Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada
Food style: whole foods, simple ingredients
Veg Scale: 100% vegan and gluten free
Part of town: Pandosy Village
Originally located in the Kensington neighborhood of Calgary, Alberta, owner Kristi Reich moved to this new location one year ago. With the intention of bringing tasty plant-based cuisine to the masses she still maintains a small, open kitchen from which to serve up her wholesome meals in order to preserve their original home cooked authenticity. Each meal is made to order, the intention being allergy and food sensitivity awareness. Kristi would rather you add what you want to your meal rather than having to ask for things to be removed, and the menu is built with that in mind. Using no gluten, refined sugar or soy, all the optional ingredients are listed a la carte for you to select as you please.
The open kitchen and small space afford the feeling of being welcomed into someone’s home for a meal. The games filling the bookcases begging to be played at the community tables only add to that atmosphere. As you take a seat at your table, a glass jar packed to the brim with colorful slips of paper awaits you, inviting your intrigue. Each strip has on it a playful task or deeper philosophical question proposing that you rediscover the play in and appreciation for life. Hidden in there are some of life’s bigger questions, but my selection simply suggested that I “do something childish today.” Check.
Unique and varying glass bottles that Kristi discovered at various yard sales are filled with reverse osmosis water amd provided to whet your palate as you "pour" over the menu. Designed with the intention of mindfulness and gratitude for the bounty that will be prepared for your consumption, the menu items are all listed as anecdotal affirmations. Strikingly similar in nature to Café Gratitude’s menu style, the two restaurants are in no way related with this one being far more inviting and personal in its layout and approach.
Chris, his cousin Virginia who lives in the area, and I opted to go family style. We started under the I Am Raw portion of the menu ordering the I Am Curious, a “kreamy” tahini glazed pad thai. This dish came deconstructed, each colorful element separated within a large bowl. Comprised of coconut and carrot shavings, sundried tomatoes, broccoli, sprouts, spinach, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, kelp noodles, slivers of red bell pepper, halved black zebra plum tomatoes, and cucumber and zucchini spiral noodles all doused in a creamy tahini dressing, this made for a bright, fresh and flavorful start to our meal. I even got to try Gooseberries for the first time, which tasted to me like the forbidden lovechild of a lustful kiwi and a naïve kumquat.
Our palates sufficiently whetted, we moved on to the I Am Warm portion of the menu. Chris ordered the I Am Loveable, which is not ironic at all as he is so very much so. Cue sappy music and puppies running through fields. This oven-baked quesadilla came loaded with veggies and homemade cheez along with a heaping helping of their chunky guacamole. This tortilla puts all other gluten free tortillas to shame! Not soggy, gooey, dry or crumbly, it held together despite its heavy veggie load and tasted delicious! All of the baked goods at Gratitude Café come from a gluten free bakery in Calgary called Earth’s Oven, which unfortunately for me does not ship outside their local region. This is a problem as their food is clearly made of magic things that I feel compelled to consume on a regular basis. Stuffed to the brim with perfectly cooked vegetables and chickpeas dancing among a creamy nut cheez that tasted like it could have been blended with chickpeas as well, the quesadilla came partnered with crisp marinated jicama “fries”, thinly spiraled cucumber and deliciously creamy yet heartily chunky guac made with tomatoes and slices of carrot, basil and onion. A very satisfying dish all around, I was tempted to order a second helping just to take home for later!
Luckily it was brought out at the same time as the I Am Sharing, which we all did. A gluten free, thin crust build-your-own pizza, the menu offers that you top it with “everything you like.” However this is not merely a suggestion, it’s a requirement! The waitress even brought back our order card after she first collected it, insisting that, as it’s unlimited, we simply had to select more toppings! Another brilliant creation of Earth’s Oven, this pizza crust somehow managed to remain intact under the bombardment of ingredients that we eventually heaped upon it! Basil, spinach, mushrooms, pecans, chickpeas, olives, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, sprouts… I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple… topped with a dollop of guac all piled on top of a zesty shmearing of tomato sauce and finished off with a rich balsamic reduction drizzled across the top. If I could have, I would have set up shop and lived inside this pizza, making a home for myself and my family, redecorating from time to time and potentially renting it out to the odd AirBnBer on a whim. However, I wanted it inside me more, so I ate it instead. I regret this decision not at all. It is easily the best vegan pizza, nay, one of the best pizzas in general that I have ever had. Not to toot any horns, but Virginia and I did a bang up job on the toppings. The kaleidoscope of flavors, colors and textures so fully satiated me that for the first time I did not find myself missing any cheese, dairy or otherwise.
Far be it from me to not get the full experience during my first visit to a new restaurant, so I encouraged us to enter the I Am Sweet section. I Am Genuine is the apt name for a genuinely delicious finish to a most fulfilling meal. Each day the special changes and today’s raw dessert offering was a Nutty Chocolate Tahini Macaroon. I was expecting something of the round, golf ball sized variety, but instead was met with a long, thin slice of something devilishly decadent looking. A crumbly, sweet crust of pecans supported a second layer of creamy, yet softly grainy chocolate tahini capped off by a denser layer of chocolate ganache interspersed with bits of toasted pecans. Further enhanced by a garnish of more gooseberries, my tongue was dancing with delight at every bite!
Best expressed by Virginia’s exclamation that this was now her “favorite local spot,” though she said “favourite” being that she’s Canadian, our opinion of this cozy little café is quite evident. With a conscious menu that offers food allergy sufferers copious amounts of flavorful ingredients to combine differently at every visit, Gratitude Café provides an endless array of powerfully delicious and nutritious variations on every dish that will keep you coming back again and again just to challenge yourself to build a more delicious creation than you did on your last visit… which may easily have been earlier that same day… I won’t judge you.
I am an actor/writer/content creator based in Los Angeles. I travel extensively both as the host of the new vegan food travel show The Road Less Eaten and on my own. This blog will chronicle my journey around the globe as I hunt down all the vegan options in every part of the world, no matter how big the city nor small the town.
Copyright © Ally Iseman 2016. I own my awkward. Thanks for enabling me.