What we tried: Raw vegan sit-down restaurant Cider Press Cafe (601 Central Ave., St. Petersburg) recently opened an attached grab-and-go cafe with its own entrance, offering pre-prepared lunch items at a lower price point, plus cold-pressed juices, coffee and baked goods. Items range from $5.99 to $7.99. The new cafe is open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., though customers can access items from the grab-and-go cooler and pay at the bar any time the main restaurant is open.
How it went: There is a serious lack of grab-and-go options in downtown St. Petersburg. As someone who regularly rushes out the door in the morning while phoning in a frantic breakfast takeout order, or finds myself on the sidewalk at lunchtime wondering where I can get food quickly (too often turning to a pizzeria for a slice, sometimes unheated to save time), I was very excited to hear what Cider Press was doing. Not for any kind of dietary reasons (I do enjoy meat and dairy), but because I'm generally unprepared and in a hurry.
The convenience was appealing enough, but after trying almost all of their lunch offerings, I have yet to find one that isn't also tasty, fresh and totally satisfying, even for a meat-eater like myself. As an added bonus — and maybe this is science, or maybe it's all in my head — the meatless lunches have left me returning to work more alert and feeling less like I could use a nap.
All items come from a cooler, and most are meant to be eaten cold. The best of the bunch is the Health Club, a tall sandwich with strips of house-made eggplant "bacon," oven-roasted Chick'n Tofurkey, lettuce and tomato, between three slices of Good Seed bread. Another favorite is the Sonoma Jack sandwich, which is a textural delight with jackfruit (it's mildly sweet, and kind of like if an apple and pineapple had a baby) standing in for chicken in their version of a Sonoma chicken salad, plus walnuts, apple, cranberries, celery and egg-free Just Mayo on a dense, vegan croissant.
The vegan gyro really benefits from a minute in the microwave, and the seasoning and texture of the "gyro" (mostly wheat gluten and soy protein) makes for a fairly satisfying approximation of actual gyro meat, wrapped in a soft pita, though I do wish the tzatziki came on the side so I could keep it cold as I heated up the rest of it. That hot-cold mouthfeel is part of what makes a great gyro.
I found the tofu "egg" salad sandwich indistinguishable from one made with real eggs. If you want to cut out the bread, both the egg and Sonoma Jack salads are regularly available on their own.
Cider Press' 9 a.m. opening time is too late for me to get breakfast, so I haven't been able to try their bagels with vegan cream cheese, but based on their other excellent offerings, I wouldn't hesitate to give them, or their coffee by Brewing Good Coffee Co. out of Chicago (motto: "drink coffee, save animals"), a shot should they start opening earlier.
The verdict: The new grab-and-go offerings from Cider Press Cafe are a solid lunch option for vegans and non-vegans alike.
Contact Christopher Spata at [email protected] Follow @SpataTimes.