We've all seen restaurants that try hard to please everyone. The desire often shows up in the form of a schizophrenic buffet or 12-page menu; recently, I encountered a more refined place that had even restructured dishes based on the suggestions of individual customers.
The strongest eateries, however, stick steadfastly to a chef's vision or staff philosophy. They may customize to accommodate allergy-related requests and such when possible, but otherwise they demonstrate an ability to say "no."
That's what I immediately liked about Naturally's, Manitou's bright and glossy-wooded new gem of a health food café and mini market located inside the old Adam's Mountain Café. The 30-year-old, family-run business, recently transplanted from South Padre Island, Texas, is unabashedly clear on its values and mission. And that confidence carries over into purposeful food and drinks made with healthy ingredients.
Sure, some guests will be vexed when presented with low-glycemic liquid stevia, instead of an aspartame-laced artificial sweetener, with their coffee. Others will chafe at the cash-or-local-check-only rule. But Naturally's, which does feature an ATM in the entryway, smartly includes signage at the register (where you pay after dining) informing folks that it prefers to pass savings on to customers rather than send large processing fees to credit card companies.
It's not an empty promise: After spending $100 there, you'll get a "Karma Card" that entitles you to a lifetime 10 percent discount in the market and café. It helps, considering prices that reflect the mostly organic ingredients.
Owner Ronda Burke has also committed to serving organic and locally grown food whenever possible; no refined white flours or sugars; preservative-free goods; low-fat and low-sodium items; and meals high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. Which isn't to say that Naturally's is only for flax fans: "Normal" eaters will also find items like wild salmon and free-range turkey burgers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas and smoothies.
Everyone should savor the complex Black Diamond Burrito ($8.79, with choice of potato, pasta or fruit salad, tabouli, or organic tortilla chips): a tortilla stuffed with "a trio of organic super grains" (brown basmati rice, millet and quinoa), cilantro pesto, adzuki beans, jalapeño jack and cheddar cheeses, and greens. With the accompanying pico de gallo (which we could have used more of) and avocado ($1 upcharge), it sounds like a dairy-fortified legume overload, but surprisingly it's not.
Compared to a Chipotle monstrosity, it's smallish in appearance, and we were at first concerned about the portion. But our server was quick to say it's given him seven hours of rib-stickage. And sure enough, after each relishing half (with chips) along with the hefty Naturally Yours Salad ($11.49), we were too full to immediately eat our house-baked pastries: a moist and delicious lemon-banana-poppy-seed scone and a superb, soft peanut butter chip blondie ($3 each).
The salad comes as a tall mound again loaded with a long list of toppings such as house-grown sprouts, avocado, beets and most interestingly, chayote squash wedges that look like green apple slices but bring no tartness and more of a neutral-flavored jicama crunch. It's also got single-scoop-sized portions of hummus, tabouli, millet, pasta salad and another daily topper (mashed potatoes on our day), and a yummy ramekin of yogurt- and Vegenaise-based dill dressing. Plus, you can add organic tofu and tempeh and sustainably produced meats for $2.75 or cheeses for $1.25.
From Naturally's equally exhaustive drink list, we sampled a cinnamon-flavored Fortune Delight herbal tea ($3.25); a one-ounce, aloe- and mangosteen-based Vemma shot ($3.50); and two smoothies. The Superfoods to the Rescue ($6.50) wasn't sludgy, and the chocolate Vitashake ($5.75) wasn't chalky; both, in fact, were excellent. I don't have enough space to detail what goes into the tea and shot, but the good news is that the enthusiastic staff, armed with informative handouts, will. We also later tried a supposedly toxin-cleansing Calli Tea ($3.25); fine, biodynamically grown Café Altura coffee ($2.65); and an awesome, stevia-sweetened lemonade ($2.49).
It may sound like I also drank the stevia-sweetened Kool-Aid, but Naturally's isn't without faults. Our breakfast taco ($5.50 before extras) of eggs, potatoes and veggies needed an herb kick, plus salt and pepper (not even sea salt is set on the table) and again, more pico de gallo. And a Gouda/Swiss melt special ($6.95), requested gluten-free, arrived next to a fruit side on rather small bread squares, which didn't fill us like the burrito. The accompanying side of vegetarian chili would have been great but for overuse of the chili powder.
Still, the message here is clear: Burke, who bought the business in 2004, says she makes the healthy and tasty food that she craves, from only the highest-quality ingredients. That's an uncompromising vision, and why Naturally's is a natural pleaser.