Beautiful star vegetables and cereals at Crisp Kitchen & Juice in Saint Helena
Am I going vegetarian?
Probably not, because I love carnitas, fried chicken and Italian beef sandwiches too much. But there’s no doubt that I’ve been eating a lot less meat lately, having discovered more and more new plant-based restaurants in Wine Country that are doing spectacular things with everything from pizza to high-end cuisine. range.
My latest find is Crisp Kitchen & Juice, which opened last fall in Saint Helena. A mix of fast-casual bistro, take-out market and lifestyle boutique, Crisp also has a bakery that makes a variety of seed and sprouted breads, as well as delicious pastries and desserts.
There are vegan dishes, but also a handful of meat and seafood options, if you want to accentuate all those lovely vegetables and grains.
Let’s start with gluten-free breads. These crunchy provisions come in the form of a ball of seeded sourdough sorghum sprinkled with sunflower, flax and pumpkin seeds ($11); or a superhero bread brimming with hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, hemp, oats, honey and spices, plus flax, pepita, sunflower, sesame and chia seeds ($12). With a dense but not heavy crumb, these are excellent examples of alternative baking to flour.
Slices are the base of breakfast toast stacked like sustainable salmon line-caught and cured in beet and citrus juices, with charred scallion sticks, cashews, pickled red onions , capers, lemon and dill on wheat-free Nordic rye ($11.50).
Or they complement lunchtime meals through dinner like the mezze platter which, like many dishes here, would be a star even in a fancy restaurant. It is arranged with hummus (choose thick, tangy, roasted beet or traditional sweet roasted carrot or creamy Rancho Gordo Marcella bean), “faux gras” (a delicious spread of lentils, mushrooms, onions, walnuts, garlic and spices), pickled seasonal vegetables, maple nut crunch, spiced turmeric crackers and Superhero bread ($14.95).
The inspiration for these dishes, explained Crisp owner Annette Shafer, came from a trip she took seven years ago to Denmark. She found several cafes specializing in her longtime favorite foods, such as macro bowls and rødgrød, a Danish porridge of red summer berries and oatmeal (cooked whole grains).
“I met a few girls there who made amazing gluten-free bread,” she said. “Once we got home, we reconnected on Instagram, then I joined their Facebook group, learning how to make bread, ferments and entrees.”
It was the boost Shafer needed. She had been thinking about starting a fresh and healthy culinary business since moving from Sacramento to Napa Valley in 1994. She was summoned here to open the Culinary Institute of America in Greystone on St. Helena and found a dining scene featuring foods heavier than she preferred. .
“Things were really different here then,” she said. “I always went for healthier, more plant-based foods, and there was really nothing there. I kept thinking, we have all this fresh produce, maybe someone will open something. No one has ever really done that.
In 2014, she opened a pop-up in what is now the Tre Posti event space on Saint Helena, sharing the kitchen space with the Clif Family Bruschetteria food truck team.
“I put a little sandwich board in front, and people would come to the side door for fresh juice and bowls,” she said. “It only lasted eight months before the building was sold, but it was great because I got to try out items and see what worked.”
Then she did farmers markets and catering for the next few years (she still sells her Crisp wares at the Napa Farmers Market, 1100 West St., Napa).
Upon entering the small storefront in the center of Sunshine Foods Market on Main Street in St. Helena, visitors will see a cafe that looks like a movie set thumbnail.
Everything is elegant and charming, from the rattan chairs and metal stools to the woven basket lamps and fresh flowers in vases throughout. My favorite spot is the seating area off to the side, where I feel like I could curl up with a book and linger for hours over a Soul masala chai latte made with Oatly oat milk and dressed with Marshall’s Farm honey plus a pinch of sea salt ($6).
You might look at the Pretty in Pink Pitaya Smoothie Bowl and feel slightly bored by its perfection. It’s so sweet and so good for you, with its fuchsia base of pitaya cactus fruit mix, banana, raspberries, apple, Epic protein (certified organic, vegan and gluten-free), maca (Peruvian ginseng), lucuma (South American Sud fruit powder) and schisandra (Chinese magnolia berry), all garnished with banana slices, seasonal fruits (kiwi, if you have the right time). The capper: tahini granola, which, if you want to know, is made with buckwheat, oats, pepita, hemp, walnuts, coconut, egg white, maple, tahini and spices.