Raw Vegan Food Done Right: Catch a Healthy Habit Cafe

Liz Rueven

Here in Fairfield County, there are a number of interesting vegetarian cafes, restaurants and markets that focus on mostly organic, mostly vegetarian ingredients and healthy eating. The most recent addition is Catch a Healthy Habit Cafe, just past the Community movie theatre in Fairfield.  In the ever burgeoning foodie scene that is sprouting in Fairfield, this one is unique and specific in its orientation and intention.  Be assured that everyone who ventures (and I mean adventures) into this cool spot is in for an unusual experience.

CATCH A HEALTHY HABIT is a raw, vegan cafe.  HUH?  No need to be stumped.  Vegan indicates that the food is vegetarian and does not include any animal products or bi products.  That means no eggs or cheese are used.  "Raw" means exactly that.  The fundamental principles behind "raw foodism" or "rawism" are that cooking is thought to diminish the nutritional value and "life force" of food.  The raw food diet is based on eating unprocessed, uncooked  foods.  That means that lots and lots of fresh fruit and veggies, sprouts of all kinds, seeds and nuts, grains, beans, dried fruit and seaweed are the focus of this way of eating.  Some "heating" is used, if it doesn't exceed a temperature of 118 degrees F, since this is the point at which raw foodies believe that nutrients and important enzymes are destroyed.

We ventured out on a bone chilling, rainy Saturday when the first snow of the season was (finally) forecast. Truthfully, it felt like one of those precious weekend days when you are SURE that you don't want to leave the warmth of your own home.  But as the newest CTbites contributor, I dared not disappoint my editor, who requested that I get the first scoop on this latest addition to the vegetarian dining scene.  Dare I disappoint? never!

We entered the bright space that beckoned us with an open layout and comfortable cushioned seating wrapping around the corner of the cafe. Low tables were being used by a few customers for their lunch and laptops. Eight or nine stools are installed at the counter and customers were happily engaged with owners Lisa Storch and Glen Colello.  The owners moved energetically between the open kitchen and the floor space, greeting old friends and new customers. Having opened just 2 weeks ago (November 25) there was a buzz in the air as friends greeted the owners with congratulatory hugs.  My dubious hubby and I asked Glen what he recommended and without missing a beat he advised us to try the BBQ burger, pizza, carrot soup and "blood juice".  Having done my "homework" prior to venturing into this raw and vegan cafe, I was curious about all of it.  But still,  uncooked burger, even if vegetarian?  Onion bread... without flour, and unbaked? Pizza without the doughy crust and gooey cheese that we crave? It seemed impossible to conceive, but Glen and Lisa have taken this culinary challenge and created a menu that works in wonderfully flavorful ways!

M. and I shared the BBQ burger (seen above), which is a mix of nuts and seeds, seasoned and formed into a patty. The onion bread was the real mystery.  It was more of a flat bread  (not even a distant cousin of a "roll") that came together with ground flax, sunflower seeds, olive oil and sea salt.  If I understand correctly, a dehydrator is an oft used tool in the "raw" kitchen that helps reduce moisture and compress ground ingredients.  This dark, flat "bread" was heavily textured and tasty.  The burger was served with "ranch dressing" which is more of a dip of blended celery, cashews and other goodies. On a subsequent visit, we had the same burger with a chipotle BBQ sauce that was very flavorful. Both preparations served to moisten and compliment each and every bite of that unfamiliar but delicious burger.

Next up came the pizza.  Here was another miracle of creative crust formed with ground almonds and flax, and a few other simple ingredients.  This crust was thicker than the onion bread we had enjoyed with the burger. It supported 2 thick layers consisting of tomato sauce  (imagine uncooked, ground tomatoes coming together with herbs to form a tangy rose colored layer) and another layer of cashew "cheese."  You have to be open for this one.  It hardly resembles pizza as we know it, but the tasty layers are well supported by  the "bread." It was satisfying and filling.  The whole array of ingredients was topped with "rawmesan", a substitute for (you guessed it) Parmesan cheese.  The pizza was served with a simple and surprisingly basic, side salad.  I expected darker and more interesting greens in the salad and was slightly disappointed.

What to wash it all down with?  A freshly squeezed "BLOOD" juice was served to us in a huge glass.  The raw beets, red apples, lemon and ginger blended together like a cool twist on room temperature borscht.  The liquefied fuchsia ingredients were surely nourishing my every cell as I gladly drank my half of the shared choice with hubby. Later in the week I tried another drink. This time i was up for a smoothie, having just completed an hour in the gym.  Lisa recommended the "superfood hero" and I was happy to try it.  Lisa and Glen both clearly loved sharing info with me about which super foods were in this concoction and why they are so vital.  All I can say is that it was truly delicious, hydrating, satisfying and I definitely felt restored after finishing this antioxidant and high protein drink.

And what for the soup lovers on these frigid days of winter?  We LOVED the carrot ginger soup, gently warmed  (never piping hot here!) to a pleasant temperature.  The texture was so velvety and the flavor so rich that we had to ask what the source of the richness was.  Avocado was the secret.  The healthy fats in the gloriously ripe green "fruit" lend a rich and smooth texture, balanced by the heat of fresh ginger.   Soup lovers can count on this being on the daily menu.  We are told that another soup is in the works for the long, winter months ahead.

Were you afraid that there wouldn't be dessert?  Chef/owner Lisa Storch,  is an experienced CIA  ( Culinary Institute of America) trained chef.   She was the pastry chef at brother, Matt Storch's longstanding and much loved restaurant, Match, in SONO. This chef knows her way around decadence and beckoned us to taste the delicious and potently chocolate brownie.  It was a generous  square that we brought home and ate while standing at our own kitchen counter.  Somehow, 2 bites each, and we were satisfied.  We were happy to have left overs with our coffee the next morning.  A few days later, I returned and enjoyed a generous square of lemon "cheesecake." The crust was a cohesive blend of macaroons, coconut and almonds topped by a hefty layer of the filling.  It was scrumptious and bright with lots of lemon.  The texture was satisfyingly smooth and well blended with ground dates and cashews.  Fear not!  There are plenty of desserts here, if that is your passion.  I suggest you stop by and enjoy a cup of tea, herbal coffee or hot chocolate (lots of chocolate intensity and made with raw chocolate, and almond milk while sweetened with agave) with one of these wonderful sweets.

Classes, demonstrations and other informative events will be coming in the near future so be sure to sign their e-mail list.  Once a month on a Sundays, beginning on December 20 at 4:30, they will invite everyone to join them for a Pot Luck Dinner.  Bring a dish that is raw and vegan  (you could get creative or come bearing fruit and you would still be welcome).  The idea is a great community builder and one that was successful in their previous cafe in West Haven.  Enjoy a group of new friends and a healthful meal, share a little about what you brought to the table (or not), and even learn something new through informational chats, speakers , or demonstrations.  On April 28, the "Rock Star" guru of the raw, vegan world, David Wolfe, will present an inspiring and informative program.  His talks on longevity and well being  through nutrition and super foods is sure to be a huge event.  Glen and Lisa plan on using one of the larger spaces nearby, in this active and vital area of Fairfield.

I will be sure to re-visit Catch a Healthy Habit Cafe very soon.  It is conveniently located within a block of the Fairfield Library, the Community theatre, the Fairfield Theatre Company and a popular yoga studio just a few doors down.  Stretch your taste buds and be nourished by this welcome addition to growing number of health minded eateries in Fairfield County.

Catch a Healthy Habit Cafe 39 Unquowa Rd., Fairfield. 203.292.8190