Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Restaurant Review: Organic Fresno

Pad Thai with mixed veggies.
Organic Fresno is a hidden treasure we discovered on a day trip to Fresno's Chaffee Zoo. I was looking for a fun place to have lunch before heading to the zoo, and was surprised when an Internet search showed a plant-based restaurant only a couple of miles away.

Billed as a "farm-to-fork restaurant, dinner theater and market," Organic Fresno is unique in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Considering that our valley grows most of the food for the nation, you'd think farm-to-fork restaurants would be everywhere. Sadly, even CSAs are tough to find. That's what makes Organic Fresno such a gem.
Lily definitely approved of the Pad
Thai. She didn't even want to share.

Rather than attempt to do the history of Organic Fresno and its sister restaurant, Revive Cafe, justice, I'll let you read it on owner "Ta-raw" Hamilton's blog. But for perspective, I'll give you my take: Entrepreneurial immigrant gives up financial stability to promote a love for the land and her community and ends up as impoverished as most of the people she originally sought out to help.

Luckily, she hasn't given up and I think she's found a formula that works -- two restaurants with different hours (one is open while the other is closed), amazing prices and affordable weekend entertainment that allows Hamilton to attract others who share her vision.

Organic Fresno's lack of sophistication is its main drawing card. Hamilton and her family treat the restaurant almost as their home, warmly welcoming all who enter. As a guest, you set the pace of your visit. Are you in a rush? Then place your order, await your food, eat and leave. No hurry? Then take your time and enjoy the added bonus of conversations with Hamilton, her grown children and other relatives.

Menu options are low-priced and limited (breakfast is $7.50; lunch is $10 for plant-based and $12.50 for primal). Lunch comes with bottomless soup and salad, all of which are made in-house using fresh ingredients from a variety of local farmers. Curious about Organic Fresno's vendors? Pay attention to your table. Every table features a supplier. Lily likes to sit at the honey table to count the bees while I read her the brief story about Cary's Honey Farms in Lindsay, Calif.

The dressing was so good, I wanted to lick it from the plate.
On our first visit, we were treated to the Farmers Bounty soup and garden salad with a persimmon-orange vinaigrette that was prepared before our eyes. Brian ordered the chicken tikka masala over pasta (weird, I know...but that was his request) and I made the mistake of deciding to share the Pad Thai with Lily. The mistake was mine for assuming Lily would share the delicious concoction of rice spaghetti, veggies and creamy almond sauce with me. Instead, I was allowed maybe three bites while she wolfed down the noodles, making enthusiastic yummy noises the entire time.

Farmers Bounty Soup
As a barista, Brian was interested in trying the organic coffee with raw cream (all dairy served is not homogenized or pasteurized). He said it was rich, mellow and full-flavored -- everything coffee should be but rarely is nowadays. As far as the chicken tikka masala went, Brian said it was the best he'd ever had and that the chicken was of a quality far and above what he was used to eating, proving that where ingredients come from is just as important as how they are prepared.

The Hamiltons are a prime example of why I love Fresno and its surrounding area. The San Joaquin Valley may be known nationally for its poverty but there is an entrepreneurial spirit here that is unlike any you'll find elsewhere. Whether by necessity or design, most of us work hard to fill the needs we see in our communities. Brian and I are passionate about helping to improve the world Lily will inherit -- and we're equally passionate about others trying to do the same. That's why, we've decided to sponsor the Hamiltons in their efforts and we've committed to making the hour-long drive to Fresno at least twice a month to visit one of their restaurants. We hope we can get a few friends to join us each time.

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