Organically Growing

The Root Café is the bohemian heart of Lakewood

The Root Café 15118 Detroit Ave., Lakewood 216-226-4401

There is something so organic about the Root Café — and we're not just talking about the food. Evolving gracefully from a cramped but cozy coffeehouse to a bustling neighborhood café, the Root is a lesson in rational, sensible growth.

While many operators take a build-it-and-they-will-come approach, Root owners Bobby Breitenstein and Julie Hutchison waited till they had the customers to expand their business. Owners of Lakewood's wonderful Phoenix Coffee, the pair recently relocated the shop to a roomy corner storefront just down Detroit Avenue, affording them the space to add a kitchen and beef up the menu.

Root's physical space feels organic too, with warm woods, cheerful pastels, and furniture that looks as though it grew in place. Like any authentic neighborhood coffeehouse, this one serves as study hall, library, performance space, and unofficial town hall for Lakewood residents.

As if they had any choice in the matter, the owners opted to go organic with the food as well.

Built largely from local, sustainable, and organic ingredients, the vegetarian menu is wholesome if not terribly exciting. Coffeehouse cuisine, even in the best of cases, rarely rises above the level of surprisingly satisfactory, and that's the state of affairs here. Rather than tweak the veggies into creative new shapes, flavors, and textures, the kitchen pretty much leaves ingredients in their whole, natural forms. And given the relatively small pool of available ingredients, menu items tend to make use of the same few foodstuffs.

Pickled red beets, for instance, pop up in our spinach dinner salad: a crunchy mélange of greens, raw broccoli, out-of-season tomatoes, and brown rice. They also appear in a grainy whole wheat sandwich, along with goat cheese, spinach, and caramelized onions. The slippery, thick-sliced beet discs result in a sandwich that refuses to behave. Beets even weasel their way into a calzone, if you can believe it.

For a beet-free lunch, beat feet to the Clevo, a hot open-faced sandwich with hummus, mushrooms, spinach, and cheese. Kale makes numerous appearances as well, first in a side salad, with romaine, carrots, and more tomatoes. It is used to great effect on the Purple Haze pizza, where it is slightly charred from the oven, leaving it crispy, sweet, and complex in flavor.

As the stars of the menu, Root's pizzas deserve the most credit. Made with whole wheat and organic white flour, the medium-thick crust has a wonderful, nutty quality and is sturdy enough to support toppings. That's crucial considering that many of the pizzas are crowned with heavy roasted vegetables like bell peppers, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and even root veggies.

Calzones, too, have a cracker-crisp shell. But their size — we're talking Nerf football here — all but guarantees a less-than-hot core. That was the case with our roasted bell pepper, spinach, and cheese variety, which arrived hot from the oven but not fully heated through. This, despite a more than generous wait time.

For now, Root's entrée selections consist of little more than sauce-topped rice-and-bean burritos. No better or worse than the hippie fare peddled in parking lots after jam-band concerts, the whole-wheat burritos come stuffed with a mushy blend of pinto beans and rice. The mild tomato-based sauce screams for more heat and flavor. Adding cheese improves them only slightly.

Round out a meal here with the soup of the day, especially if it's the hearty ginger lentil soup. Made from scratch daily, it's served in a massive bowl with a dense bran muffin.

On Sundays, Root offers a short brunch menu until 1 p.m., with huevos rancheros, three-egg frittatas, and maple syrup-topped French toast.

Of course, you can never go wrong with strong coffee and sweet pastry. Superbly roasted and brewed Phoenix Coffee pairs beautifully with Root's freshly made baked goods, many of which are vegan and vegetarian. Cookies, brownies, scones, and muffins fill a display case up front, providing an almost guilt-free selection of organic impulse items that are firmly rooted in wholesomeness and good taste.

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About The Author

Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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