Beauty of Sprouts
1474 Fruitville Road, Sarasota
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter:@LeveyBaker.
Warning! Warning! This week's Cheap Eats is another one in which I'm cheating, stretching the boundaries of what we typically define as "cheap." But it's for a good cause, I swear. For the benefit of my vegan and vegetarian friends, whom I hear from frequently, I'd like to draw attention to a newish organic and largely raw restaurant that opened a couple months back: Beauty of Sprouts.
The restaurants sits right on Fruitville Road, just west of Lemon Avenue, with wide glass up front that lets you gaze at cars and summer camp school buses zooming by. Striped curtains dangle in front of the windows, tied back with plain green ribbon. The spot is small, with just a half-dozen tables or so, but it feels airy and welcoming, never cramped. In the back, across the snazzy terrazzo floor, sits the kitchen, stocked more like a home kitchen than a pro spot. From the back, you can hear the tap, tap, tap of the knife hitting the cutting board and even the whir of the blender after the proprietress takes your order.
The menu is entirely organic and vegan, as well as dairy- and gluten-free. The dishes are mostly raw, but the restaurant cheats with its soups, which are largely heated. The borsch ($5.50) is splendid, its pink broth laced with thin strips of beets and carrots and gussied up with dill. A scoop of "nut cheese" rests in the middle, providing a soothing touch to the well-seasoned soup.
The zucchini pasta ($13.50) comes with your choice of either tomato sauce or a coconut sauce. The latter just flat-out looks stunning. The thin noodles carved from zucchini rest in the bottom of the glass bowl, smothered with soft noodle-like carrot strips; turmeric-laden, sunshine-yellow clusters of that coconut sauce; softened cashews; and a fistful of sprouts. Is it going to replace spaghetti alla carbonara in my meal rotation anytime soon? No, but it's solid, giving up a sharp dose of fragrant cumin. And those vegetable noodles actually don't taste as far off from real noodles as you might think. There's a crunch there you won't find with real pasta, of course, but the zucchini remains flexible and soft.
Another noodle—the kelp noodle—stars in Beauty of Sprouts' version of pad Thai ($11.75), which mixes up the aforementioned noodles with a coconut and tamarind sauce, more sprouts, strips of kale, tiny broccoli florets, carrot strands and more. The flavor doesn't recall pad Thai at all. My wife, Rachel, suggests sesame notes, and I'm picking up some mint and parsley. As long as you're not expecting a genuine pad Thai replacement, you're in OK hands.
Same goes for the burrito ($13.50), in which the tortilla is replaced with a collard green wrapper. Inside goes a range of veggies and a spicy pepper sauce, along with another generous lump of cumin. Other items on the menu offer more raw takes on cooked classics: pizza with a "sprouted crust" ($11.50), lasagna ($12), butternut squash ravioli ($8), etc.
I'm genuinely confounded by the restaurant's raw crème brûlée ($3.50). Doesn't crème brûlée need to be, you know, brûléed? But the cashew cream base is sweet and tart in all the right ways, and while it's lacking the rock-hard burnt-sugar topping, a vanilla sauce at least begins to make up for it. I also want to say a good word about the restaurant's "herbal coffee" ($2.50). Made from dandelions, a cold cup of this stuff is sublime. It mimics the flavor of coffee without trying to replicate it, and the dark, mysterious brew requires zero in the way of sweetener or additives. Can't say the same for the restaurant's kombucha ($2.75), whose flavor most closely resembles cider vinegar. If that's your thing, hey, go for it. It is not mine.
Beauty of Sprouts is a one-woman show, which means service can vary greatly: at times warm and friendly, at other times disinterested and frustrating, often within the course of the same meal. It is not a place to head to if you're looking for a quick escape from work. But I imagine the legions of Sarasota vegans and vegetarians won't care. Another restaurant actually serving thoughtful, fun meat-free cuisine? I remain an omnivore, but I can dig it.