By Ellen Kanner
October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, a fact that might have escaped you here in South Florida, where the score is steakhouses, 66, vegetarian eateries, 17. When you’re the few, the proud, the meat-free, "it helps to have a mission," says John Schott, chef-owner of Lifefood Gourmet, where the menu is vegan, raw and sustainable — the kind of food Schott believes can heal, individually and globally.
If Schott, 29, is the new, hipper face of veggie dining in South Florida, Irving Fields is a link to the old tie-dye and brown-rice days. "People are more aware of what they’re consuming, more sophisticated — it’s exciting," says Fields, who opened Granny Feelgoods in 1971 (he sold it in 2004) in the heart of Miami’s downtown. "Everybody thought I crazy," says Fields. "I had long hair and these guys were pretty straight, conservative." Fields now manages the Café at Books & Books in Coral Gables, where he often sees old Granny’s customers. The gone-but-not-forgotten Spiral in Coral Gables and Oak Feed in Coconut Grove and the still-kicking Here Comes the Sun in North Miami and The Last Carrot in the Grove were also part of that first wave. Terry Dalton, who opened now-closed North Miami Beach health food eatery Unicorn Village in 1979, helped launch Sublime, Fort Lauderdale’s vegan mecca, in 2003. "It’s up to the next generation to move this revolution forward," he says, adding, a bit wistfully, "and it was a revolution."
Enter restaurateurs like the Colombian-born Schott, who can talk living food enzymes all night, but "I don’t impose anything on anyone. That turns people off." The last thing he wants to do is perpetuate the old notion that vegetarian cuisine is "hippie food made by people who are a little bit crazy." His menu at Lifefood includes dishes like nachos with guacamole and Brazil nut cheese, raw tacos that get their goodness and crunch from quinoa and flax seed and "The Mother of All Lasagna" — tortillas layered with spinach, pumpkin-pesto cheese and macadamia-pine nut alfredo sauce.
At Shing Wang Vegetarian in North Miami Beach, that means seaweed salad, tofu-based Shanghai-style stir-fries and fun, fruity bubble tea. At Morningside mainstay Honey Tree it means a meatless lunchtime smorgasbord of international dishes capped, perhaps, with a slice of soy-based chocolate-mousse pie. And just downstairs from Schott’s Lifefood Gourmet in the same small Roads neighborhood building, it means luscious pinenut cheese-stuffed mushrooms, mango empanadas and raw chocolate mousse at Om Garden. "We’re about bringing our future generation to another level of enlightenment," says owner Dionette Kalkhofer. A food-industry veteran and reformed steak tartare junkie, Kalkhofer saw the vegan light a year and a half ago and says she has shed 45 pounds since parting ways with meat and dairy, as well as refined sugar. Like other new-wave vegetarian restaurateurs, Schott and Kalkhofer aim to maintain a vital connection between the food they serve and their mission of health and compassion.
"South Florida needs it," Schott says. "It’s about building community."
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