175 S. Ventura Ave., Ventura
Early morning on a Thursday, my wife proudly displayed something called the Bird of Paradise, a yoga pose that filled me with dread. With arms locked under her pelvis and leg stretched toward heaven, she espoused the benefits of making a mockery of human anatomy, and at the same time proudly bragged about the smoothie she had had after her class.
The smoothie, from Harvest Cafe, set her straight after an hour’s worth of hot and sweaty joint cruelty. The Local Berry ($8-10), a blend of berries, avocado, kale, apple juice and cashew milk, she said, was the perfect recovery elixir. Anything that can return a person to normal after the Bird of Paradise is worth investigating.
Harvest Cafe is located on the first floor of Working Artists Ventura, adjacent to Jai Rhythm Yoga. Soon, construction will begin across the street, making the already limited parking, claimed by residents of WAV, harder to come by. Despite having to park more than a block away, the walk readied my appetite for the health-conscious meals on offer.
The dining room features a bare cement floor and matching walls, with various pieces of art and hanging plants that bring life to the otherwise Spartan outfit. Sleek wooden tables give the large open area an aura of natural aesthetic, as if nature had reclaimed an abandoned warehouse and stuck a vegan joint inside. Orders are taken at the counter, and the kitchen is open and visible; cooks operate with the efficiency of a colony of ants, slicing avocado, chopping vegetables and pressing juice.
The menu is solely dedicated to healthy (and healthy-ish) fare, seemingly in spite of the proximity to the 101 and the soon-to-be construction zone across the way. On our first visit, a few items stood out: the egg and avocado “smörgås” ($9), an open-faced sandwich, served with a sprinkle of sundried tomato, that derives its name from Scandinavia; and the nut butter toast ($6), topped with juicy fruit compote and in-house-made almond butter. This, paired with a cup of coffee from local roaster BentPenny, made for a very healthy and fulfilling meal.
Harvest Cafe refrains from putting on airs when it comes to what it wants to accomplish: so-called clean eating unlike anything seen in Ventura. With “healthy” come a few caveats, however. The bread used for the smörgås was on the dry side, which wouldn’t have been an issue had the egg not been overcooked, the yolk broken, rubbery and flat. To its credit, when the issue was brought to the attention of the owner, we were told that the eggs were not meant to be over-hard, so I chalked it up to a misfire.
On a follow-up visit, I had to try the much-Instagrammed vegan waffle ($10), choosing the buckwheat over the banana oat. Served with sliced bananas, cashew-cream and warm maple syrup, the waffle proved a respectable facsimile of traditional waffles, balancing savory and sweet, a meal worthy of post-yoga recovery or Sunday brunch. The Mexi-Cali breakfast bowl ($8), with rice, beans, veggies and fried egg, however, came once again with an overcooked egg, a singular fault in the otherwise well-oiled machine. Perhaps some egg-centric training is in order, or just scrap them altogether. The rest of the bowl featured fresh veggies and a tasty cashew-based cilantro sauce. Despite my eggy-issues, the vegan fare being pumped out is worthy of sharing with skeptical friends, and any vegetarian dish can be made vegan, substituting avocado for egg.
For any other day, say, after a run or a weekend of binge-eating shame, there are a variety of smoothies to make yourself right. The aforementioned Local Berry is a favorite, but so too is the Green Room ($8-10) featuring avocado, mango, lemon, kale and coconut water. The Cacao Cacao ($7-9), with banana, raw cacao, dates, nut milk and sea salt, is as “cheat day” as a health conscious vegan can be — all the calories minus the guilt and still delicious.
The cafe boasts an eclectic hot bar as well, serving the trendy golden latte ($4.50) with turmeric being the key ingredient. Said to have healthy, healing properties, the latte is a get-out-of-jail-free-card — “I’m not drinking a latte, I’m drinking a golden latte; you know, it’s healthy.”
I’ve asked my wife to never do the Bird of Paradise in front of me again. My mind isn’t capable of interpreting the strength required to do such a thing. I have, however, asked her to call me when she’s heading to Harvest Cafe. If not for a waffle, then certainly for a smoothie so I, too, can set free the bird of paradise within.