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Note: The 418 Organic Cafe is closed.

Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Natural Food--The Musical: Left to right, Nicole Smith, Deborah Mazer, Neil Godbolé and Marlena Zaro display their raw talent.

Food: Live, Without a Net

The 418 Organic Cafe pushes the limits of eco-friendly food with live and organic options

By Rebecca Patt

Just when our nonrenewable-resource-sucking, heavily medicated, 99-cent Whopper-popping society is causing dark clouds of despair to smother your soul, here comes a ray of light, a glimpse of getting back to the garden--and it's located right across from the bus station at the 418 Organic Cafe.

Here you'll find a tribe of food artists and visionaries busily preparing the choicest ingredients to create a type of menu unique in all of Santa Cruz. About half the menu consists of live foods, all the food is organic, much of it is local, and everything except the honey for tea is vegan.

A long-held sense of pent-up frustration about the lack of vegan, organic and live-foods options in Santa Cruz motivated a core group of about six health-food professionals and devotees to start the restaurant in October 2001.

"It was seven years of living and working near downtown with natural and organic foods and asking the same question--where am I going to eat lunch?" says founder Seth Pasternak.

Part of the 418 Project performance venue, the cafe is a sunny, welcoming nook filled with cozy tables for two and a few seats up at the bar that afford a good view of the cooking action.

In order to get the full flavor of the 418 experience, the first thing to do upon arriving is to imbibe the House Blood. Served in a wineglass, this wondrous beverage is made with green apple juice, lime, ginger and a hint of beet juice for color, and it's worth a trip to the cafe just to try it. Fresh young coconut water and wheatgrass are also available.

Many of the entrees are spinoffs of classic recipes ranging from pizza to meatloaf to sushi, but they taste much different than the original versions because they're made with live foods.

At this point, some of you are undoubtedly asking, "OK, but what are live foods?" According to Marlena Zaro, one of the cafe's founders and a live-foods educator, designer and consultant, live foods are raw, sprouted, fermented or dehydrated. They're known to be a great source of enzymes that boost your immunity and keep your body functioning properly. The maximum temperature to which live foods can be heated is a topic of much debate, but Zaro maintains that the magic number is 118 degrees.

On a recent visit, my friend and I ordered an exquisite live pizza a la carte ($5) and the live nori rolls with a salad ($7). The food comes beautifully presented, and we were compelled to spend a few moments feasting our eyes on our multicolored plates until we could not refrain any longer from digging in. The food looked so fresh and vibrant that in my mind's eye I could practically see it quivering and dancing on the plate--and I've never seen veggies and nuts and grains do that before.

The aptly named exquisite live pizza is made with soaked and dehydrated sunflower seed, flaxseed and oat groat crust topped with basil-walnut pesto, arugula, marinated shiitakes, and fresh cherry tomato, red bell pepper, black olive and avocado. With moans of delight and enthusiasm my friend and I gobbled up every last morsel.

Ditto for the nori rolls. These are filled with a sunflower seed pâté, young turnip and tatsoi greens, julienned cucumber, carrot and bell pepper. Fresh avocado dressing is served on the side for dipping, along with a seaweed salad and a cabbage and carrot salad. More moans.

Decadent desserts are also part of the menu. The live carob torte is one of the most outrageous. It's made with a carob, coconut, date and almond butter filling atop an almond and date crust and topped with coconut cream frosting. According to cafe founder Chevalisa Bruzzone, "The carob torte is a good way to get you hooked on live foods."

Live Coverage

The 418 plans to offer live-foods classes, a support group and a support system for people on juice fasts. A few of the 418's chefs have been on a live-foods diet for years, and they can testify to its healing effects.

"It's completely changed my life," says founder Jordan Imanuel, who has been on a live-foods diet for about a year and a half. "I have more clarity, health and more stamina. I just physically feel better. It's not that I felt bad before I started live foods. I just didn't know what feeling good felt like."

Zaro lost 85 pounds when she first started eating live foods in 1994. Another 418 founder, Debra Mazer, says that live foods have cured her allergies, depression and cramps, improved her eyesight and her skin, and generally boosted her well-being.

"This is my health insurance," she says.

Besides live foods, the other half of the 418's frequently changing, chalkboard-scrawled menu is created by Pasternak. He also owns Convergence, the vegan catering business housed in a colorful truck easily spotted around town. While he will continue to make forays to events in the truck, his catering business has found a permanent home within the 418 Organic Cafe.

Among Pasternak's specialties are his hummus wrap and vegan BLT--a quirky sandwich that substitutes coconut marinated in shoyu and maple syrup for the bacon. His wonderful macrobiotic plate features heaping helpings of cooked grain, steamed roots and greens, seaweed and sauerkraut, served with a tahini-miso sauce or cashew gravy. Pasternak makes his own sauerkraut or kim chi, a mixture of cultured vegetables and habaneros bursting with those healthy enzymes. He's also the mastermind behind the scrumptious organic, wheat-free, vegan, chocolate chip, fennel seed cookies.

Not only is the 418 the only organic, vegan, live-foods restaurant in town, it's also one of the few businesses--besides Ped Ex and Community Printers--that are run as collectives with consensus-based decision-making and no owner. Nobody's the boss of them.

And not only is this food good for you, but it can save the planet, according to Dr. Daniel Blumberg, one of the 418's most loyal patrons.

"Most diets involve meat and dairy products that consume tremendous resources to provide equivalent nutrition [of] a vegan diet," says Blumberg. "By reducing stress on the world's resources there is potentially less need to go to war and get those resources from other countries."

To top it all off, the 418 has one of the best self-serve condiment bars in town with papaya hot sauce, garlic chutney, plum vinegar and everything else your precious little organic, vegan, live-foods-feasting heart could desire.

Near the condiments, a contest box can be found where people can submit ideas for renaming the restaurant. The naming-contest winner will receive a $50 gift certificate. And for anyone willing to donate the cafe a $2,000 Norwalk juicer, the founders are offering free meals for life.

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From the January 29-February 5, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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