Recently I was scheduled to have dinner with my friend Julia. As is our usual routine, we begin by debating whether we should eat out or if we should cook in. This debate arises out of our ongoing desire to maintain an organic diet, something we both adhere fairly strictly to, and thus we usually eat in.
Given that we both live in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis, if we are inclined to eat out, we generally assess available options by starting with our neighborhood and expanding out in concentric circles. We have Turtle Bread with organic grains, CafÃ© 28 with organic greens, and CafÃ© Agri that bills itself as all organic focusing on local and sustainable foods. If we expand out further, there are a plethora of venues from Namaste, French Meadow, Common Roots and the Ecopolitian in the Uptown/Wedge areas of Minneapolis to Downtown’s CafÃ© Brenda and Spoonriver. Seward has the Seward CafÃ©, Birchwood and the ever-popular hot bar at the new Seward Co-op. And I wouldn’t want to skip one of my current favorites, CafÃ© Levain with a “to die for” free range burger and fries at 48th and Chicago.
Unfortunately we only cursorily explored St. Paul and the suburbs, but are assured there is a wonderful and growing selection of health-conscious (if not organic) restaurants available throughout the Cities.
Assessing any of these establishments as “organic” however is fairly tricky, as there is ORGANIC, Organic and organic. What comprises an organic meal when eating out is far less comprehensive than what we would consider organic when cooking at home. At home, we can easily have all organic ingredients and purified water. Restaurants, on the other hand, are a hodgepodge at best. They may have organic greens or grains, free-range (which is not necessarily organic) meats or dairy, but then choose to use tap water or cook with pesticide-laden ingredients. Labeling a restaurant as “organic” is nearly impossible. Often it varies by season regarding how much pesticide-free produce is available, and even the most committed establishments have challenges with distribution and cost.
We intentionally sampled the cuisine of numerous enterprises, perused menus, called and talked to chefs and managers until we had a fairly good idea of what was available in the Twin Cities. In general, this research netted us a growing hope for the viability of eating out and staying healthy.
There are a variety of wonderful options available here in town if you order carefully and ask what is currently available in terms of organic items on any given menu. Checking the water source also is an essential. We were surprised to find that many restaurants purchasing and advertising organic ingredients wash, cook and utilize tap water in their food processing. This is completely antithetical to the whole point of eating organic. Adding chemicals to chemical-free food is essentially missing the point, but cooking healthy does seem to equate with a substantial learning curve.
For our criteria, we assessed both the variety and pervasiveness of organic ingredients in the food and looked at the purity of the water that was used to process and cook that food. We divided the eating establishments into levels of dining, including formal, informal and deli/takeout. The cuisines included a wide range of foods, from American to ethnic, and a variety of price ranges from spendy to cheap.
At first we thought we would publish a list of restaurants, but for the moment we can safely say there is good “organic” food available — take out or haute cuisine — that is worth going out for. On that note, we leave you with the admonition that, “Yes, you can eat out organically in the Twin Cities (more or less)” — so enjoy!