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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Vegetarian Manna

Meat-free fulfillment

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Pull up a search on the Internet for vegetarian restaurants in the Milwaukee area and you’ll find a growing list of places that offer vegetarian food—not just bread and french fries, but nutritionally balanced vegetarian meals. However, few of them commit to a 100% meat-free menu. Warm and tranquil Cafe Manna, which opened in Brookfield in February, joins Bombay Sweets and Riverwest Co-op Cafe as one of Milwaukee’s few bona fide vegetarians.

“We want to dispel the rumors that vegetarian food has to taste like cardboard or that it can’t fill you up,” says owner Robin Kasch. “We are working diligently to show people that it can be very delicious and, in addition, really good for you.”

Chef Jason Stevens works with fresh ingredients, 90% of which are organic, to prepare recipes that are both appealing and satisfying. A complimentary snack of cashew coconut hummus served with a plate of artisan bread and pita chips is brought to the table while customers peruse the cork-bound menu. While Caf Manna offers a very nice selection of organic wines, assorted teas and sparkling water, it also prepares beverages that few restaurants offer, including fresh, nutrient-packed juices and broth. The sweet and creamy almond milk, a finely blended mixture of almonds, purified water and agave, is a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth without going overboard. If you’re looking for something warm and settling, the potassium broth is created from strained root vegetables, like beets, carrots, white and sweet potatoes, rutabagas and onions.

In addition to appetizers like walnut and feta pate and baba ghanouj, Caf Manna offers daily specials that include a featured appetizer, such as artichoke crostini, a garlicky, cheesy treat made with oven-baked toast points layered with house-made pesto, fresh artichoke and sharp Parmesan cheese. It also boasts a solid list of creative and voluptuous salads made with fresh vegetables, fruits and homemade dressings. Some of the dishes are geared toward the tastes of meat-eaters, like large servings of chili nearly thick enough to stand a spoon in.

Chef Stevens’ attractive presentation of sandwiches and entrees adds to the dining experience. Perfect example: the peace bowl. Two delicate pyramids of rice and quinoa are framed by a colorful medley of steamed seasonal vegetables in a rich coconut curry sauce and accented with curried cashews and currants. The banana fig pudding, one of several sumptuous desserts, is crowned with a white heap of fresh whipped cream and garnished with plump blackberries and a crisp wafer roll.

Kasch’s unrelenting commitment to environmental sustainability lies not only in the organic food she serves, but in the take-home containers as well. Instead of Styrofoam, Kasch uses containers made of sugar cane. Instead of plastic, lids are made with corn and utensils with potato. Even the “plastic” bags are made of starch, biodegradable polymer and other renewable resources. Everything’s compostable and biodegradable.

The restaurant itself follows the same standards: The walls are nontoxic, the light sconces are recycled metal, the floors are bamboo (a renewable resource) and, in addition to bamboo, some of the countertops are PaperStone, a composite made from recycled paper.

When Caf Manna puts a meal on the table, it’s proof that vegetarian dishes don’t have to lack in flavor or fulfillment. This corner caf in Brookfield Towne Centre exemplifies what it means to be conscientious, both about the foods we consume and the environment we live in.

Cafe Manna is located at 3815 N. Brookfield Road, Suite 100, Brookfield. Call (262) 790-2340 or visit www.cafemanna.com. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Cafe Manna | Photo by Kate Engbring

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