I recently discovered a new vegan cafe just minutes from my house, so naturally I had to try it several times. The name of said vegan cafe is Seed To Sprout which currently boasts two NJ locations, the newest being Fair Haven and the original in Avon by the Sea. An all organic and vegan menu, it has attracted a lot of local attention so I was eager to test it out. This location offers dining room seating but no table service. Saturday and Sunday Brunch from 10am to 3pm, and a weekly Thursday Prix Fixe Meal served from 6pm to 9pm.
As I approached the simple and small set up in Fair Haven, I noticed a lack of frills inside a tiny dining room lined with chairs and tables made from black metal. The t shirt clad, baby faced, employee’s had their radio playing on freshly wiped condiment, utensil, and napkin counter while a gaggle of bustling teens and young 20 somethings moved about the tiny kitchen.
My first day there I went whole hog and ordered 4 items off the daily Lunch menu (served Tues through Fri):
- The bacon cheddar melt -$9.00
- the avocado breakfast sandwich- $9.00
- the taco salad- $12.00
- and off the Raw Menu, the Raw Pizza & Greens- $12.00
- salted chocolate chip cookie $4.00
- rosemary fig scone $3.00 (at the suggestion of a helpful cashier)
Then I went back a different day and tried:
- Grilled Avocado Sandwich $6.00
- Lemon Pepper Red Lentil Soup cup $3.50 / bowl $5.
- Seed Salad $12.00
- Pink Lemonade (20 oz) $8.00
- Maple Crumb Cake $4.00
Of every thing I tried the bacon cheddar melt is a clear winner by far. Served in a brown Eco-Box, Marinated tempeh, caramelized onion, coconut bacon, and cashew cheddar on millet & flax bread grilled with coconut butter all come together to form a delicious, melt in your mouth sandwich. I honestly believe the carmalized onion is the star of the show in this sandwich as it helps link all the flavors together. The tempeh was seasoned well, but I wish there would have been more of a saucy-ness to it. I have to ask though, whats with the bread? It looks like slightly thinner white, texas toast with some flax seeds sprinkled into it and slathered in coconut butter; which is little more than salt, olive oil and coconut oil mixed together. Too much fat is too much fat, “healthy” or otherwise. I thought I was getting some awesome healthy bread. . . .it was what looked and tasted like white bread but is apparently made from milled flax.
Secondly, this was supposed to be a Lunch Sandwich. Now, when I think lunch I think a meal. When I spend Nine bucks on a sandwich, I think a meal. This was served with no side, no options to create a meal or add a drink. For $3.00 howerver, one can add a side of greens. As any vegan will tell you, getting adequate nutrition is of supreme importance and I wonder what the nutritional profile looks like on this sandwich. Does it have enough calories to be considered lunch? Does it crank up the fat content while leaving me little in the way of healthy carbs, proteins and micronutrients ? Or do I have to pay extra if I really want to feel like I’ve eaten a balanced meal?
I always try to start reviews with explaining what I liked and what I feel the restaurant did well – and this sandwich is a clear winner, but here’s my problem with it: It relies heavily on fats and salty nutritional yeast to make up the core of its flavor profile. My first problem is the presence of nutritional yeast in practically every single dish on the menu, which has been outed and debated on as the vegan version of MSG. (I used to eat it a bunch and stopped after learning this, plus my cat got into it once and he ate it with a sickening sense of urgency, which is plenty of proof for me: MSG = Food Crack)
According to the raw food stylist
“Studies have been done that Nutritional Yeast is a neurotoxin, a gmo product, a disguised MSG, added synthetic vitamins, and flavor enhancers.
The most disturbing thing I’ve researched is that it contains Free Glutamate Acid which is the same neurotoxin compound as monosodium glutamate (MSG). They disguise the true identity of MSG with fancy names.
In Dr. Baylock’s best selling book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, he discovered that the cause of certain brain lesions is linked to food additives which come in the form of processed “free” Glutamic Acid. He says Free Glutamic Acid literally stimulates the neurons to death, causing brain damage. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to eat MSG!!”
So basically, MSG makes your brain all confused and convinces you to eat more of whatever it is laced with MSG, even if its total garbage. I call it food crack because it’s equally as addictive and produces the same binge response thus guaranteeing high sales. That being said, its an additive, a flavor enhancer and pretty much the antithesis of a restaurant that is supposed to be about health.
On to Fats- Now, if you know anything about nutrition and human evolution, you’ll know that our brain lights up when it is fed fats since they don’t occur too often in nature. Fats, being calorically dense and pleasing to the mouth, generally garner a hit of a meal whenever we eat something loaded with it; we’re programmed to. We are also programmed to keep eating those fats. This means any food item you eat that’s loaded with salt, sugar, and fat will have you coming back for more no matter what the hell it’s made out of. If your food is really that good, you wouldn’t need to rely on the flavor enhancer.
Which brings me to the Avocado breakfast sandwich. Also served in a brown eco-box it was: An assembly of seasoned avocado, tofu scramble & coconut bacon on millet & flax bread. grilled with coconut butter. It sounded tasty. I used to love bacon, egg, and cheese bagels, I’m from New Jersey, there is nothing finer than a quality made breakfast sandwich. . . but this one left me disappointed. I kept trying to eat my gf’s bacon cheddar melt instead. Not to mention it was messy as anything to eat. It would appear that presentation does not seem to matter to the staff of Seed To Sprout. It didn’t taste like anything but the coconut butter that was slathered on to that same, white-likep bread as the other sandwich. The coconut bacon added insult to injury as all I tasted was coconut everywhere. The tofu scramble tasted like nothing. Like, actual nothing. If the avocado was seasoned. . . I didn’t notice. Maybe some nutritional yeast at best. I wanted something to dip it in, ketchup, chipotle vegan mayo, anything! Again, I found myself asking was this really worth $9.00? Maybe if every single bite had me drooling and moaning with food porn like ecstasy, sure. . . . but it didn’t. So good day sir, I will not be ordering you again.
Ah the Taco Salad. There’s something we’ve all heard of! The ingredients: Marinated kale & mixed greens tossed with apple cider vinaigrette. topped with red cabbage, sunflower taco meat, pico de gallo, avocado & cashew sour cream drizzle. I was really intrigued by this “sunflower taco meat” which is part of the reason I ordered the salad. It was good, I liked it. Served in a large eco-box, I ate the whole thing (well, shared it but you know what I mean). It was filling and the flavors kept me going back for more forkfuls. To be honest though, I wouldn’t order it again. The taco meat is nothing but soaked sunflower seeds processed with some chili powder and of course, nutritional yeast. Again we find heavy fats here in the nuts, seeds, and avocado. Moreover, I got the taste a few times of improperly washed greens on certain leaves. Eating dirty greens is extremely dangerous and exposes us to harmful microbes and bacteria. If you break down the components of the sandwich to the size of the portion for each ingredient you are getting, one starts to wonder if you are truly getting your money’s worth. The flavors were good, the bitterness of the kale was cut nicely – but then again when you drown Kale in fats, of course the bitterness is going to be cut. It’s exactly what I do to my own kale salads at home with avocado.
Raw Pizza and Greens. I had a few bites at this point.
The Raw Pizza and Greens was the only Raw Vegan item I purchased that day. A grab and go item available in a plastic container inside the small cooler in the front end, it was a dehydrated sunflower and zucchini crust topped with cashew cream & a daily selection of veggies. This is not a whole pizza, this is a square slice. Served with a small side of greens and a side cup of vegan ranch dressing. I also got myself a side cup of Date Balsamic for the greens to try because both those words together sent my imagination reeling with excitement. The dressings were good. the ranch added a nice zing to my tongue where the date balsamic had a sweet and savory element to it. The crust held up well, it was firm enough to hold the pizza slice and eat it like its cheesy counterpart. The tomatoes on top were fresh and tasty, and it really did have the feel and taste of a margherita pizza. I really enjoyed this one. I do wish I would have been given some more to the greens with it to truly make it a meal. Or maybe even a second slice. Vegan food, especially RAW vegan food, is just vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds in their uncooked state. This equals low calories despite large portion size. When you give me a slice of pizza that, in reality, is made of vegetables I start to question the caloric density and its nutritional satiety. . . not to mention the price of all that. Again, the heavy fats come in to play with seeds in the crust and heavy cashew cream on top. Ok, sure pizza involves “cheese” but raw veganism involves fresh, whole foods, so pick your battles here. I would have loved to see something raw that is a creative twist on pizza, not one that bogs down my colon with fat just to look and feel like the standard american version with two meager slices of tomato slapped on top. I don’t eat raw vegan to eat standard american fare.
Rosemary Fig Scone
Maple Crumb Cake
The Salted Chocolate chip cookie, Rosemary Fig Scone, Maple Crumb Cake: I love cookies, so this oversized, vegan, chocolate chip cookie seemed right up my driveway. Bursting with chocolate chips and I believe hemp seeds, it was soft and sweet. I enjoyed this a lot. I think it would be fantastic warmed up and it made a great sweet treat. The Scone I got because it sounded different from most desserts I’m offered with its rosemary and fig base. It was light, aromatic, hints of rosemary blended delicately with the bits of fig dotted throughout. Also probably better warm, I did enjoy it but wish it would have had a little bit more oomph on its flavors. Everything sort of felt like a background flavor leaving me with the scone bread as the primary source of taste, and it just tasted like bread. Maybe served with some jam and a cup of tea it would have been a more complete and balanced set of flavors. The crumb cake was good too, but again lacking in flavor and scent. The top of it, with all its maple crumbs, huge and tantalizing, look oh so irresistible but eating it was anticlimactic. All the flavor was in the top leaving the bottom to be sort of flavorless and cakey. I want my senses to be flooded in a dessert so that I can’t stop talking about it and then I proceed to make everyone I know eat it. . . that won’t be happening with this crumb cake(like the maple macaroons they sell; I sampled a small taste and oh dear heaven are they good, those you should eat).
The Grilled Avocado Sandwich: seasoned avocado on millet & flax bread. grilled with coconut butter. Another sandwich, I had the same option to add a side of greens for $3.00 or Add any of the following for .50¢ arugula • kimchi • tomato • sprouts- caramelized onion • coconut bacon. Lets put things into perspective shall we? This sandwich is literally a few slices of avocado seasoned with nutritional yeast on that same old coconut flax bread as every other sandwich. Did I mention the menu offers no alternatives to that bread for gluten free options or even whole wheat? That’s it. Nothing else. Just bread and avocado. So I ordered it thinking I could save myself a little money by getting the cheaper sandwich. Not so much because once I realized it was what my family calls a “wish” sandwich (when you wish there was something between the bread for you to eat) I had to go ahead and start tacking on fifty cent toppings. I added kimchi (fermented foods = healthy gut flora/probiotics) tomato, caramelized onion (they Made the bacon cheddar melt) and coconut bacon. This added another 2 dollars to my sandwich. This was so not worth the effort. It gets ordered a lot from what I can tell from other customers and I’m really not sure why. I don’t think people understand their caloric needs, because if they did, they might realize they’re getting ripped off. Not to mention, it was served all slapdash in a brown eco-box.
Red Lentil Soup
Lemon Pepper Red Lentil Soup Lentils and Arugula all soak together in this warm, hearty looking soup. I’m a huge fan of lentil soup, I’ve grown up eating it from almost every restaurant I attend that serves it. I have to tell you this one does not rank as a memorable lentil soup. My first impression was this strange sweetness that dominated the entire soup. The broth was thin and flavorless save for that weird sweetness I just couldn’t shake. I even tried to cover it with salt, pepper, and eventually hot sauce, and still that out-of- place, sweet, flavor kept dominating. The arugula tasted pretty good, I did enjoy that but the lentils themselves we’re under cooked!!!! Did you know you can get food poisoning from under cooked beans? I do. I once ate a cup of under cooked black beans (“eh, they’re soft enough”) and ended up very, very ill for the rest of the day (I’ll spare the details since we’re talking about food after all). So let me tell you, after having spent money on what I was hoping would be a knock out of a lentil soup and getting under cooked lentils, all I can do is shake my head.
The Seed Salad
Seed Salad: The ingredients- marinated kale & mixed greens topped with shredded carrots, beets, cabbage, sprouts, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds & raw sauerkraut. I got the Date Balsamic again as a dressing as well. This was an instant pick off the menu and I ate it with just as much enthusiasm. It was delicious from start to finish and I enjoyed every last bite. Great flavor, I loved the shredded beets and the crunchy slices of carrot. You would think raw sauerkraut would be weird, even a turn off, but when thrown over greens like that the two flavors compliment one another strikingly well. Very colorful and aesthetically pleasing upon opening the box. I have to hand it to them, the salads are winning in terms of meal satiety and flavor. But lets break down the salad in terms of nutrient density shall we? You’re getting a few cups of kale marinated in nutritional yeast (1 cup raw kale = 33 calories), what looks like two tablespoons of hemp seed (3 table spoons hemp seed = 174 calories) less than half a cup sliced beets (1/2 cup raw sliced beets= 37 calories) the shavings of possibly a whole carrot (one medium carrot = 25 calories) less than a cup of cabbage (1 cup cabbage =22 cal) Two tablespoons of sunflower seeds (1 tablespoon= 51 calories) and less than a cup of sauerkraut (1 cup = 19 cal.) So for 12 dollars on a menu deemed appropriate for adults in need of a proper lunch you’re getting 356 total calories give or take. Now, thats great if you are a person who is looking to lose weight, especially when livestrong.com states, “the average woman should eat about 565 calories per meal, while the average man should eat about 735 calories per meal.” But if you’re like me, someone who only eats fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, its super important that all the food I eat be bursting with the right kind of calories so I don’t put stress on my body by making it think it’s starving or by bogging it down with vegan fat sources, too much fat is still too much fat. The bulk of the calories here are coming from the fat of the sunflower seeds and topped off by a little protein punch that is hemp seed.
Pink Lemonade:lemon, apple, ginger, beet. I adore pink lemonade, sweet and tart, a summer past time; who could resist such a tempting offer? I have to admit, I drank the entire thing before I even thought to take a picture of it. Five sweet apples dominate over the earthy beet and is made tart with lemon complimented by the spicy zing of ginger. If you love tart lemonade like I do, then this one is an instant hit. It really did taste like pink lemonade and I would be happy to order more. I ordered the largest size but part of me wishes there was one even bigger than that. Maybe in a “juice cleanse” size.
In summary, Seed to Sprout appeared to be bursting with potential and left me kind of disappointed. There’s lots of things that tasted fantastic, but never the entire dish. Aspects of the dishes are great, but no one dish stands out as exceptional. Often one or two elements of a dish would stand out, but there was always a little something lacking to really wow me. Some of the dishes are a knock out with some of their flavors, but I’m reluctant to rejoice over food that depends so much on additives like nutritional yeast, salt, and oil. Additionally, the menu feels a little uninspired. I guess you could call it American style with its wraps, salads and sandwiches but it feels a little dull. Where are the fresh herbs? Where’s the bold and the daring culinary experience? When I eat local, hand made, specialty fare I expect something unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before.
Honestly, there’s nothing on their menu that I wouldn’t feel capable of making myself; which is why I’m so disappointed. It feels like the women who own and operate it are simply trying to cash in on the widespread popularity of veganism in neighborhoods where the clientele can afford what they believe to be healthier alternatives to convenience foods while hiring kids who probably aren’t familiar with vegan cooking. The vibe of the place feels like the “love” referred to by the company is the love of money, not in providing a product that is healthy, cruelty free, appetizing, and sustainable for the planet. The only time fruit appears on the menu is in smoothies and juices when it could be used to serve as a bright addition or base to any vegetable dish. The whole idea of eating a whole foods, plant based diet is to let the amazing flavors of the natural foods shine on a clean palette. You know, food the way nature intended. If the food was truly made with love why rely on fats and flavor enhancers to please the mouth?? There are a million ways to make fruit an entree, just ask any (raw) vegan. They are your customer focus after all. Maybe you should know something about what they eat.
Veganism is all about healthy living, compassion, and sustainability and this feels phony to me. After 15 years of hunting down vegan food in the Garden State, I can honestly say this one is all smoke and mirrors with none of the core values of veganism present in any aspect of the business. Serving organic, meat- less food under the name Vegan does not embody the spirit of veganism nor does it quantify the fare as healthy. I can eat a loaf of white bread, eat five tablespoons of coconut oil straight out of the jar and wash it down with soda and still call myself vegan, you know?