The owners of Left Coast Food + Juice knew that healthy could also mean delicious, since they'd experienced it on the West Coast. It meant asking a professional chef for help. They sought the advice of Chicago's Paul Kahan - the force behind restaurants like Blackbird, Avec and The Publican - who helped get them up and running by providing them with recipes and techniques that have made this tiny, California-inspired cafe extremely tasty.
Despite the large number of gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan items on the menu at Left Coast Food + Juice in Lakeview, there is still quite a bit of flavor on the plate. When one of the owners returned to Chicago after living in California, he realized most of the quote-unquote "healthy" places were serving the same old, tired tofu.
"To me, it was what healthy was six, seven years ago. And it sort of became stagnant. Great, healthy food doesn't have to taste bland," said Michael Madden, one of the owners.
Take a California staple: avocado toast. Here, toasted whole grain bread is shmeared with ripe avocados, topped with fresh orange slices and ricotta salata cheese, then some sunflower sprouts that have been tossed in an orange vinaigrette. A bit of Middle Eastern za'taar gets sprinkled over the top.
Salads are robust, jammed with flavor; think kale and spinach lightly coated in a tahini-yogurt dressing, then tossed with orange, red onions, green beans and flaxseeds. Some toasted almonds provide crunch, and adding proteins, like grilled salmon make it pretty hearty.
"With grain bowls, we tried to push the envelope a little bit more than just brown rice so we use farro in a lot of our dishes, which is one of the oldest grains on planet earth," said Madden.
The K-Town combines gochuchang - the Korean sweet-spicy chili paste - with roasted broccoli, mushrooms and carrots as well as spinach. Topped with a perfectly-cooked, 7-minute egg, it gets a garnish of black sesame and toasted nori, or seaweed.
Even acai - that purplish Brazilian superfood - gets used in a flavor-jammed bowl, loaded with fresh blueberries, raspberries, bananas and almonds, plus almond butter, macca powder and hemp seeds, over crunchy granola and coconut. Not your typical Midwestern breakfast.
"Just sort of try to shake it up a little bit," said Madden.
In this week's Extra Course, Steve shows you most of the smoothie menu at Left Coast, with quite a few surprises, plus one of their unique cold-pressed juices.
Left Coast Food + Juice
2878 N. Lincoln Ave.