Chop to it: Traditional peanuts are traded for chopped cashews in Basic Kitchen’s riff on Vietnamese-style salad, which features local shrimp, romaine, cabbage, grapefruit, slivered carrots and red peppers, and chili-lime vinaigrette.
On an afternoon at Basic Kitchen’s long, open bar, the bartender (or perhaps “juice-ologist” is more fitting) arranges a bouquet of fresh basil alongside baskets filled with bright apples, lemons, and limes. A row of fresh-pressed juices glows magenta, vivid green, and orange from the refrigerator. Along the back wall, a white paper scroll is etched with a carrot illustration and the handwritten quote of the day, a remark from Virgil: “The greatest wealth is health.”
Sunlight floods this upbeat, airy café. Potted plants and woven wicker pendants make things cozy, as do fluffy pillows lining cushioned banquets. Bikes are locked to a palmetto tree out front. Inside, couples breeze through, stopping to hug friends. A fit lady in yoga pants carries her tiny dog to the umbrella-shaded patio out back. It’s a friendly, vivacious spot, if sometimes a little loud from the combination of chatter and a buoyant soundtrack bouncing off marble tabletops and concrete floors.
With whitewashed walls, lofty ceilings, and towering windows, the space feels as fresh as the food. Tiny lamps with hot-pink tasseled shades line the bar, where I grab a mint-hued swivel stool and sample three takes on toast: one decked out with a sautéed mix of mushrooms, onions, and wilted spinach with scattered sprigs of thyme; another smeared generously with creamy avocado then topped with a sunny side-up egg and sunflower seeds; and yet another piled with cool, sumptuous ricotta, delicate folds of salmon, and dollops of fresh pesto, all on nutty whole grain bread.
(Left) Mint Condition: A retro refrigerator near the entrance offers fresh juices, kombucha, wine, and snacks to go; (Middle) Fueled Up: Ben Towill, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Kate, manages the kitchen; (Right) Mint-blue swivel seats line the cheerful bar.
If there’s one culinary theme uniting the brunch and dinner menus at Basic Kitchen, it’s restraint: restraint in acidity, seasoning, and the use of dressings. That’s a good thing, when considering the alternative (I’m no fan of being sucker-punched by excessive citrus, aggressive saltiness, or too much sauce). My Vietnamese chop salad comes as a mix of shredded cabbage and romaine interlaced with slivers of carrot, crunchy snap peas, and red bell pepper, as well as juicy grapefruit wedges, toasted cashews, and local shrimp, all lightly tossed with chili-lime vinaigrette. It is delicious, balanced, and light, yet filling. The same goes for another veggie special, in which pickled multicolored beets are dotted with goat cheese and topped with walnuts and baby sunflower greens.
Prepared with a minimalist mindset, the ingredients speak for themselves. Sweet potatoes are roasted until impossibly tender, then adorned with sliced jalapeños and slivers of mint; grilled fish tacos benefit from a salsa of rhubarb and pineapple; kale is sautéed to a crisp with a scant touch of soy and sesame seeds; and a dish of thinly shaved peaches and fennel gets a slight zing from crème fraîche.
For those who want to kick it up a notch, servers are happy to bring an extra squeeze of lime for your avocado toast, a bottle of Red Clay hot sauce to add a little spice to your sweet potato, or local sea salt for your coconut-cilantro chickpeas. Better yet, ask for something called “Umami Pepper” if you’re craving more nuanced flavor. The spice blend—a mix of powdered mushrooms, garlic, shallots, peppercorns, coriander, sea salt, seaweed, miso, balsamic, lemon peels, and thyme—has skyrocketed to the top of my pantry wish list.
Fresh, without fuss: (Above, left to right) The Basic Bowl is healthy and comforting, with grilled broccoli and sweet potatoes, kale sautéed with sesame seeds, chickpeas, and brown rice; drinks include juice, mocktails, and adult bevs, like beet margaritas; fish tacos arrive with pineapple-rhubarb salsa.
Basic Kitchen does an admirable job of making vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes more palatable for those who don’t usually opt for plant-based fare. Tempura-fried cauliflower “wings” are addictive with their crisp exteriors and tang of hot sauce, tempered perfectly when dipped in creamy cashew “ranch.” A rice pudding dessert builds upon a base of naturally toothsome brown rice enriched with coconut milk and little bursts of sweet coconut shavings, with ripe mango on top (I could eat this daily for breakfast!). Even vegan cheesecake pleasantly surprises with its non-dairy creaminess.
My server sports blue hair and red canvas kicks, with a Basic Kitchen T-shirt promoting “cleaner fuel, longer adventures.” Framed on the wall, a bike jersey commemorates the epic cross-country trip in which husband-and-wife owners Ben and Kate Towill cycled some 4,700 miles through 11 states in eight weeks. Longer adventures indeed!
As I sip a hot tea loaded with turmeric and ginger, two natural anti-inflammatory agents, my mind returns to Virgil’s quote about health being the greatest wealth. If only the philosopher himself had had this café around the corner, he might have lived long enough to edit his Aeneid, thus alleviating the bleary eyes and headaches of many future scholars. As for the rest of us, we’ll settle for the extra burst of energy that comes from eating healthfully. Basic Kitchen has us covered.
The Draws: Nutritious, clean, fresh flavors in a sunny, stylish setting
The Drawback: Lunchtime can get loud (but there’s always the breezy patio out back).
Don’t Miss: Beet margaritas and salmon-ricotta toast topped with fresh pesto and sunflower greens