Cacao Tree Café
204 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-336-9043
Smoothies $8.49, wraps
$9-$11, salads $10-$12
Open 9-9 Monday-Saturday
You don't have to like the taste of grass to enjoy the "detox cuisine" at Cacao Tree Café, though some do. I saw aficionados swirling a hit of electric-green wheatgrass juice in a shot glass, inhaling the aroma before quaffing. At $3.25 per ounce, more than many restaurant wines, they were wise to get the most out of the experience.
"Remember when you used to eat grass when you were a kid?" one asked. (No.) "That's what it tastes like."
Wheatgrass, which is gluten-free despite its name, is only one of a long line of miracle foods that someone touts as the path to health, in this case promising everything from general well-being to reduced rectal bleeding.
But the Cacao Tree menu offers much more than superfoods; vegan, mostly raw and mostly organic, the place is a veritable haven for those with allergies or intolerances — either physical or philosophical — as well as those just seeking a good-tasting meal. Head chef Zach Lang says many customers work in the neighborhood and just want to get one healthy meal a day.
All foods except some soups, potatoes and grains are raw or heated to less than 108 degrees, the number above which raw-foodists believe that food becomes literally dead, its enzymes destroyed.
Lack of cooking didn't hurt the flavor of the soups I tried, though the nutritional yeast in the non-creamy "creamy broccoli" gave it a non-ideal smoky, burnt taste. In cumin-flavored Michigan 3-Bean, with black and white beans and red lentils, the beans are kept intact and lovely. In spicy Potato Ramp Crimini, asparagus works with the garlic-oniony ramps to produce a rich and thick stew, eminently satisfying.
The wraps require extra napkins, as the innards squish over the sides. Choose for your wrap sprouted-grain lavash (cooked, gluten), brown-rice lavash (cooked, no gluten), or, most virtuous, a bright-green collard leaf.
A falafel wrap is tasty with its several condiments — hummus, tabouli and tahini — though the patties themselves are soft, with no crisp crust as in a Lebanese place. The hummus is made with zucchini instead of chickpeas. A burrito contains guacamole, cashew "sour cream" (processed nuts with lemon juice, sea salt and water), traditional, if mild, pico de gallo and "meat" made of walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds, lightly pulsed. It feels veggie-ful, not meaty, but the guacamole and sour cream hold it together.
A friend pronounced her hummus wrapped in collard "like lettuce wrapped in lettuce" (it includes sprouts as well), but I thought the hummus made it nutty (figuratively — in point of fact it's seedy).
A number of specials try to mine the ethnic lode, with a nacho plate featuring housemade dehydrated tortilla-like chips made of flax and corn, and "cheese" made from cashews; a tostada topped with "refried beans" made of almonds and sunflower seeds; and a caprese sandwich of cashew "mozzarella" on seed bread. I tried Crimini Stroganoff and found it appropriately mushroomy, though, of course, cold. The sauce makes use of the ubiquitous cashew as well as dill and garlic, and it's beautifully presented with zucchini noodles surrounded by rings of color: green spinach, orange carrots and purple cabbage.
A lot of customers stop in for the pricey juices and smoothies, and the sound of powerful blenders is thunderous and nigh constant (you, behind the counter, should think of your cochlea too).
I loved my Ambrosia smoothie, which has nothing in common with traditional ambrosia except tasting good, mostly of fresh mint. Spinach turns it olive green despite the mango and the goji berries. The Bee Green smoothie is sprinkled with pollen gathered from bee hives (they bring it in on their legs), for a nice texture; its undertone is honey despite the high-powered competitors of avocado, peaches and spinach. Inner Warmth is fruitier, with four kinds of berries plus lime juice.
I am confident that every one of Cacao Tree's smoothies is delectable, with or without the addition of "superfoods" like hemp seed ("essential fatty acids in a perfect ratio to meet human nutritional needs" — Hemp Line Journal), maple syrup (antioxidants) and camu camu berry (vitamin C).
Cacao Tree is proud of its desserts, such as coconut cremè pie, mango cheesecake and mint chip pie. Housemade chocolates (no carob here) are sweetened with Amish maple syrup, coconut nectar, raw honey, birch tree syrup, or Jerusalem artichoke syrup, and filled with almond butter or orange butter.
I found the coconut cremè pie luscious, and no wonder — the filling is coconut meat, dates and coconut butter, and the crust is coconut flakes, dates and almonds. Chocolates are dark and soft, definitely mouth-watering but pretty expensive at $4 for four small truffles. One even incorporates the current craze for sea salt.
The $7-$10 juices make health claims through their names: Strong Heart, Immune Builder. Unlike many establishments' raw juices, they all include collards or kale. The Cold & Flu Fighter is gorgeous in stripes of different shades of brilliant green. I'm sorry to report that it didn't prevent my companion from getting progressively sicker as the week wore on, but perhaps, not being a true believer, she missed out on the placebo effect.
Quesadilla, which is lavash filled with "refried beans" (almond, sunflower seeds), sweet peppers, red onion, zucchini, and a cilantro pesto served with greens and guacamole from Cacao Tree Cafe in Royal Oak.