Hidden conspicuously along Embarcadero, a whole slew of eateries can often get passed up by the many visitors that come to Pier 39 on a daily basis. But if you venture a little southward, you'll find great culinary delights such as The Plant Cafe.
With various locations throughout San Francisco, The (award-winning) Plant Cafe is a small, but growing local-chain restaurant. The company prides itself on providing local, organic fare that caters to a wide range a eaters alike. Established 5 years ago by Matthew Guelke and Mark Lewis, the cafe is part of a larger mission to promote "sustainable practices and healthy living." And with executive chef, Sascha Weiss at the helm, it's easy to see why the place draws in the crowds.
Guelke passionately shares his vision, "The thing that really sets us apart is that we don't deviate at all [from using organic ingredients]. I mean, we stringently adhere to the tightest standards. And I think that is incredibly rare. There [are] very few places I know that do that." The cafe boasts an exclusively organic menu. "Unlike most restaurants that serve organic food, they will say 'Well this is organic and this is organic and this ingredient's organic,' We actually tell you what isn't organic," says Guelke.
The Pier 3 location, in particular, is special because of its half restaurant, half cafe style facilities and home to San Francisco's historic produce market. It is the only location out of the four that offers a full-service restaurant. The building houses a spacious back walkway and a beautiful view of the water. Imagine taking a little afternoon or moonlight stroll with your sweetie, after a nice meal, and enjoying the city's one-of-a-kind ambience.
The restaurant section, that offers covered outdoor patio seating, is slightly more formal with the full-service dining; whereas the cafe section is more of a freestyle way of dining. Both intended to be a relaxed, casual experience for the visitor. "We opened up specifically with the purpose of making sure that people could get easy access to totally organic food," comments Guelke.
You get a sense of the laid-back, casual style when you first walk in the cafe and hear the Bob Marley music in the background. The atmosphere speaks of urban meets nature. The open kitchen lets you see your dish being made and the chilled display counter allows you to grab a snack on the run. There is a surprisingly roomy loft area for you to enjoy your meal. The restaurant feels roomy as well.
What you won't expect to find is the cafe's green-design construction made from sustainably-sourced woods, complete with solar panels on the roof that help power the kitchen. Now when's the last time you were able tell someone that the sun cooked your meal? They also use compostable/recyclable packaging and provide compost bins to decrease trash to landfills. The goal is to conduct practices that are sensitive to the environment and the way things are developed in nature.
The Plant Cafe's menu can be described as Californian with an Asian twist. There are a plethora of vegetarian and vegan choices, with some gluten-free options. Meat dishes are also served, which include chicken, duck and seafood, but don't expect to find beef here. This is because of the environmental effects of raising cattle for food, which conflict with the company's sustainability principles.
The BBQ Tempeh Panini is palate-pleasing, with its flavorful and filling, yet light, attributes. This sandwich comes hot off the grill, crunchy, with a side of house salad, for less than 10 bucks. They offer a variety of salads, as well as full dinner plates like the Duck Confit & Red Pepper Risotto.
Let's just face it. It will take a while for this to be a normal part of the American mainstay diet, which currently includes a lot of fatty, sugary and processed ingredients. Eateries, like The Plant Cafe, hope to pave the way for a new kind of comfort food: sustainably healthy. Welcome to the future.
Items to try at The Plant Cafe:
Signature Plant Burger: which is their most popular item; and the BBQ Tempeh Panini.
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