Au Naturel: Local eateries give summer favorites a healthy makeover
The best burger in Kansas City contains tears of joy and the breath of a thousand angels. It’s also made out of real unicorn meat, and following it on Twitter might be the best way to track it down.
That’s because Good You, Kansas City’s only organic mobile eatery, grills it up at a different metro area location each day. As one of several area restaurants now serving wholesome versions of classic treats, this one-of-a-kind food truck is worth finding, especially because chef and owner Kelli Daniels does her best to live up to the lofty claims printed on the chalkboard menu.
“Last night we said there were real bits of panther in our burger,” Daniels says. “We say we use first-born unicorn only. It’s not enough to just say that it’s grass-fed, grain-finished beef. It’s got some sparkle to it.”
The menu might be whimsical, but the burger is serious. It’s made with local, mostly organic ingredients, including the special sauce that helps make Daniels’ version of the cookout standard the best she’s ever tasted.
“I haven’t met a better burger, and no one has come to challenge ours,” she says. “I would put our food up against any restaurant or food truck in this town, hands down. And I say that not in a prideful way; I say it in an emphatic way. Like that’s our truth: Our food is just as good as anybody else’s, if not better. We run the truck with a little bravado, I guess.”
And those who try her food seem to agree. Since rolling out in January 2010, her operation has expanded from late-night snack stand into a multifaceted business, including a regular menu at Czar Bar. By developing relationships with local farmers, Daniels has proven that fast food — a staple in many people’s diets — can be wholesome, local and organic.
“We’re becoming a force,” she says. “We’re able to say that it’s possible, that you can have fast food and have it be organic. Everybody thinks you’re crazy when you go out there and try to do something like that, but I want to prove them all wrong.”
Putting an all-natural spin on another summertime favorite, Lindsay Laricks’ Westside shop, Little Freshie, which opened in May, has turned the old-school, sugar-and-ice snow cone and into an organic, sensory adventure.
“They are the opposite of your run-of-the-mill snow cones,” Laricks says. “I use fresh fruit, juice, herbs, and all natural sweeteners in my syrups. They contain absolutely no preservatives, artificial colors or flavors.”
There’s also nothing typical about the flavors Laricks creates, which she serves as snow cones or Italian sodas straight from her vintage soda fountain. Her current favorite is pineapple and Serrano pepper. The most popular: blackberry lavender. Also enticing: lemon prickly pear.
“Research and intuition are the two biggest influences in my recipe development,” she says. “I ask myself, how does it sound when you order it? Is it an intriguing combination? Is it too adventurous? Is it too expected? Is it colorful? I try to make sure that recipes appeal to all five senses.”
Laricks also operates Fresher than Fresh, a 1957 trailer-turned-mobile snow cone truck, which is staying parked for now while she focuses on Little Freshie. In addition to her icy treats, the new store serves locally brewed Oddly Correct coffee and provides a comfortable space to enjoy simple pleasures.
“The products that I serve are high quality yet accessible, a little bit adventurous and a bit nostalgic,” she says. “I love seeing pure joy on people’s faces when they buy themselves a little treat.”
Just a few doors down at Füd, Kansas City’s only vegan-owned restaurant, owner and chef Heidi Belle also specializes in nostalgia. She creates fresh and colorful — and completely vegan — versions of comfort food favorites. Her specialty is meats and cheeses that taste like the real deal.
“I’ve been playing with food since I can remember,” she says. “My first crazy experiment was a roast beef with veins and marbled fat, and it bled. It was perfect.”
She created the vegan beef 20 years ago, around the time her diet became completely vegan and raw. Since then she has perfected her craft, and two years ago she fulfilled her dream by opening Füd, which offers all-vegan as well as some raw dishes. And even meat-eaters love her place.
“To me, it’s an art to be able to create foods that we grew up with that aren’t good for you, but at the same time we really relish the memory of the flavor,” she says. “I really like to remind people of how awesome food is without having to kill another being to get that flavor.”
This summer, Belle recommends their most popular item, the jackfruit barbecue: “It tastes like really awesome barbecue, because it is really awesome barbecue,” she says.
Füd also is known for its soft-serve ice cashew cream, as well as decadent versions of classic chocolate and vanilla shakes made with agave and cashews. Belle also suggests checking the menu for seasonal items and “eating the rainbow.”
“I tell people to experiment with every color of vegetable,” she says. “Just play with it. As long as you’re eating the rainbow, it’s going to be super tasty.”
In the Crossroads, Café Gratitude is another new restaurant serving up plant-based alternatives to summer favorites. Headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Kansas City location opened in May thanks to owner Natalie George’s persistence.
“I fell in love with it the first time I ate there five years ago,” she says. “I ended up eating every meal that week at the café, and I had such a life-altering experience that I wanted one in Kansas City. It took two years for them to say yes, and it took another two years to turn it into reality.”
The impetus behind George’s epiphany was more than just the wholesome, organic food. The name of each dish also doubles as an affirmation — for example, “I am Trusting” or “I am Courageous.” George had a raw lasagna dish called “I am Fabulous,” and after a lifetime of obsessing over her weight and counting every calorie, she was finally free from her worries about food.
“I remembered that the whole time I was eating it, I am fabulous,” she says. “It was the first time where I didn’t count calories or fear if the food was going to make me fat.”
Focusing on positive intentions, she says, is especially important in a society where people are more likely to call themselves stupid or lazy than beautiful or great. The café’s mission to be “love central” is also evident in the food.
Gratitude-style summer classics that George recommends are the BLT sandwich, which replaces bacon with chipotle-maple coconut, and the tacos, which are drizzled with cashew nacho cheese. To detox, George suggests “I am Healthy,” a fresh-squeezed green vegetable juice, and for a decadent treat, she likes their milkshakes made with coconut ice cream.
When people leave her café, George says she hopes they feel fulfilled in more ways than one. “I want them to feel like they’re full on more than just food, like they’re full on life and they’re enriched.”
Photo by Brooke Vandever