Un-Doctored Strangefood

24 Carrots, Sadhana Raj, vegan, juice bar, Chandler, Phoenix

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Beet

Over the course of the last ten days, I have been making the final step in my relocation to New York.  This involved a six-city, 3,600-mile drive across the country, stopping at various ports of call to visit relatives, friends, and rest stops.

When I sat down to plan the details of this trip, I realized that my intended route would pass through Phoenix.  As it happens, two of my childhood friends (Sadhana and Shyam) opened a business just outside Phoenix, a juice bar and restaurant called 24 Carrots.  Since I planned to be in Phoenix right around mid-day, I made a plan to stop there for lunch.

There was, of course, a catch.  24 Carrots distinguishes itself by serving high quality vegan food, raw food, and locally-sourced food.

As those of you who know me can attest, I am not a vegetarian.  My pendulum swings far to the other side.  I enjoy meat, the more exotic the better, and prefer my steak still mooing.  I recognize that vegetables have their place, but that place is as a garnish to meat.  When it comes to non-meats, my favorite culinary category is dairy; I love good cheeses.

I consider the cheeseburger the highest accomplishment of civilization.

Because of that, the prospect of eating a meal at a vegan restaurant gave me pause.  Vegan food avoids not only meats, but animal products such as eggs and dairy.  Of course, it would be worth it to visit Sadhana, so I resolved to order a variety of offerings from their menu and chalk it up to a new experience.   Frankly, I did not expect to enjoy it, but fell back on my favorite mantra: yes, I am willing to try new things.

When I first arrived at 24 Carrots, just a mile off the interstate in Chandler, I was very impressed.  Along the wall, they featured tree-themed fine art, consistent with the nature-friendly theme of the restaurant.  A large blackboard in the rear featured inspirational and funny quotations.
The atmosphere was bright, clean, and welcoming.  I was glad to be there.

During my 90-minute visit, the frenetic lunch rush kept the staff, including Sadhana, scrambling to fill orders for invariably happy diners.  Most had apparently been there before, and returned with regularity.  This was very encouraging.

I ordered a wide variety of food from the menu, beginning with a smoothie.  As much as I hate to devote a full paragraph to a single smoothie, my experience with it was interesting.  When I first took a sip, I thought perhaps it had not been mixed properly, as there was hardly any flavor.  It had color, but no taste!  Immediately, I thought my bias confirmed, that vegan/raw/organic food would be ethically rewarding, and gastronomically disappointing.

However, as I continued drinking, a funny thing happened: it started to get better, and then not just good, but really really good.  It was different from the type of “good” I would usually assign to a beverage.  It was a sort of crisp, clean taste that I enjoy but seldom experience.  Upon later reflection (did I mention the 3,600 miles?  Lots of time to think…), I believe what happened was a sort of palate-cleansing.  My only earlier meal that day was a croissant sandwich from Arby’s, along with some high-fructose orange-like beverage.  The shocking sugars and processed foods had conditioned my palate to only respond to shouting; the softer tones of wholesome food did not immediately register.

As I finished the smoothie, I was definitely enjoying the more subtle flavors.  This was followed by a jalapeno dish stuffed with cashew and vegan cheese.  I still have no idea what is in the oxymoronically-named vegan cheese, but this was the best thing I tasted at the restaurant, and I nearly ordered a second helping.

The main course was a half-sandwich filled with, of all things, beets.  Now, to say that I do not like beets is a bit of an understatement.  I have written a derisive short story regarding the fictitious history of the beet, positing that they grow underground because God was attempting to hide his mistake from us.  There is nothing redeeming about a beet.

…except that these beets tasted good.  They were thinly sliced, and there was some sort of chemistry between the bread, the other ingredients, and the beets that rendered them not only edible, but enjoyable.   They did drip annoying stain-juice all over my sleeves, but I can’t really blame the dish for my inability to cleanly consume it.

The sandwich came with a soup of avocado and tomato.  For some reason, the descriptive word “raw” did not register as it should, and I was surprised to find the soup served cold.  Avocados are nature’s butter; nothing with avocados tastes anything but wonderful, and this cold soup was no exception.

Overall, my experience with vegan food was refreshing.  I do not think I could eat vegan food for every meal, but this dining experience was a pleasure, not a chore.  My later stops in Austin and Little Rock provided enough barbecue that my dietary need for massive quantities of animal protein was not jeopardized.

If you ever pass through Phoenix, I recommend trying 24 Carrots.  Even if vegan is not your thing, you might be pleasantly surprised.  I certainly was.




Published in: on February 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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