort of mushy “patty” made from soaked and ground almonds, dates and cashews, carrot, onion, nutritional yeast and fresh spices, including sage, rosemary, oregano, basil and also sprinkled with a little chopped kale. This concoction was wrapped between crisp romaine lettuce leaves and, as a condiment on the side, there was a small ramekin of homemade pickle slices and also a creamy garlic aioli. It was surprisingly filling and delicious, although the side salad accompanying it seemed a bit of lettuce overkill. Perhaps a small scoop of quinoa might have added a different texture and flavor.
In any case, I can sometimes be pejorative about such trendy and healthy-sounding food combinations; but in the case of the Midtown Café, the menu artistry of Chef White and the desire for the healthiest and freshest ingredients make the end result not only tasty but satisfying in so many ways. The functional design of the interior (rust and dark wood colors, brick walls with chalkboard notices) and relaxed yet intentional ambience serve to make even the most discriminating palates grateful for healthy, nutritious and pleasing creations.
If morning doesn’t begin without a cup of coffee for you, a special fair-trade organic roast from Brazuca Coffee roasters is available at Midtown. There are also many coffee variations and options, and a great selection of organic and herbal teas. I often choose the hibiscus flower iced tea, which is an excellent hot-weather refreshing beverage. The banana bread French toast is outstanding. I have been a little disappointed with the dessert offerings. I know desserts are sourced from La Mousse in Santa Barbara, and everything I’ve sampled — the pumpkin ginger was particularly interesting — has been above average but I want to be wowed with flavor or presentation.
A great aspect of Midtown Cafe is, it is a work in progress and is very open to suggestions and customer satisfaction. When a group of regulars noted how great it would be to be able to occasionally come to this place at night, the owners started open-mic Friday and Saturday 8 p.m.-1 a.m. For a healthy, fun and welcome addition to Ventura’s food scene, Midtown Cafe is just what the doctor ordered.