Photo by Randy Tunnell; Clean Fuel: Wheat grass and lettuce are center stage at Power Juice.
Thirty years ago, running a restaurant devoted to organic food, fresh squeezed juice, and low fat, nutritious food was a radical act. It still is.
Most upscale restaurants use some organic produce, and fresh juice is ubiquitous, but Power Juice and Food Company is one of its kind in Monterey County. It''s the only restaurant that adheres to a principled approach to the growing and preparing of food. It''s all about health.
C.J. Vondrehle bought the place two years ago after a career in corporate management and acquisitions. A marathon runner and tri-athlete, he was always interested in health. Knowing he hadn''t hit on a get-rich-quick scheme, he devoted himself to his new project, fixing up the interior, installing new equipment, expanding the seating outdoors, and working the counter himself.
C.J.''s ambition is to serve the freshest food daily and use as close to 100 percent organic produce as possible-an enterprising goal for a menu with 160 items. He also serves Diestel turkey that''s free of hormones and growth stimulants.
Sound boring? It isn''t. Not if you believe in food as fuel. I do. I''ll psyche myself up and acquire a taste for almost anything that will make me feel strong, think smart, look alert, or increase the life of my body parts.
But barely processed food has to taste good, even for a casual, counter-service restaurant like this one to survive. Kids are ideal for field testing out-of-the-ordinary food, so I engaged my daughter, Kate, then observed and recorded her reactions. The wheat grass juice made her grimace, but she gave two enthusiastic eyebrows up for most items.
While fresh squeezed juices are almost a staple, experts will confirm that what you buy at grocery stores isn''t kin to just-squeezed, seconds-old juice. Oxygen whacks the enzymes out of juice as fast as you can blow out your birthday candles. I almost expect fresh juice to be rushed on a gurney to waiting customers.
Power Juice takes the extra step of peeling oranges at the moment of each order. Most instant juicing machines squeeze unpeeled orange halves, which means that pesticides and other chemicals used in conventional growing methods, still present on the orange rind, end up in the final drink.
The big deal about juicing is that in addition to getting both greater variety and quantity of raw-food nutrients than you''d probably get by eating whole vegetables each day, it removes the fiber where many vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and phytochemicals are trapped, unable to be assimilated by your body. For example, you only assimilate about one percent of the beta-carotene in a raw carrot. When a carrot is juiced, nearly 100 percent of the beta-carotene can be assimilated.
The infamous wheat grass juice comes in one- or two-ounce shots ($1.50 and $3). As the menu states, one ounce equals four pounds of green vegetables-well worth holding your breath for a few seconds while the bitter potion sneaks past your taste buds.
If you can''t take it, the aptly named Carmel Favorite blends carrot, beet, and apple into a sweet juice. Most juices cost $3.25, $3.75, and $4.25, depending on the size-organic product is expensive.
Most raw, green vegetables are bitter, but we all know how friggin'' healthy they are, so your best bet here is Power Green Drink. It combines celery, broccoli, parsley, spinach, wheat grass, and carrots. I warned Kate, but she said, "Pretty good."
Plenty of tasty recipes will appeal to palates trained on eclectic cuisine. Take the Big Bean Burrito series. I''ve had three of the five and they''re all delicious. I could eat the BBB every day ($6.25). It contains pinto beans, black beans, brown rice, carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, garlic, bell peppers, cilantro, fresh salsa, and cheddar cheese.
The Bigger Bean Burrito adds avocado and sprouts, the Breakfast Burrito adds egg and sprouts, and there are three more versions with turkey. The Thai Turkey Wrap sounded good, with ginger, pineapple salsa and peanut sauce, but it was heavy on beans and rice and light on flavor. Kate didn''t like it.
As you might guess, there are salads, sandwiches, and vegetarian burgers (patties are made by Good Earth in Pacific Grove). Unusual entrees include Bowl of Steamed Rice and Vegetables, Bowl of Roasted Vegetables with feta cheese, and a tortilla-less Big Bean Burrito Bowl. Prices range from $6.25 to $7.50.
Breakfast is served anytime. There are tofu dishes, egg dishes, and a scrumptious bowl of brown rice and bananas steamed with cinnamon and milk ($4.25).
C.J. just bought a flax-grinding machine so flaxseeds can be added, in their most nutritious form, to smoothies, salads, soup or anything. He also purchased a machine that makes the healthiest frozen yogurt available (most frozen yogurt is far from healthy).
With relatively reasonable prices, and with me feeling so powerful and healthy and all, I gathered this information over four visits. I''ve even planned a one-month experiment to drink wheat grass juice three times weekly, covering the expense by omitting one glass or wine or a few cups of cappuccino from my weekly liquid budget. It will be interesting to see who gets most of my beverage dollar in the future.