John and I were on our way to Charlotte to visit his step-brother last May when we decided to “tweet” at the Food Babe to see if she had any restaurant recommendations.
Her response: Luna’s Living Kitchen. (She Tweeted us back!).
If you’re not familiar with the Food Babe, she’s an activist, author and blogger pioneering the national shift away from artificial ingredients, pesticides and dyes in our food. Her campaigns have successfully taken the “orange” out of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, yoga mat material out of Subway bread and added real pumpkin to the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. The Food Babe and her followers have inspired people across America to question what’s in their food and why, as a nation, we allow chemicals and hormones that other countries have banned. And mostly she’s sparked controversy from corporations and scientists who disagree.
John and I are certainly not extremists, but we try to eat organic and unprocessed foods as a rule, with dinners out as the exception. It’s hard, near impossible in Charleston, to find restaurants that cater to the way we prefer to eat, so we were extremely excited to try Luna’s Living Kitchen’s “plant-based, locally sourced, crafted with love” organic, (mostly) raw cuisine.
The only problem? Every time we’ve been in Charlotte they’re closed.
Besides the race, LLK, on the off-chance they were open, was one of the main reasons I decided to drag John to Charlotte last weekend. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be in the South, and I guarantee we won’t be returning much once we leave, so I want to try and experience everything worth experiencing now. And one of those things is Food Babe’s favorite hometown restaurant.
We got to LLK around 7:30 Friday night with no reservation and no idea if the restaurant is kid friendly. Set in the far corner of old, industrial looking complex, the brick building sits parallel to a set of trolley tracks, across from a fancy food market and a niche gym and next to an Anthropologie–a combination that falls somewhere between hipster hangout and strip mall.
Despite its odd location, I immediately liked the twinkling lights on the back patio and the minimal, but chic, décor visible from outside. Plantar boxes filled with kale and leafy greens guarded the windows and a crisp case of colorful juice greeted us as we came in.
A host, who, based purely on his demeanor, was likely also the manager, sat us at one of the window tables far from the other guests. The crowd was small for a Friday night, some couples and double dates, but I noticed a few people in workout clothes come in for pick-up orders during our meal, probably funneled over from the gym across the parking lot.
The baby was starting to get anxious as it closed in on her bedtime, so we hurried and ordered the appetizer suggested to us by our friendly but clearly childless waiter. Between his hesitation and the host/manager coming over to pick up after her, it was embarrassingly obvious that this restaurant is not a place you take your kid on Friday night.
Our sweet potato sushi roll came out fast. John was a little tentative, but I was starving and grabbed the roll closest to me. The odd combination of sweet potato “rice,” vegetables and seaweed was refreshing, naturally sweet and hearty. It tasted a lot more like sushi than I anticipated. Trying to read the menu between scarfing down the appetizer, managing the increasingly wild baby and sipping my kombucha beer, we made our final decisions and waited for the waiter to reappear.
John always says the same thing to our servers. Some version of: ‘Realistically, we’re never coming back here, so what should we order?’
This usually results in more entrees than eaters, but this time we each landed on just one each. I solved an internal fight between the Living Burrito and Pad Thai by deciding I could order a side with the burrito. John got the ‘fire and brimstone’ burger.
How do you make a raw burrito? You can’t serve uncooked beans and expect customers to leave with all their teeth. So the ‘beans’ they used were ground sunflower seeds.
I love real, raw food, but I’m also aware of the difference between healthy food that tastes like food and healthy food that tastes like it was scooped out of the compost bin. I’ve found that the latter often happens when food is trying to be something it’s not. Nuts are not cheese. Tofu is not turkey. Soy is not milk.
So I was suspicious of these ‘beans.’
At that point the baby had lost her mind, thrown all the chopsticks on the floor and spilled water down her shirt, so I took her to the front of the restaurant to run off some energy. Ten minutes later John and I switched, trying not to make a scene, and he took her outside to explore the parking lot.
They were still outside when our dinner was served, so I ate mine alone at the table surrounded by baby food, a second meal, and pity glances from a party that was sat near us. The burrito looked nothing like a burrito. And tasted nothing like a burrito. But it was delicious. The filling (let’s just call it what it is) was creamy and flavorful, and the onions, tomatoes, sprouts, (disappointingly) mild hot sauce, cauliflower rice and a cashew ‘sour cream’ was more along the lines of a healthy wrap. I ate the entire thing plus aside of raw cauliflower rice and felt completely satisfied–and surprisingly fueled for the next day’s race.
John’s experience was a little different. The baby and I danced on the sidewalk while he took his solo place at our table. He didn’t look as thrilled as I had been. I didn’t get to try his burger, but he described it as fine, but a little thick. And that he should have ordered something else that would have tasted better raw.
We ordered dessert to-go since the baby was about to get us blacklisted. Raw chocolate chip cookies and a slice of raw turtle cake. We ate the cookies on the way to the hotel and they were, simply stated, not cookies. They didn’t taste bad and I enjoyed my fair share, but I was a little overwhelmed by the strength of the coconut oil. I love coconut oil, but when it’s a main ingredient, the filtered flavorless kind works best. I wasn’t too torn up when we realized we had left them in the hotel fridge on our way back to Charleston.
The turtle cake was beautiful (of course I didn’t take a picture). The chocolate pecan crust held a coconut cream, chocolate and caramel filling. It was smooth and sweet, but the richness that I craved from the chocolate was replaced again by a strong coconut flavor. We still finished it off between the two of us.
LLK has a lot of interesting combinations of the menu, and I wish we had access to it on a more regular basis. I would love to have tried their full juice and smoothie bar and the absolute most bizarre item on the menu. A raw ‘bagel.’ I can’t even wrap my head around what that combination of almond, flax, zucchini, rosemary and cashew ‘sour cream’ would taste like.