There’s a voice in my head that has been there since childhood – the sound of my mother urging me to down a spoonful of something I didn’t like. I can still hear the words: “Eat this, it’s goooood for you!”
This may be the reason I have always had a certain reluctance to enter restaurants whose primary sales point is that the food is healthy, and I suspect others feel the same way. The ideas you get when you are very young stay with you for life, and the voices of millions of mothers reverberate in our adult heads when we see the “healthy choices” section of a menu.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered that healthy could also mean tasty, with flavors based on good ingredients rather than an arsenal of spices deployed to cover up mediocre foundations. Then I could appreciate restaurants like The Source Café, which recently opened on upper Pier in Hermosa. Seasonings are used here, and artfully; the restaurant is owned by Amber Caudle, executive chef at Mediterraneo for nine years, and she certainly knows how to show good products to their best advantage.
The Source is in a small space that previously hosted a coffeehouse, and the ambiance hasn’t changed much. The décor is minimal and people wait in line to order while reading chalkboard menus. These have an array of salads, smoothies, and breakfast bowls, with a few sandwiches and egg items to round out the food list. There are almost as many drinks, with an impressive list of smoothies and juice mixes, plus the coffees and teas that might be expected
On our first visit we tried a goat cheese, zucchini, and basil frittata, chia pudding, smoked trout crostini, and a beet and blueberry muffin. I had figured I was over-ordering with the muffin, but I had to try it since I had never thought of combining beets and blueberries. The vegetable and fruit flavors complemented each other, not overly sweet and well integrated with the cakelike batter, and it was a great start to the meal. The chia pudding was another eye-opener; I like chia, the Mexican superfood seed with a mild nutty flavor, but I hadn’t tried any recipes before in which it was used raw. In this recipe it swelled up like tapioca in the base of coconut milk, the nutty flavor mixing with the dash of cocoa to make a light, mildly sweet delight.
I was glad I had ordered the muffin when my breakfast arrived – when they said an egg frittata, they actually meant one egg, and though it was served with some slices of orange and cantaloupe it was a small portion. It was delicious, though, a disc of cheese and vegetables bound by fluffy egg, and if you are looking for a light breakfast it is quite worthwhile. The smoked trout was a more substantial portion, four slices of baguette spread with aioli, topped with a slice of tomato, and then capped with a mound of delicious chopped smoked fish with a sprinkling of chives. It reminded me of the little open-face sandwiches I had enjoyed at smorgasbords in Scandinavia, and if I had only had a shot of aquavit handy I could have relived the moment.
Aquavit not being available, we had coffee and a drink called Healthy Glow made from apple, carrot, and orange juices. The tartness of the orange juice balanced out the carrot nicely – I liked the blend better than any of the three individually. We might have been inclined to have another coffee and linger over the juice had it not been for the long line of people waiting for a table.
Our visit was so pleasant that that we returned a few days later, this time for smoked salmon and avocado on a sprouted wheat bagel, a turkey, fontina, and spinach panini, and juice concoctions called turmeric tonic and royal root. The turmeric tonic was bracing, an exuberant shot of ginger, cayenne pepper, and turmeric along with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. It was hot, tart, sour, and spicy all at once, and though I liked the small portion that I tried, it was plenty. I mention this because it is evidently very popular – they sell it in portions ranging from 8-ounce glass to the gallon. The royal root – a combination of beet, watermelon, and lemon juice – was much more to my taste.
The salmon and avocado with goat cheese on a lightly toasted bagel was delicious, and made me wonder why I hadn’t had this particular combination before – the buttery avocado was delicious with the thinly sliced fish. The turkey panini was a bit more pedestrian, a good sandwich enlivened by the raw spinach and mild vegan aioli, but I would have preferred a slightly more assertive cheese than the bland fontina. The sandwich was served with a nice green salad, which was difficult to eat without scattering it all over the table because everything not liquid is served on a small cutting board. It’s a cute serving style but not practical in some cases, and this was one of them.
Our breakfasts and lunches averaged out to about $16 per person – not bad for exceptional quality food with individual flair – and oh yes, it’s healthy stuff too. The Source is a fine addition to the local scene, a place bringing modern and creative ideas about food to a public that is obviously ready for it.
The Source is at 509 Pier Avenue in Hermosa. Open 7 AM to 5 PM daily, no alcohol, two spaces in rear or street parking, children welcome, outdoor patio, dog-friendly. Website at thesourcecafehb.com, 310-318-1600.