It’s quite easy to eat green

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When people fantasize about Spanish cuisine, they usually imagine the epitome of traditional tapas such as prawns al ajillo (golden shrimp with garlic and chili peppers in a creamy olive oil bath), or the precious acorn-fed Iberian ham and its rich marbling.

But in Naples, Lamoraga offers a different perspective. US 41’s contemporary Mediterranean oasis, with its undulating ceiling panels, crisp white bar stools, and wide open kitchen that can be accessed from any table, is modern in more ways than one. title. This avant-garde state of mind is particularly applied to its menu.

The restaurant is presented as a Mecca for Mediterranean fusion and tapas. And while you can feast on a Valencian paella with chicken and saffron soaked rice, there is also a plant-based version, along with other vegan dishes, such as fried shiitake and “calamari”. with oyster mushrooms, a pincho (a tapa you can pick up or pinch with your fingers) crushed avocado and plantain, and Andalusian gazpacho swirled with basil oil, all without a trace of meat.

The genesis of Lamoraga’s herbal offerings dates back around two years, when the restaurant began hosting monthly vegan dinners that became passionate projects for owner Thomas Nütten and chef JC Perez. The two are creating a new four-course menu for $ 29 each month, with a lot of research and development for each course. The vegan menu is offered for one or two days, alongside the regular a la carte omnivorous options, which now also include a handful of vegan options.

“My chef and kitchen being flexible, we adopted it and started having fun,” says Nütten. “It’s to the point where I’m going to order the vegan dishes for my friends and family when I entertain because I think they’re really good, not just good for vegan dishes. Honestly, I love our mushroom “squid” maybe even more than our classic.

The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, attracting a new crowd of regulars. It’s a trend in line with the wave of interest nationwide (think almond milk and Beyond Burger). The Plant Based Foods Association has seen record growth in its sector for several years, peaking consumption by 11.4% in 2019. When you compare this significant increase with the number of people who identify as vegans (a single point percentage increase from 2012 to 2018, according to Gallup), it’s evident that more and more people are getting into the trend, but not fully embracing it.

This is something that Nütten saw unfold in the restaurant. When he hosts the two-night vegan dinners each month, diners come specifically for these herbal options with friends who order off the regular menu. So if someone in a group doesn’t want the fixed price or fancy one of the standard tapas, they can have their albondigas and eat them too.

At 21 Spices (photo and cocktail below) and Kareem (above), Indian and Middle Eastern influences lend themselves to inventive plant-based dishes and drinks. Courtesy of 21 Spices / Nicole Nixon; Brian Tietz

Two notable restaurants in the city, Chef Asif’s 21 Spices and critically acclaimed Kareem’s Lebanese Kitchen, offer extensive vegan menus every night. Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines naturally lend themselves to vegetarian dishes, but the leadership behind both spots goes one step further by announcing that they do not use added oils, which is in keeping with the spirit of health that underlies the movement. Meanwhile, places like The Local (Naples’ first brand-name farm-to-table restaurant) and True Food Kitchen (a small national chain) have committed to offering vegan choices. Even Chops City Grill, a bona fide steakhouse in Naples, has gone out of its way to expand its menu with over 30 veg-only offerings.

Like the plant vines that nourish vegans, the scope of healthy, plant-based cooking has never grown as fast as it has in the past five years. Naples saw the beginnings of Vegan Kitchen, Organically Twisted, True Food Kitchen, Café Nutrients and Oakes Farms’ Seed to Table. Fort Myers got Fibrre, Living Vine Organic Café, and a relaunched Green Cup Café. The islands saw the rebirth of The Sanibel Sprout, Sanibel’s only truly plant-based restaurant, which closed a few years ago, much to the dismay of locals. Not all of them are strictly vegan, but they focus enough on a balanced, complete diet to be considered part of the movement. They’ve joined long-standing stalls in the area, like the original Food & Thought in Naples, Chef Brooke’s Natural Café in Fort Myers, and YOU Café in Cape Coral, all of which have served the herbal crowd at over the past decade or more.

Mike Young, founder of the online vegan organization aPlantBasedDiet.org, along with SWFL Veg Fest and its many regional offshoots, are helping to increase local interest. The respective owners of Lamoraga, 21 Spices and Kareem’s have started working with Young to amplify their vegan offerings.

21 Spices gives a nifty twist to its meatless offerings; Kareem’s (below) is more traditional with dishes like vegetables stuffed with bulgur wheat. Nicole Nixon; Courtesy 21 spices / Isabella Baquerizo

Young made the decision to go vegan in 2014, and to help with the transition, he created Facebook groups for vegans in markets he had ties to: Raleigh, North Carolina; Washington DC; Naples and Ocala. To his surprise, the fastest growing group with the strongest followers was none other than Southwest Florida. “It seemed like it was an underserved area and there were some health conscious people,” says Young, who estimates that the last SWFL Veg Fest had more than 5,000 attendees.

It also becomes much easier to eat fresh, local produce at home. Juicelation has grown into one of the most popular stores in town with people coming to either pick up organic, cold-pressed, nutrient-rich juices or order them and prescribed cleanings (like the Instaglam from a day to seven bottles) online.

There’s also Not A Burger, a vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO plant-based patty business, which launched in January at the Third Street South Farmers’ Market and makes local deliveries throughout Southwest Florida for $ 10. $. While many lamented how the pandemic shut down one of our best upscale farm-to-table restaurants, Harvest & Wisdom, its former executive chef David Robbins is the entrepreneur behind this patty made mostly from cultivated red beets. locally and a blend of ancient grains (like quinoa, lentils, and ancient French oats), with ingredients like fermented chili paste and fresh herbs to help with the umami factor. “A big part of what makes it special are its whole ingredients,” says Robbins. “He’s not trying to substitute for meat. You don’t need a lab to do this. It is only plants which are plants.

Some restaurants express the green lifestyle in their interiors, such as at Bevy, with its open, bright design and wall full of plants. Courtesy of The Bevy / Samantha Bloom.

At the Farmers Market, Robbins sells packets of pre-cooked, vacuum-sealed patties in a cooler, and he toasts them for customers as a hot sandwich on a sesame bun with herb-garlic cashew cheese. homemade, heirloom tomatoes, grilled mushrooms and pickles from Naples Canning Co. He also takes special orders for a DIY gourmet burger kit for four with all the ingredients to recreate his masterpiece, as well as jars with its vegan mayo with white truffle and its gochujang barbecue sauce.

From day one, and even through a change of management, The Bevy, located nearby on 12th Avenue South, has proclaimed its commitment to the green lifestyle; not only for its airy setting and walls covered with jasmine and vines, but also for its vegan wine-based dinners, available on request. Before the pandemic, the restaurant regularly held its special dinners, as well as weekly meatless Mondays. Last year, the team started offering the vegan and vegetarian menus to interested parties of six or more who call 24 hours in advance to reserve. From what’s available at local farms, chefs create meatless dishes, such as cauliflower ‘steak’ with curry and watermelon salad with serrano pepper, which are expertly paired with wines from around the world. . To go further, the restaurant is working with Angelic Desserts to offer vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free bakery products. Even if you don’t go the plant-based route, you’ll still have your choice of juice-focused cocktails and intentionally lighter fare (including on the decadent brunch menu).

While there have been inevitable losses in the food scene from COVID-19, other restaurants have found opportunities amid the chaos, with some seeing growth, such as The Bowl, which focuses on organic smoothies, which added a third location to Estero. We can only hope that as people increasingly see their diet as a way to stay healthy and become more aware of the environmental benefits of eating more plants, more and more of these restaurants and menus will continue to sprout.

In this vegetarian aperitif, jammy blueberries accompany a smooth scoop of mozzarella di bufala at The Bevy. Courtesy of The Bevy / Samantha Bloom.



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