Dining out–Pure Joy Cafe

Pure Joy Cafe
450 N St.

Weekdays 9 am to 3 pm

By Malcolm Maclachlan

Pure Joy Café is one of those "only in California" places-a raw food stand thriving inside a state government building. Seriously. It sits in the cafeteria on the ground floor of the Board of Equalization building, in the heart of downtown stateworkerville.

The regular cafeteria on the other side of the big room was doing more business when we visited on the last day of 2008, but Pure Joy was still moving some product on a day when lots of people were still home with their families. At first glance, when I looked down at the pre-prepared items sitting in their containers, the prices seemed high and the portions small. But that is one of the optical illusions of raw food-despite the lack of animal products and bad fats, it is really quite filling.

Part of the idea of raw food is that it takes more energy for your body to break it down, because it hasn't been cooked or processed. It is mainly vegetarian; there were few animal products on sale at Pure Joy, mainly only items that contained yoghurt. The lack of cooking is meant to preserve the vitamins, enzymes and other good stuff that is lost when food is processed. This, in turn, is supposed to promote fewer waste products, greater health, and weight loss.

It was also an interesting experience to eat gourmet quality food from little plastic containers surrounded by a state building cleaning staff in an otherwise bland/corporate cafeteria. We split three items, all of them excellent. My favorite was the spaghetti and mushrooms. The spaghetti wasn't actually noodles at all, but butternut squash cut into long thin strands with shitake mushrooms, marinara, olives and "hemp parmesan." It just tasted like cheese to me, and no, we didn't get high. Overall, it had a light, fresh, burst in your mouth kind of flavor.

The Lasagna Alive! ($6.25) was a layered concoction of zucchini, shitake, spinach, more hemp parmesan and a creamy ricotta cheese made from macadamia nuts. We also had the winter Waldorf salad ($4.25), with beets, carrots and walnuts in a sesame yoghurt. While traditional Waldorf salad with mayonnaise and raisins was one of my scariest memories of family gatherings when I was a child, this had a zingy and yes, healthy taste.

We finished with chocolate smoothie ($5.95 for a large), which was rich and dark. They even have a buy seven, get one free smoothie card. Other items for sale included a kind of eggplant salad-highly recommended by a "17 year raw foodie" who was also there eating. Pure Joy is also apparently known for its coconut macaroons ($3 for one, $5 for two), with four different flavors on offer the day we were there. There is a new pre-announced menu every day, which you can sign up and get by email.

Pure Joy part of a small group of businesses run by Synergy Chef, a five person raw food outfit led by chef Richard Helmsley, who won "Best creator of cool food" in Sacramento Magazine's 2007 awards. They offer a personal chef service and does catering through Magpie Caterers (2135 Dale Ave., 452-7594). There is even a buyers' club for certain popular raw food items, such as organic coconuts, pineapples, mangoes and pecans.

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