Today is my birthday present to myself – a day off spent doing nothing but reading and writing and roaming the city. After a few hours browsing the glorious Harold Washington Library (I am FINALLY a card-carrying member! Woohoo!), I realized that I was ravenous and it was time to eat. I couldn’t think of a better place to stop than Kramer’s Health Foods. A local, obscure-health-brand carrying, vegetarian café and health food store on Wabash, only a block from State Street. This is the kind of place that makes my eyes big with excitement of endless options of health and nutrition. I can’t imagine a better birthday treat. The first level has aisles filled with vitamins I didn’t know I needed, snacks so nutritious I begin to question whether they should become apart of my daily routine, and people so knowledgable about health food and homeopathy that I wonder if they are really medicine men and only work here on the side for the employee discount.
The upstairs has a café featuring a juice bar, herbal elixir mixers, shakes, coffee, salads, sandwiches and paninis.
I ordered the sandwich/soup/juice combo. A lot of food for $7.50! My meal consisted of the vegan burger, split pea soup and a veggie fruit juice blend.
Vegan burger Made with slaw, tomato, spinach, mayo and mustard on a whole grain bun. I loved it. It’s exactly the satisfying meal I was looking for. It’s tangy, savory, soft and peppery. It does a pretty good job holding together, although, like most homemade vegan burgers, can get a little squishy as you eat it (beans being the main ingredient).
Split pea soup WOW. I love soup, but I usually avoid ordering it in restaurants because you can almost guarantee that it is salt-laden. Not so in a vegetarian café. Filled with carrots, celery, garlic shavings, and actual peas – thick, cloudy peas. I understand that if you don’t like peas – that could sound disgusting. But to me, it’s such a refreshing change to the usual green-died liquid. This instead, is a broth with clouds of pea. Salty factor: low. Flavor factor: high.
Fresh-Pressed Juice Blend I can’t be as accurate with this one because the impatient looking mohawked-girl behind the counter rushed me through my order. But I know I taste beets, celery and possibly ginger. It’s not as cold as I’d like it to be, but then again, fresh-pressed juice never is. It’s not too thick, but very potent and so refreshing it’s almost minty.
My favorite part of the meal? The people watching. I never quite know what to expect when I walk into a vegetarian or vegan restaurant. Will I be surrounded by self-righteous, hemp-wearing, I-don’t-judge-people-but-I-will-give-you-weird-looks-for-wearing-expensive-name-brand-clothing vegetarians? Or will I find people that could just as easily be placed in Chipotle or a sports bar?
There was the skinny-jean wearing student with thick-rimmed glasses and a book. And the I-wear-my-sunglasses-indoors, black turtleneck wearing white-haired man there to order his “regular.” But then there were a few unexpected surprises. Like the older, clean-cut mustached man woofing down his vegan tofu, while checking his email in his other hand. The larger-than-life businessman in slacks, tie and raincoat, carrying a briefcase. Or the talkative, yoga-pant-wearing, Prada-carrying middle eastern girls who sound more like they stepped straight off of the Clueless set, circa 1997 than health-eager vegetarians.
And then there’s me. Vera Bradley bag, 7 For All Mankind Jeans, orange deep v-neck t-shirt and Apple MacBook, grinning from ear-to-ear as I indulge in my nutrient-rich, guilt-free, vegan meal, typing furiously away about the experience.
I absolutely love how diverse the market is becoming for health geeks like me. It’s times like these that slowly erase the lunch table memories of kids looking at me weird for my grainy, green, “gross” meal back in high school and even in the work place.
My only complaints: No free wi-fi and the rushed service at the café counter. If I go to a health food place where they actually tout “nutrition experts” on the to-go menu, I expect the person helping me to explain what is in the food I am eating. Other than that: Fantastic wholesome food, thoughtful extras (like all natural antibacterial spray and a bottle of homemade hot sauce at the counter) and a fully stocked health store that I can’t wait to shop on my way out.
**** Kramers: Four out of Five Stars.