Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Native Foods Café Food Review

Bistro Steak Sandwich with Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

I love surprises, especially tasty ones. At first glance, Native Foods Café looks like a healthy fast food joint; but after my first visit, I can safely it's a whole lot more. And, oh yeah... it's 100% vegan!

For the record, I could have sworn it was only partially vegan. After all, those Native Chicken Wings (crispy, and tossed in buffalo sauce) had to be made of chicken. And the Bistro Steak Sandwich... I couldn't see the steak under a mountain of crispy shallots; but it sure tasted like steak. If you can fool a registered carnivore such as myself, then it's safe to say you can fool anybody.

Native Chicken Wings

The Dupont Circle location is deceiving as well, at least in terms of size. In addition to ample space upstairs, there's room for an entire army on the lower level. There's also quirky (yet fun) artwork all about, surrounded by a very friendly staff. Ordering is fast and efficient; and food is delivered straight to your table (with a smile, of course.) I ordered one starter (Butternut Polenta Bites) one For the Table (Native Chicken Wings) a sandwich (Bistro Steak Sandwich) a side (Crispy Sweet Potato Fries) and one dessert (Oatmeal Creme Pie) plus a drink. Not your normal lunch (just over $30 total) but this was my first visit, and I was very curious.

Butternut Polenta Bites

The Butternut Polenta Bites were terrific as well; but more in line with what I expected. Three squares of zesty polenta (infused with pesto) topped with butternut squash, caramelized onions and crunchy pumpkin seeds. Great texture, but obviously vegan (in looks and taste.) Butternut squash is fast becoming one of my favorite vegetables; and the plate looks alive with a bed of fresh, green arugula.

Oatmeal Creme Pie

The wings were next; and I swear... I thought it was real chicken (until I got home, no less.) Before you question my palette, keep in mind these strips of soy Heaven were bathed in buffalo sauce, and cooked crispy. I thought the "twist" was that they were shaped like chicken fingers, versus bone-in wings. So much for a high IQ. Paired with strands of bright orange carrots, you couldn't ask for a tastier, more vibrant-looking appetizer. All of a sudden, I felt bad about making fun of Jessica Simpson and "Chicken of the Sea" for all those years.

Strawberry Lemonade

Where Native Foods Cafe really bowled me over, was in its Bistro Steak Sandwich. Who knew seitan was so close to steak? It's sliced thin and seared, just like the "real thing." It's also cleverly hidden inside a lightly grilled baguette that's stuffed with arugula, fried shallots and tomatoes (and normally blue cheese/tofu crumbles, which I passed on.) Honest to God, if they can make a hamburger to match... I'll seriously consider giving up meat altogether (soon.) I actually told my buddy later, that I found a great place for a steak sandwich. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

Sweet Potato Fries won't fool anyone; but they're nice enough (although far from crispy.) Drinks are top-notch, with a refreshing Strawberry Lemonade paving the way over NFC's Watermelon Fresca (the advertised mint was hard to detect.) Free refills too. Top it off with a crunchy $3 Oatmeal Creme Pie that puts Little Debbie to shame; and I'm this close to buying a vegan cookbook.

I can't help but think about filmmaker Louie Psihoyos (The Cove) who was asked the other night, "What's the one thing you would suggest, to change the course of the world?" He answered, "adopting a plant-based diet." He then went on to sing the praises of Native Foods Café. Psihoyos is a smart guy. Smart guys give good advice. They also eat at really smart places. Smart, tasty places that fool supposedly smart food critics. Now that I "know the deal," I can't wait to go back.