Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Cider Press-Naples' First "Gourmet Level" Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurant

The Cider Press Café is open!!

  The vegan food lover at the next table summed up my experience, saying, The Cider Press’s food “fills all your senses, and your taste buds never feel like they are satisfied until you have sampled all of their plates on your palate…and Cider Press's offerings cover it all!”
Executive chef/co-owner Johan Everstijn  and  sous chef Susan Bailey-Dunn craft delicious food that bursts with flavor. 
Sous Chef Susan Bailey-Dunn
  Today I was driving by, saw the sign on, popped in, and caught the Opening night by chance. I’ve been waiting since November to try their food.  I’ll be back with friends too, to try more dishes.

    Besides being delicious, all of the food is vegetarian/vegan- raw or cooked below 117 degrees F. It’s truly locally sourced when available (not so much grows locally in summer). One grower is 7 miles away-the food is harvested in the morning, and on your plate for lunch. Who else can top that for farm-to-plate freshness?  The cuisine is also free of gluten, dairy, MSG, peanuts, trans fat, sugar and tofu. Huh? Tofu-free at a vegetarian spot? Yep, some are sensitive to soy beans!  If you have a food allergy that isn’t covered by this, just put in your request, and your wishes should be met.

   The restaurant succeeds on Chef Everstijn’s promise to serve “Florida-inspired, plant-based modernist cuisine.”  Well, it also has touches of  Japan, Thailand,  Southwestern USA, the Deep South, Spain, Mexico, Peru and the Caribbean, too!
  Enter past a restored cider press from the 1800’s, and sit on one of eight  tractor seats at the bar, or go further into the minimalist décor. The Cider Press will soon seat over sixty people, have their beer and wine license, and get permitting for outdoor seating…it’s just not here on opening day. Although it is vegan friendly, there’s none of the often popular fake country kitch on the walls, tie-dye, new age music or scented fountains. The music is lively and at low volume, perfect for conversation. This is the kind of place where diners at nearby tables will smile and ask how your meal is, or recommend what they found to be great-and their recommendations are spot on.
    Co-owner Roland Strobel heads the front of the house, and you’d never guess this is his first restaurant. Executive Chef Everstijn was Chef de Cuisine of Matthew Kenney, OKC (Oklahoma City), the nationally acclaimed raw vegan restaurant. Now for the food.
This was an unusually cold night in Naples (at 68 degrees F, while Atlanta had snow, and  Detroit was -9 degrees F., just saying.) From the selection of English breakfast, green, lemon, orange and chamomile hot teas, I ordered the chamomile  to warm up ($2.50), realizing the teas and coffe were perhaps the only items in the house above 117 degrees F! It was satisfying with a lovely aroma and calmingly smooth taste. Looking at the tag, I was surprised it was a Lipton herbal blend; I’d expected a fancier brand, or an expensive pyramidal shaped teepee of a bag. The taste and price are both welcome. The diners at another table recommended the emerald green juice ($5),

which is a zingy refreshing mix of D’Anjou pear, celery, cucumber, parsley and a splash of lime. There’s six juices and quite a few smoothies to try, too.
Starters/apps include a ceviche of marinated abalone mushrooms, passion fruit, cilantro and aji; tomato pesto flatbread with “goat” style cashew cheese; and a delicious looking Florida roll with jicama, rice, avocado, mango cilantro and pickled ginger. The table next to mine raved about the Caesar salad, and the citrus kale salad was also recommended.
  My socks were knocked off by the rich, thick goodness of the Seminole corn chowder. It’s a  “to die for” dream, with luscious cashew cream base, sweet corn, a sprig of cilantro, and wonderful warm heat from Spain’s salmorejo soup- gazpacho’s thicker vinegar-based cousin.

This is a highly recommended, must-have cold soup that’ll stick to your ribs; corn never tasted so wonderful! (Yes, I do want to take an order home and heat it up, I love steaming hot soup in what poses as  Naples'  “winter” weather.) There is gazpacho soup too, also for $6. Any guess as to what Seminole Indians have in common with corn? 
Neighboring tables raved about the Ruskin Florida lasagna with herbed cashew ricotta ($19), the tres amigos walnut picadillo tacos with guacamole ($19); sea tangle pad thai with kelp noodles and spicy pepper-tamarind sauce (17); and chipotle enchiladas with macadamia crema fresca (19).
I am a sucker for meatloaf as comfort food, so I ordered the veggie churrasco ($22).

The plate is beautiful, with edible flowers and two sliced smoked nut and Portobello mearloaf-looking quenelles; one atop a sparkling raw vinegary chimichurri sauce, and the other on a mildly hot yellow aji pepper-pineapple salsa. Center stage is whipped garlic cauliflower puree with a hummus consistence, garnished with purple, orange and green colored cauliflower slices. While the quenelles are very good, the vibrant sauces steal the show!The sauces are thoughtfully placed below, not on the quenelles, so you can add as little or as much sauce to suit your taste.
I was full after this assortment, and not overfull-satiated is the best word-the vegan cuisine does not sit heavy as with some non plant-based proteins. I ordered, and was “over the moon” with the rich taste and texture of the vanilla “ice cream’s”  dairy-free coconut-cashew cold creamy goodness. This is highly recommended.

 Oh, why is it a Modernist restaurant? Mainly in their approach to bring out the goodness of each ingredient. They have a cryovac for sous vide techniqes, and don’t have a microwave or fryer; all  to make you uber-healthy flavorful dishes. Check out to get an idea of what can be done. Their kitchen is wide open for all to see.
Competition? None. Loving Hut serves ok vegan food. Restaurants like Charlie Chiang’s, Seasons 52, Food and Thought, and Sunburst Café do have delicious veg-friendly dishes…no one else has  vegan “gourmet” level flavorful food like this. I’m an omnivore, and this is well worth a visit, again and again.
 Piper’s Crossing Shopping Center at 1201 Piper Blvd., #26, (East end of  the shopping strip that's on the North side of Immokalee, across from Sam’s), 631-2500,

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