Passion for healthy food spawns Wheeling's welcoming Purple Sprout
While a vast majority of Americans stick to an omnivorous diet, it's no longer headline news that the ranks of vegetarians and vegans continue to grow incrementally.
Enter Purple Sprout, a vegan cafe and juice bar that husband-and-wife team Karim Raimbekov and Irina Kuznetsova opened in late November in Wheeling to serve the emerging market.
Their modest 18-seat storefront eatery provides a welcoming experience for all comers, from committed vegans to anyone curious about what a strictly plant-based menu has to offer.
In keeping with the vegan lifestyle, the kitchen eschews refined sugar, refined grains and flours, artificial preservatives or colorings, genetically modified soy or corn and nightshades such as white potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, both the eye-watering chilies and the sweeter bell peppers.
Still, diners will find an abundance of choices on a menu rich in whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds -- a different regimen from meat, poultry, seafood and dairy but satisfying, as Purple Sprout clearly demonstrates.
Lunch -- ordered at a counter near cases displaying some of the food -- began with a lively pick-me-up: a cup of hot lemon-ginger herbal tea.
Among other more involved beverage choices were juice blends such as Fountain of Youth (a combination of apple, kale, celery, lemon, ginger and parsley); smoothies including mango cream (coconut water, avocado, mango, pineapple and agave nectar); and one-ounce shots such as Pro Digestion (ginger, coriander, peppermint and high alkaline pH water).
While waiting for your order to be processed, check out the small retail section of the cafe where you can find such items as organic herbs (basil, mint, sage), raw chocolate, dried mango, sunflower seed cheese and kale chips. The diversion might take your mind off the sometimes thunderous rain forest soundtrack clamoring in the background.
Back to lunch. Not counting seasonal specials, there are more than 20 different entrees from which to choose, priced from $7 to $12.
Yuca, a cultivated cassava, isn't a staple in my diet. But as prepared at Purple Sprout, the unassuming starchy tuberous root -- served balled up with carrot and seitan (wheat gluten) at the center -- earned new respect from me, especially when consumed with the accompanying creamy cashew and sunflower seed dips.
The dish also came with two flavorful lentil dumplings and a shredded vegetable salad. A requested topping of mixed fresh sprouts further enhanced the repast.
Also first-rate was the black bean and hempseed burger ordered by a sibling.
Among other dishes to consider were the brown rice paper-wrapped spring roll with root vegetables, greens and spiced tofu; zucchini pasta with pine nut pesto; and chickpea veggie scramble.
Dessert brought more pleasant tastes to the table. A scoop of dense out-of-the-ordinary chocolate hemp ice cream delighted even though its texture was punctuated by ice crystals.
Meanwhile, this nonvegan would happily return for another slice of the cafe's rich, sugar-free marble cheesecake, which coaxes maximum flavor from hazelnuts, cashews and coconut oil.
Purple Sprout, which occupies space that once housed Shtram's Deli, occasionally conducts mini workshops. Two such recent programs were titled "Sprout Your Happiness" and "GMOs: How to Recognize and Avoid." The upcoming "Healing Gong Meditation" takes place at 6 p.m. Monday, April 11.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
Purple Sprout341 E. Dundee Road, Wheeling, (224) 223-7133, purplesprout.com
Setting: Casual, contemporary
Prices: Main course: $7 to $12; juice bar: $3 to $8; desserts: average $7
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Also: Free parking, no reservations, take out, catering