As I mentioned in a previous post – July is my very favorite month. It is home to my wedding anniversary, vegan-iversary, and my birthday. As far as celebrations go, July is up there with December for opportunities to raise a glass and give a cheer. For this reason, David and I knew we wanted to get away for a little trip with sites that we can’t find in our small town. With work being busy, we only had time for a mini vacation of a day or two. I looked into a weekend in Chicago, but on short notice and for a weekend in July, hotel prices were high. One night at a mediocre hotel in Chicago was the same as two nights in a lovely hotel in Kansas City. Kansas City won out.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that we’ve visited Kansas City several times in the past couple of years (posts here, here, and here). It’s a city that surprises. It’s not a huge town, but they have two vegan restaurants, a vegan bakery and coffeehouse, a vegetarian restaurant, and lots of vegan-friendly restaurants beyond that. As we were driving into the city, it was getting late, but we were able to squeak into Café Gratitude at 10 pm before their closing time at 11 pm.
I’ve been to Café Gratitude, a nearly-vegan chain (they do have honey in some of their menu items) which focuses on local and organic food, a few times. I’ve visited their Berkeley location and their restaurant in Los Angeles in the Larchmont area. Every time I’ve been delighted with the food. My experience with their Kansas City location was no exception. First off, the restaurant itself is beautifully put together with tall ceilings, hanging lights, a couple of raised dining areas, and stools down the center for large groups. (The benches along the side could use a little help leveling, though. I felt like I was playing on a teeter-totter whenever other customers would stand up or shift.)
Our server, Megan, was incredibly friendly and outgoing. She was clearly excited about the menu and eager to share her favorites. Topping her list was their Indian-inspired macrobiotic bowl called I Am Humble, their raw Pad Thai called I Am Terrific, and their kale salad called I Am Pure. As it was nearing the end of the night, they were out of a few items on the menu, and I settled on raw nachos to share and the kale salad. David ordered I Am Humble.
As you may have noticed, the menu items at Café Gratitude have unconventional names, which are mantras like I Am Humble, I Am Blessed, I Am So Happy to be Eating at a Vegan Restaurant Where I Can Order Anything on the Menu. (Okay, so that last one was just my grateful feeling…) I’ve heard many people complain about its goofiness or that they feel awkward ordering, but you know what? I thought it was fun. Plus, whenever an order is ready in the back, the cook calls out to the various servers, “Megan, you are dazzling! Sara, you are vibrant!” The yells of positivity sounded sincere, even if it’s just part of the menu. It made me feel good to hear people yelling out nice things to each other. If nothing else, you have to smile at how unusual of an experience it is to hear these kinds of things being called out in a restaurant.
After several hours of driving and making our hunger wait for a very late dinner, I was honoring the heck out of the Live Nachos made with sunflower bean pate, guacamole, salsa fresca, and nacho cheese. With one decadent taste, I turned to David and said, “It was worth it.” The cool, creamy, and spicy cheese was served in a mound with homemade crackers. The cheese was wonderfully rich with a kick of heat. It felt alive in the mouth and whetted my palate for what was to come.
I Am Pure, is a kale salad made with avocado, cucumber, carrots, cilantro, basil, and green onions, topped with teriyaki almonds and sunflower sprouts, and tossed in a ginger-tahini dressing. (It generally comes with sea palm, but I requested that it be omitted.) It was a large enough serving to easily cover a couple of meals, especially after sharing an appetizer. I enjoyed the kale salad, especially the whole teriyaki almonds and freshness of the vegetables, but I wouldn’t say that it was anything extraordinary.
David’s Indian bowl, I Am Humble, came with a layer of brown rice (quinoa is also an option), raw spinach, and mounds of spiced red lentils and potatoes that were mashed together. This hearty, stick-to-your-ribs bowl was wonderfully satisfying and a tamarind sauce gave a lift of sweetness to the dish. Again, the portions are huge, and I had more than enough for a meal of leftovers once we returned home. This would definitely be a good one for sharing!
After looking at the dizzying amount of mouthwatering items on the menu, we couldn’t go wait to go back for lunch on Sunday, before we headed out of town.
This time I ordered the Pad Thai-style dish called I Am Terrific, which our server, Megan, had raved about. I’d never tried kelp noodles; although, I’ve read about them online many times. Since I don’t like the ocean-y flavor of sea vegetables or nori, I’ve been hesitant in the past about ordering them for fear that they’d be too pungent for me. Luckily, the kelp noodles don’t have any flavor of their own. They just pick up the flavors of the sauce and give a light crunch. This vibrant and flavorful dish comes with carrots, shredded kale, cucumber, tomatoes, cilantro, basil, and scallions. It’s topped with teriyaki almonds and sprouts. I asked for the tamarind sauce on the side for extra saucy-goodness. There was easily enough to serve two people, and again, it was dinner for me once we got back from our trip.
David ordered I Am Extraordinary, a CLT made of chipotle-maple coconut bacon, romaine lettuce, tomato, and avocado on a seeded bun. I’d heard about coconut bacon in the past, but this was my first experience of it. The smoky flavors of bacon are very mild, and the taste of coconut flakes stands out on the sandwich, giving it a somewhat tropical flair. It comes with a creamy cashew aioli, which is the star of the show. Of all of the things we ate in Kansas City (and there were many more as you’ll see in tomorrow’s post), this was his favorite of the trip. I have a feeling he’ll have a hard time ordering anything else on future trips, because he was so smitten!
We ordered a couple of drinks to go (not pictured). David had the I Am Eternally Blessed, which is a vanilla nut milkshake blended with cold-pressed espresso. It was amazing. After I took the first sip, I told him that he wouldn’t like it and he shouldn’t even bother tasting it, but he didn’t fall for it. Darn it. I had a juice blend of kale, celery, cucumber, and lemon juice called I Am Healthy. It’s offered that apple juice can be added upon request, and I should have gone that direction. It was incredibly heavy on the lemon side and very tart. I like lemon, but it would have helped to mellow it out a bit with some apple juice.
The server ends the meal by asking you the question of the day, which you’re free to give an answer to if you like, discuss with your table, or even write your answer with chalk on the chalkboard in the back of the restaurant. Our question of the day was, “What brings you joy?”