Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chef Brooke's Natural Cafe Fort Myers Review

The three young women cheerfully enter the Café, smile at Chef Brooke, and make a beeline for the comfy couch and chairs. Two men at the counter compliment the chef on their meals. We take a windowside table, next to the orchids. Opened May 1st, Chef Brooke’s Natural Café has a steady stream of friendly regulars and newbies. With her network of organic farmers, there’s a variety of seasonal specials The café is open breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7 days a week. Do the math. Including prep work, Chef Brooke is here initially daily , cheerfully, from 8 am to 8 pm, putting in well over 90 hours a week.! Owning her first restaurant is her passion, her expertise, her dream come true. She’s created perhaps the freshest, tastiest natural café in Southwest Florida, with all organic ingredients, and some gluten-free bakery goods as well. What’s the difference between “Organic” and “Natural”? Read below, it can be scary.

Chef Brooke Wagenheim earned her toque, training with different chefs, then served 6 years as chef and catering manager at Ada’s Natural and Organic Foods. Ada’s Fort Myers mother ship was shut down in February. Ada's was evicted in March from their final, Naples site; with Bonadies family members now facing lawsuits, owing $135,000 in rent, and more to suppliers. Chef Brooke’s Café now fills the culinary gap left by Ada’s. It's located in a strip of stores, across from the Kawasaki Motorcycle dealership on Boy Scout Drive. Like a good 80’s coffee bar, it is warm 'n inviting, with wide open kitchen, colorful paintings on the walls, tiny faerie castles above, and that inviting, comfy couch. Music is understated and relaxing.

Chef Brooke, guests Therese Carmelite, Suzanne Grace
There’s over a dozen rich smoothies, with names like Mountain Faerie, Blu Pearl, Googleberry, from $6-8, and TheBestSmoothieEver for $9.99 All sorts of organic raw juices are made on the spot. Try the coffees, or numerous teas, with some gluten-free selections. Chef Brooke highly recommends the popular GT’s Kombucha or Synergy drinks-they give Chef Brook the energy to smile through 12 hour days; it’ll energize you, too.

The Breakfast Tofu Scramble ($8), (also appears as the Tofu “Egg” Salad), tasting surprising like scrambled eggs! This filling portion is served on a bed of fresh greens, with strawberries, blackberries and cucumber slices. There’s white millet and flax bread, smeared with spiced apple jam. Eating healthy is delicious!
The popular Organic House Salad ($6), arrives in a beautiful hand made bowl, piled with fresh greens, and served with triangles of millet and flax chips, fresh blackberries, walnuts, sweet strawberries, crisp cucumber slices and other fresh fruits. Choose your dressing, and dive in.

There are various large Vegetable Spring Rolls. Mine has a blend of raw vegetables with a drizzle of Umeboshi Plum Vinegar, sesame seeds, and a touch of sea salt in a delicate rice wrapper. Its homemade Thai Peanut Sauce has wheat free tamari sauce, agave nectar, a dash of cayenne and sesame seeds. There’s also a Lemon Tahini Sauce.

The Amazing Veggie Burger, (9) is made from walnuts, flax, millet and all sorts of greens such as spinach, rainbow chard, kale, collards , lots of herbs, and garlic Chef Brooke says “I make the burgers in the biggest bowl I have, fresh each day, and they sell out -they are really popular.” It has the rich texture of a hamburger-one guest said “They taste just like a hamburger to me, only better! They have a great flavor that says “really healthy”.” There’s hummus on the side. Chef Brooke makes hers fresh each day, and it tastes soo much better than any I’ve had outside of the Middle East. Grocery stores' processed hummus, packaged to last for weeks, has NONE of the authentic delicacy and taste of this hummus. Veggie Burger and hummus are Recommended for a filling portion.
The Lentil Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Herbs is wonderfully spiced, and very, very thick in a stick-to-your-ribs-way. So rich, so flavorful, gently simmered on low heat. Herbs include basil and marjoram, spices include cumin coriander, and sea salt, with a splash of lime. It’s topped with fresh organic tomato, crunchy mixed sprouted beans, onion, baby mixed field greens and some sliced carrot. Wow! Organic soups change daily, at $5 a bowl, and $9 a quart, they're twice as rich as conventional soups. Highly recommended!

The Miso soup (5) has a perfect broth, generous with tofu, onions, beans and other goodies, crunchy, tender and succulent with each bite-every fresh morsel has a distinct taste from its companions.

From the bakery, I took home a huge Oatmeal Raisin Almond “Ice Cream” Cookie Sandwich. The luscious frosting is made with the Earth Balance buttery Spread, a vegetable spread that Chef Brooke says is “just as creamy, just as sweet as butter, and it’s free of animal ingredients. The cookie is humongous, bursting with crisp freshness, better than nearly any cookie you’ve had. Gotta have one!
Muffins are large! We took home the Banana Split, with strawberry, banana and pineapple, with whipped cream and nuts on top, and the Fresh Corn Muffins, made from fresh corn on the cob-you can taste the difference between Brooke's preservative free, and preservative laden “store bought" muffins immediately.Muffins are wonderfully moist, dense and tasty, with chunks of fruit giving flavor bursts. People rave about the muffins; we rave too!

Back to “Organic" vs "Natural.” “Certified Organic” means a farmer has gone through a rigorous certification process- no pesticides or chemicals are used in growing or processing the food. Organic meats are not pumped up with hormones or antibiotics that conventionally-raised animals are given. "Natural" happily ignores pesticide use and cares less if crops are grown in polluted fields-it only implies the food, AFTER farming by whatever means, is "minimally" processed, and should not contain additives, artificial colors or artificial ingredients.
“Natural” products are NOT rigorously certified, they may be genetically modified, grown in toxic waste, and be squirted by pesticides before processing. Ugh. Like Clinton’s "don’t ask, and don’t tell" philosophy! Produce from Three Mile Island may be labeled as “Natural”. “Natural” can be a simple fact, or used as a deceptive label, a clever marketing ploy by sneaky distributers and grocery owners.
I wasn’t aware of the “Organic” vs “Natural” differences, till I did some reading. If a grocer tries to convince you that “organic” and “natural” are interchangeable or identical, smile, keep walking, and find an honest grocer or chef. They will cheerfully show you the produce boxes, and tell you about each farmer. Meeting Chef Brooke, you know you’re with an honest soul, and her kitchen is wide open-no secrets. It is a wondrously healthy treat, to taste her raw or cooked delights.

Chef Brooke also has fresh groceries for sale, cooking classes, catering, and offers live entertainment.
In the Sunview Business Center, located off Boy Scout Drive in Fort Myers, about two blocks from US 41 . 1850 Boy Scout Drive in Fort Myers, 332-CHEF (332-2433).


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Anonymous said...

I didn't know she opened a restaurant... I interviewed her a couple of years ago when she was at Ada's Market. I'll have to try it!

Ivan Seligman said...


When in Fort Myers, it's a must try-I only wish she could open a store in Naples.

Ada's closing forced her hand to open her own spot. So many people enjoyed her and Ada's, so Ada's lives on, in a way, through her creations.


Anonymous said...

Naples - keep your hands off our Brooke- Aussie

Anonymous said...

We went today and ended up walking out. It smelled wonderful with curry filling the air. I've been looking for a good veggie friendly restaurant for a while since moving here. BUT we walked in and the 2 employees working never acknowledged us. We had never been there before and waited and waited. The server who I think may have been Chef Brooke walked by several times and never even smiled or made eye contact! Finally we left and as we were walking out she finally made a comment about ordering at the registar. I've been in the industry for 17 years and don't appreciate a negative or lazt attitude. Her snide remark was heard as we walked out. I may go back out of curiosity for the food still. But the service and attitude was horribly rude and unwlecoming for a first time customer!!

Ivan Seligman said...

I'm glad you're willing to give it another shot-that is so unlike the greeting I and others have received over the years at Chef Brooke's.

Chef Brooke said...

The latest review is from Tricia. I know exactly who you are because I remember what happened. I am sorrowful that instances can rear themselves as bad reviews for my restaurant. This is my life. So please, let me explain.
I just have to say that this was a complete misunderstanding and a sad one at that because, as busy and hectic as we were that day, at lunchtime, we really do prioritize, greeting and letting each customer know "the procedure" I have a brand new employee and we were busier than usual, she thought I had greeted you, and I thought she had greeted you....I never said anything rude to you as you were leaving, I said, "Are you serious? Please come back and let us serve you, we didn't know you hadn't been greeted properly." I had just realized what had happened, that neither me nor my employee had greeted you, handed you a menu, pointed out the Special Board, and informed you that you order at the register and then we serve you.
This review has prompted me to get a big sign and hang it above the register. "Please Order Here"
Give us another chance, Tricia.....the food here is darn tooting good, homemade and organic, with so much love, it'll save us all!!!!