The food at Food for Ascension Café proves that a plant-based menu can actually be quite delicious and varied. At many places in town vegan and gluten-free options are few and far between. Here all items are vegan "unless noted as containing eggs" and the gluten free options are many. Ninety percent of the items are grown locally. All the sweets and breads are made in house. The "inspired" plates change daily. And it's all served up in a lovely, airy hippie chic space. What a great idea!
The daily soup ($6 for a cup; $11 for a bowl) on one visit was collard green soup. The broth that held plenty of well-cooked greens and a half a roasted potato was dark and savory; the kind of soup that would sustain on a chilly day.
We also tried the polenta ($13) that came with long, thin shreds of paprika roasted summer squash on top and a coconut sambal. The texture was grainier than most polenta you find on menus these days; more true to the Italian polenta my grandmother made. The corn flavor was pronounced but the other flavors were barely there. Oddly though, later at home when I snacked on the leftovers, the seasonings popped.
The same could be said for the seasonal calzone ($13). Here curry cream, Swiss chard, onions and tomatoes were baked in a golden crust that was solid and crunchy. The vegetables were in nice balance but the true flavors were more noticeable when the little pie was eaten cold. It should be noted that the greens that came on the side were so fresh you would've sworn they'd been picked only moments before.
The biscuits and gravy was a huge portion ($9 half order; $13 full)—three herby biscuits, plenty of oyster mushroom gravy for sopping and a tad of greens (we guessed chard) lightly dressed with lemon. The gravy made the dish with its earthy tones and creaminess; it turned the dense biscuits into edible bites.
Other entrées we sampled were the root and seed burger ($13) and the potato and greens cakes with poached eggs ($13).
The first was a fine example of what such a "burger" should be. A noticeable lack of filler allowed the beans and seeds to shine. Although it was hard to tell exactly which beans and seeds were incorporated there was plenty of flavor and texture. (The server noted that the burger is made from whatever Heritage beans are available on any given day. We figured at least black and tepary beans and pumpkin and sesame seeds.) It was served on a seeded bun, made in house. I think it could've used more of the promised mustard and aioli though. The greens on the side were again insanely fresh.
The potato cakes were nearly blackened, sort of how I make them at home. Pillow-soft potatoes were blended with more greens which got a little lost but nonethe- less they were delicious. Yet it was the poached eggs served on top that caught my attention. The yolks were almost orange and they had been perfectly cooked. They were fresh as eggs can be. There was a chunky salsa of mixed vegetables that was also on the plate and a dab of chili aioli on top of the potatoes. The salsa added different textures but was pretty mild and a little more aioli would've been nice. But this was a filling meal and all in all quite satisfying.
We tried three desserts some of which were gluten free. That I couldn't tell which ones were gluten free says a lot.
The sandwich cookie ($5) was dense and a little hard to eat. The outside was granola like; the inside a gooey ganache. The lemon corn cake ($6) was a little dry with not enough lemon flavor and a promised blueberry filling was barely there. The almond tarte ($6) had a buttery crust in spite of the fact that it was vegan and was the hands down winner.
The folks here also offer a whole host of potions, elixirs and other beverages. We loved the iced hibiscus tea ($2.25) and the turmeric-lemon-ginger-honey-chiltepin-cayenne elixir ($3.50) was "spicy, tart, sweet and more spicy" as described by my dining companion.
The menu itself is an interesting read and has to be mentioned. Admirably there's a long list of local sources with a commentary on each. It speaks volumes on the how and why of Ascension. And that should be enough. But then the folks at Ascension felt the need to include the mission statement:
"Our goal is to uplift the world and cultivate a just food movement for everyone, everywhere; to bring community together with honest and authentic food, from seed to fork to compost; to create a space for people to realize and ignite the greater community to be the change." Phew! A little heavy and I thought I was here to enjoy good food in a nice atmosphere.
In addition on the back of the menu there's a blurb about Avalon Gardens, a nearby communal farm, which seems to be the inspiration for the restaurant. They mention the Book of Urantia and the Gardens of Dalmatia and Adam and Eve and Atlantis and Lemuria. I felt the urge to Google and when I did I found plenty of information that made me wonder if there wasn't some sort of elitist hidden agenda here that involves higher individuals who feel the need to enlighten us poor lost souls.
That being said, the food here was quite good; light years ahead of a lot of healthful (by that I mean vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free) food found around town. There's an earthy sophistication about the place. Many vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free options are available. Preparation is professional. Service is spacey yet undeniably friendly. Tucson needs a place like Food for Ascension Café.
I'm sure they'll be successful and in the long run contribute to the community. Which is as they say a "good thing."