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Cox: Sunflower Center's fare healthful, good

  • Margherita Pizza made at Lydia's Kitchen in Petaluma, Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

A food revolution is underway and Lydia Kindheart is helping to lead it.

You can taste this fresh, local, healthy rebel food at The Sunflower Center — the restaurant, shopping venue and community center all in one — at Lydia's Organics Sunflower Center headquarters in Petaluma. Her approach to food is summed up by her vegan, gluten-free, organic tamale plate, which won a blue ribbon at the recent Marin County Fair. Besides the corn tamale wrapped in a banana leaf, the plate holds black beans, salsa, avocado and fresh green salad.

This is not a new revolution, but it has gained enormous strength in recent years as the organic market in the U.S. has grown to $30 billion-plus, and continues to grow at a steady seven percent each year.

The Sunflower Center

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The Sunflower Center showcases healthy food, and the menu is split between cooked and raw items. It's supported by Lydia's Organics, a brand that is an international purveyor of vegan, gluten-free snacks, cereals, kale crunchies, dehydrated vegetable powders, spreads, and other foods with a long shelf life. Lydia's Lovin' Foods, a sister brand, delivers fresh entrees, spreads, desserts, and raw soups locally to select stores throughout the Bay Area, as well as at many festivals, fairs and events.

This is not a white-tablecloth, sit-down-and-be-served kind of restaurant. It's more lunch counter than fine dining. You go to the cash register for a menu, then give the counterperson your order. You take a card holder with your number to a table where utensils are wrapped in a paper napkin. Soon, someone brings your order to the table.

Here's the thing about The Sunflower Center's food. If you order the Margherita Pizza ($10.50, 3 stars), don't expect a New York slice. No gooey mozzarella here. Yes, there's a brick pizza oven to cook the crust in, but this pie is different. The crumbly crust is made from sprouted brown rice, amaranth, quinoa and sorghum. The "cheese" is made from cashew paste, the tomatoes are raw, the olives are raw, and the Green Goddess sauce, very much like pesto, is raw.

You must take this food for what it is. So if you're addicted to sugar, salt and fat, you may not like what The Sunflower Center has to offer. If you like a thick, juicy ground-beef burger, your expectations won't be met by Lydia's Lovin' Burger ($7, 2? stars), a thick, somewhat dry, spicy and fairly tasty mash-up of quinoa, carrots, beets, celery, kale, parsley, basil, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and herbs. It's topped with tomato, onion, lettuce, sesame-dill sauce and vegan pesto, and served on gluten-free buckwheat blinis.

Do you like fresh, raw carrot juice with a shot of wheatgrass juice in it? Then you'll love the Famous Raw Green Soup (cup $3, 3 stars), a cold, thick soup that's both tangy and sweet and is made from pureed kale, avocado, cucumber, cilantro, ginger, celery, parsley, basil, lemon and seaweed. It tastes like hopped-up crudit?.

Take a break from all this super-nutrition by playing the hand drum on the rug where a projector displays mandalas and quotes from folks like Jimi Hendrix. Or shop for yoga clothing, candles, prayer flags, beads, shirts made of hemp, books, CDs, teas, traditional copper cups for serving Moscow Mule cocktails, and much more. Or ride the swings suspended from the ceiling. Or get a hemp oil massage in the Bamboo Wellness Center. The Sunflower Center's food, in other words, comes with a lifestyle.

Drinks are non-alcoholic smoothies, teas, filtered water and lemonades — just the thing to wash down a Cowgirl Crepe ($12, 3 stars). A buckwheat crepe enfolds a filling of cashew "cheez," as the menu calls it, greens, quinoa, avocado, salsa, barbecue sauce, chili sauce and burger crumbles. The crepe is slightly spicy, very tomato-y, and on the sweet side. Our table also tried the Apple Cobbler Crepe ($8.50, 3 stars), which was a buckwheat crepe filled with apple cobbler and topped with drizzles of cashew cream and strawberry sauce — a yummy dessert.


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