Elizabeth Berney gladly guided me through the menu at her newly opened vegan cafe when I visited for lunch a couple of weeks back. I confess to heading out to Food Evolution when they had only been open for three weeks.
But with a scarcity of vegetarian cafes in these parts I just couldn’t resist. Considering my conversations and tastings with Berney and her chef, Rachel, CT is in for a solid and delightful outpost for tasty and thoughtfully prepared eats.
To facilitate a rapid transition from Food Evolution‘s previous incarnation in the same location (So Good Vegan Cafe), Berney decided to open with most of the same menu. So she guided me through the lunch listings, indicating which dishes would likely remain on the menu. We focused on those.
This casual and comfortable space, with a small patio and ample bar, should do well in it’s location. They are surrounded by some delicious foodie neighbors in the Copp’s Hill Plaza in Ridgefield, CT. Most noticeably, Swoon Bakery, a gluten-free, nut-free bakery with plenty of non-dairy and vegan choices, is their next door neighbor. Lucky for everyone, Ross’s Breads, an artisanal bread and dessert bakery, is in the same shopping plaza.
Berney suggested that we start with Crystal Rice and Nori Rolls, a selection of both rice paper and seaweed wraps encasing wonderfully crunchy fillings of raw veggies, toasted cashews, kale and mango. Fresh herbs and a selection of dipping sauces kept things lively.
A generous plate of Fiesta Nachos provides the quintessential example of how to morph a fat laden, sloppy Super Bowl favorite into a healthier and still satisfying choice. Sprouted whole grain tortilla chips, baked in house, were topped with fresh corn and black bean salsa. Tomatillo pico de gallo and guacamole (a clever, if not slightly grainy blend of edamame and avocado) were topped by a smooth and tasty drizzle of creamy tofu and roasted red peppers. I did not miss the sour creme.
Berney estimates that 2/3 of her customers are NOT vegan and neither is her husband. Hoping to attract plenty of omnivores to her tables, her intention is to keep the choices appealing (no mystery meats) and the Fiesta Nachos is one of those dishes that will appeal to all.
The Beet and Orange Salad stars perfectly roasted sliced beets and orange sections topped with basil cashew “ricotta” and a tangy/sweet citrus dressing. Food Evolutions’s Chef trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute, where vegan techniques , including those for making “cheese”, are mastered. This ricotta style, cashew based “cheese” was as delicious as any I’ve tasted in legendary NYC vegan restaurants like Candle 79, Blossom Cafe and CT’s Six Main.
Despite the sticky summer heat, we decided to try something warm. Paella, with sweet red pepper puree and saffron “cream”, beckoned. Top with your favorite lightly browned vegan sausage, and brighten this rice composition with the complimentary flavors of these easy to make sauces. Recipe is below.
Other appealing choices are the ABLT- avocado, bean “bacon”(house made from aduki beans), lettuce and tomato with roasted garlic aioli on Ross’s organic whole grain toast.
Bringing the kids along? Try the Grilled “Cheese” with Granny Smith apples on that delicious multigrain bread from Ross’s Bakery.
The Portobello Burger was a hit as an alternative to the more expected grain and bean filled veggie burger. Marinated slabs of grilled portobellos stacked up deliciously with caramelized onions, roasted red bell peppers and provolone “cheese” on a ciabatta bun.
Would I try the So Good Burger next time, though? Gladly.
The dessert menu take advantage of Swoon Bakery and Ross’s Breads and will likely include more creations made in house. Of those we tried, we preferred the house-made Sublime Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie, with it’s creamy smooth filling of peanut butter and a light handed raw almond and date nut crust. Never mind that the berries were overkill and distracting.
It’s all evolving.
There is much change afoot at Food Evolution, according to owner, Elizabeth Berney. The main menu will be further developed so that lunch and dinner choices are more varied and distinctive. A mixologist has been hired to work on what is sure to be an exciting array of cocktails and beer. Brunch is in the works, too.
Considering that we chose to visit during the early days of this cafe, I was impressed. I look forward to checking out what Berney and her capable team will be cooking next.
Note: While I am not vegetarian or vegan, I love eating in such cafes as the whole menu is fair game for this kosher keeper. This cafe is not kosher, but there are no animal products at all, making this a suitable and tasty choice for anyone Kosher Like Me.
open for lunch and dinner M-Sa. Watch for Sunday brunch to be added soon!
109 DANBURY ROAD
This hearty dish is a vegan play on traditional Paella. Food Evolution in Ridgefield, CT serves it topped with apple sage vegan sausage. Elizabeth Berney, owner, suggests Field Roast brand, available at Whole Foods Markets.
The proportions in this recipe are for a large dinner party of at least 16-18. Feel free to reduce by half for smaller groups.
This recipe is vegan and pareve (non-dairy)
- ½ tsp saffron
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 package (14 oz) silken tofu, drained
- 6 oz vegan sour cream
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp nutritional yeast
- 2 cup wild rice
- 4 cup brown rice
- 4 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and medium diced
- 2 cup peas
- 4 cup artichoke heart, drained, pressed and rough chopped
- 2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 TBL salt
- 10 red bell pepper , medium chopped
- 5 cups water
- 1/8 cup agave
- 1 tsp salt
- Put saffron and wine in sauce pan, reduce by half
- Place reduced saffron/wine in blender with remaining ingredients under "saffron cream"
- Blend until smooth
- cook wild and brown rice separately in plenty of water until al dente, strain, chill
- place in bowl and mix with remaining ingredients under "Paella Rice"
- place red bell pepper and water in sauce pot – cook on LOW for 1 hour
- puree in blender then strain
- add agave and salt
- Place a mound of rice in center of plate.
- Swirl on one side with Saffron Cream Sauce.
- Swirl on second side with Red Pepper Puree
- Serve hot
If you like the idea of using vegan sausage here, simply chose your favorite brand (think of flavor profile you like best), slice and brown before mixing into the rice mixture.
Food Evolution topped their paella with thick slices. You may want to cut your sausage into bite size chunks and toss into the rice dish.