Make us your home page

Review: Cider Press Cafe proves vegan-raw food can be vibrant and exciting


One of the Tampa Bay area's rock star chefs is overseeing a kitchen where she never lifts a frying pan or flips something on the grill. Is Patrice Murphy (Pearl in the Grove, Edison, the Refinery) getting lazy in her new gig at the Cider Press Café? • Hardly. • She is at the helm of the second location of a popular Naples vegan-raw restaurant owned by Roland Strobel and Johan Everstijn. What just a few years ago would have been a head-scratcher, raw food has taken hold here. Beginning with Leafy Greens in 2008, and Vida de Cafe in Pass-a-Grille, the now-closed Taste of Eden in Brandon and others more recently, the idea of entirely vegetable-based "cooking" (I use that term loosely because no food creeps past 117 degrees, the point at which helpful enzymes are killed) doesn't spook too many folks now.

There is sleight of hand. Breads are made of dehydrated gruels (not a pretty word, but there you have it), taco shells from flax and sunflower seeds, noodles from kelp and spiraled zucchini. There are cream sauces with no cream, lasagnas with no pasta, and eggplant and coconut bacons with no, well, bacon. This food is hard to make — it takes time and ingredients cost a lot. Which is why my assessment is this: Cider Press is amazing for dinner and fairly expensive and time consuming for downtown office workers on a lunch break. (The same menu serves lunch and dinner.)

For the first bunch of weeks of its life, the St. Pete location didn't have beer and wine, which was fine because nonalcoholic beverages are impressive: There's a lavender lemonade that is striking ($5), a range of winey, intriguing kombuchas ($3-$4), smoothies that are so good you're almost guaranteed brain freeze (best one: Chocolate Seduction, heavy on the banana and with an interesting smokiness, not too sweet; $9) and a lineup of smart cold-pressed juices ($10) that I've pretty much worked my way through. These are expensive beverages, but rationalize it by thinking of how much you'd spend on a great cocktail.

And like a cocktail, raw food has the power to put you in an altered state. Sure, it could be the placebo effect, but a shared order of coconut spring rolls (ribbons of coconut rolled around kelp and zucchini with a sweet Thai chili dipping sauce; $11) and then a generous bowl of spiral-cut zucchini and kelp "pad Thai" dotted with cabbage, pineapple and savory/umami tamari almonds, all of it glossed in a sweet-spicy tamarind sauce ($15), and I feel a little more spring in my step.

The design of Cider Press, in a space that previously housed the short-lived Sunspot Cafe, is fresh, contemporary and a fitting setting for what Murphy and team are sending out of the kitchen. It's got glossy concrete floors, heavy use of bamboo and these dusty aquamarine banquettes that have me rethinking my home color scheme. The service staff feels just right, a mix of vegan-raw zealots but also some omnivores who seem surprised by how enthusiastic they are about the food.

Together they hit the right tone of inclusivity, with an educational bent that never seems preachy. You can enjoy an order of Three Amigos, a trio of thick and sturdy dehydrated corn tortillas with a walnut and sweet potato filling topped with cabbage, guac, pico de gallo, poblano cream and some seriously spicy pickled jalapenos ($18) even if carne asada is your regular go-to (okay, its pile of riced jicama was a harder sell, even with its familiar Mexican spice palette). In several visits the only thing I winced at was the "almond croutons" on a Caesar salad ($8 small, $12 large), which tasted like packing peanuts made out of alum.

I defy anyone woozy about vegan food to not enjoy a bowl of Seminole corn chowder ($8.50, cup $5), the essence of summer corn with a lush texture courtesy of a cashew buttercream. And desserts, from a stunning bananas Foster ($10) with a magical non-ice cream and rich caramel, to a classical French glossy chocolate ganache tart ($8), are the opposite of abstemious.

Murphy — big personality, mile-high dreads — has been a meat enthusiast in previous gigs. I'm not sure if she has any pork-related tattoos (Why do so many chefs have pork-related tattoos? Why not, say, lamb?), but certainly Cider Press represents a tidal shift in her professional focus.

One of the great things about cooking is that you can explore new areas, annex new flavors and techniques into your repertoire. I'd say her exploration of vegan-raw certainly proves that animal-free food can be vibrant and exciting.

Contact Laura Reiley at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.


The Cider Press Café

601 Central Ave.,

St. Petersburg

(727) 914-7222;

Cuisine: Vegan-raw

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; reservations for 5 or more; beer and wine

Prices: Starters $6-$14; entrees $13-$18; juices and smoothies $9-$10

Rating, out of four stars:

Food: ★★★ Service: ★★★

Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★★

Review: Cider Press Cafe proves vegan-raw food can be vibrant and exciting 09/28/15 [Last modified: Monday, September 28, 2015 2:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pasco libraries offer relief from the heat with reading programs, activities


    HOLIDAY — Angelina Ponzo has a goal this summer: to read as many books as possible.

    Alexis Ponzo, left, uses watercolor crayons to draw a heart tattoo on her daughter Angelina's arm during a recent summer reading program event at Centennial Park Library in Holiday. Local libraries are hosting reading programs and a variety of educational, entertaining and family friendly events throughout the summer months.
  2. Want to feel old? It's been 20 years since the first 'Harry Potter' was published


    He was so cute: Blond hair, blue eyes and a killer smile. He was dressed in a black robe with a fake scar on his forehead and regaling our fifth-grade class with his book report on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. As a 10-year-old with only the most sophisticated of tastes (give me a Baby-Sitters Club any day), …

    An auctioneer holds a first edition copy of the first Harry Potter book "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" containing annotations and illustrations by author J.K. Rowling. The tale has turned 20,  published in Britain on June 26, 1997. Since then, it has sold more than 450 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 79 languages. (Associated Press [2013])
  3. Restaurant review: Deccan Spice in Feather Sound is a gateway to the allures of Indian cuisine

    Food & Dining


    Feather Sound's Tru Lounge, which was Flo Lounge before that, morphed into Grand Siam in 2012, a giant Thai restaurant owned by the folks who had Ban Thai restaurants in Tampa, Clearwater, Brandon and Lakeland. It was lavish with dramatic fluted chandeliers and a long, polished wood sushi bar, but it …

    Some of the selections at a recent lunch buffet at Deccan Spice included chicken biryani, gobi masala and murgh masala.
  4. From the food editor: Almond-Crusted Chicken Tenders will be your new favorite go-to


    I decided my almond chicken obsession was becoming a bit much.

    Almond Crusted Chicken Tenders. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.
  5. Who topped the Billboard charts 35 years ago? Paul and Stevie, of course


    We really did have it so much better in the early ‘80s. Just check out the Billboard top 5 songs for the week of June 26, 1982.