Restaurants get started for all kinds of reasons. Some present a distinctive international cuisine. Others showcase the cooking of a particular chef – usually with his name on the sign out front. Filling a niche for folks who like sports, pizza, beer or even grilled cheese sandwiches have all been done. Special occasion, family dining, breakfast and lunch, or dinner only – they all have their plan. There are even those optimists who think restaurants are an easy way to make money.
Then there are a few establishments that are founded to express a certain point of view, support a particular cause, or make a social statement.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver started his Restaurant Fifteen in London with the idea of taking on unemployed young people and training them to produce world-class cuisine. Since 2002 he has taken apprentices with no experience, taught them the ropes, and set them on careers in the food biz. Along the way, they’ve made some great food and contributed to his popular restaurant.
COLORS is a nonprofit New York restaurant dedicated to improving the lot of restaurant workers. It is part of Restaurant Opportunities Center, an organization founded to help restaurant workers after 9/11 and a leading advocate for restaurant workers’ rights. Their CHOW (COLORS Hospitality & Opportunities for Workers) program offers professional development to restaurant workers looking to move up the ladder. COLORS just closed its longstanding Greenwich Village location and will re-open this year at 178 Stanton St. featuring their acclaimed gluten-free menu.
There’s a trend across the country for activist restaurants to put their political beliefs into action supporting homeless shelters, fighting food waste, supporting restaurant workers, and more.
Pioneers in the trend, Selma Miriam and Noel Furie got together forty years ago to create Bloodroot, a feminist bookstore and café. They were among the first to create a restaurant based on their life principals. On the water in Bridgeport, the café serves up a mix of vegan and vegetarian food, heartfelt cooking and hospitality, along with a cozy book nook and a comfortable cat that oversees it all.
The café is at the edge of Black Rock Harbor looking out across the marshy shore toward the Captain’s Cove marina. Plug 85 Ferris Street into your GPS and you’ll think it can’t be right – a narrow road that dead ends into another lane. Then the water view opens up and Bloodroot is on the right. A few tables out front overlooking the water are much in demand in the outdoor season.
As you enter, Selma’s desk is on the right and the blackboard menus are on the left over the kitchen pass window. Consider your options from the creative, scratch-cooked, vegan and vegetarian offerings and tell Selma what you want. She writes up your choices on an old-fashioned order pad, totes up what you owe, and gives you a copy that you hand over to Noel and her cooks in the kitchen.
When your name is called, come and get it! When you’re done, clear your dishes! From the beginning, you are involved and integral to the process. No one is being served, and everyone is serving. Like everything at Bloodroot, it’s a little different, but quite satisfying.
The restaurant is a gathering place for activists, vegans, vegetarians, and those who just like to eat well. Ingredients are carefully sourced from local and sustainable producers. The bread is fresh-baked right there. An eclectic collection of antique photos of women covers the wall opposite the water view. Supporting it all is a current of politics, activism, and thoughtful discussion around good food.
At a quiet pre-Christmas lunch, three of us ordered across the menu. For me, a three egg omelette bursting with Port Salut cheese ($7). Selma brought me a brochure for “Hot Chicks” hometown eggs, raised nearby in small backyard flocks where the hens enjoy a natural life cycle and are treated as pets rather than commodities. The eggs sure make a tasty omelette. Get your own hometown “Hot Chicks” eggs from Patri Feher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A trio of home-made breads are offered as a side: Potato Rye; Oatmeal Sunflower; and Whole Wheat (1.50). Who could resist? You’ll find the Oatmeal Sunflower on the menu at Norwalk’s Fat Cat Pie Co., too.
Marsha opted for a vegan Portuguese Kale and Potato soup, steaming with chunks of potato and plenty of kale in a savory broth (6), and a garlicky Chickpea and Avocado salad (7.50).
Joyce, our guest of honor up for the holidays from Georgia, also chose the kale soup and with it a vegetarian Mushroom Quiche – rich with mushroom flavor (9). She thought the crust was one of the best she’d ever had.
Heading into the holiday eating season, we were ready to resist dessert, but I had to delve into the mysteries of a Cranberry Kissel with sliced almonds (8). Described as a pudding, it looked more like a gelatin – clear with a sparkling garnet color and tart, fresh cranberry flavor. Brown Rice Pudding with apricot and pistachios also justified the extra calories. The rich pudding was complimented by sweet-tangy apricot and crunchy nuts. Both vegan dessert bowls were scraped clean.
Bloodroot is celebrating its 40th anniversary, a long, long time in restaurant years. Selma and Noel put their hearts into it every day. The stories behind the ingredients, the delicious and carefully prepared food, their two published cookbooks, their stellar reputation, and their allegiance to the restaurant’s founding principals are all due to them and their loyal staff. I’m eager to go back and try the dinner menu and can’t wait to eat by the water next summer. See you there!