Southwest Detroit’s El ArteSano serves up healthy smoothies and cold-pressed juices

The sandwiches and salads are top-notch, too

Turkey sandwich and smooth avocado smoothie.
Turkey sandwich and smooth avocado smoothie. Tom Perkins

El ArteSano

4748 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit
Handicap accessible
Juices $8-$11, smoothies $7-$8,
salads $8-$9, sandwiches $6-$8

If you’re in Southwest Detroit, you won’t do better on a summer day than to visit El ArteSano for lunch or breakfast. (I have pleaded with owner Mayra Torres for longer hours.) Leave enough time to eat on the tranquil patio, which is decorated with plants and papel picado and is well-screened from the Vernor Highway traffic. When it’s colder, or when you need AC, there’s an indoor space with tall stools at a bar, convenient for remote work.

ArteSano, which could be translated as “Healthy Art,” is in a small gray building next to the hugely popular but recently burned-out Taqueria El Rey. You might not notice it if not for the bright mural on the west side, painted by Phillip Simpson, with fancy smiley faces and a butterfly.

Torres’s specialties are smoothies and cold-pressed juices, though if you want a full meal, the sandwiches and salads are top-notch, too.

I read once about a take-out food company that researched what its customers wanted in their smoothies or milkshakes. Which flavors, what consistency? Turned out, what folks wanted, as they drove away from the window, was a companion. Something that would stay with them on their journey. So the company made its “drinks” super-thick, slow to draw through the straw.

ArteSano’s smoothies fit that bill.

I’ve also learned you can’t tell a smoothie by its color. It might be green, like ArteSano’s Smooth Avocado or its Sunrise, yet the dominant flavor is banana or strawberry, respectively. It’s the spinach that makes the color, no matter how far down the ingredient list it is. The iconic smoothie, on the other hand, the strawberry-banana, just tastes like strawberries, as it should, and is... pink.

The juices which come in sturdy reusable bottles, and advertise their components visually and beautifully: the Miracle, made of squeezed beets, apple, celery, lemon, and ginger, is a deep purple and tastes beet-y, grassy and gingery, very robust as you’d expect from the beets. If you don’t like beets, believe me, a spoonful of ginger makes the medicine go down. If you must have kale, kale there is, in the Youth Green and Youth Island mixes.

The pale Q-Pineapple is grassy with a hint of citrus. Elixir, the most expensive juice at $11, is turmeric, orange, and ginger, and it’s the bright orange you’d expect, with a delightful kick to the O.J. we love. (Orange juice seems to get a bad rap lately, with multiple people warning me that it’s “empty calories” or “just sugar.” Same folks who down a beer without compunction.)

Advocates of cold-press say it’s superior because no heat comes in contact with the fruits or vegetables. “Happy juice comes from happy fruit,” says the Goodnature press manufacturer. Torres showed me her $18,000 cold press and described how she and daughter Alondra run different combos sequentially, red last.

I won’t weigh in on whether turmeric is good for depression or whether Greek yogurt might help your microbiome, or the benefits of the omega-3s in hemp seeds. A big, thick smoothie that whirls avocado, banana, spinach, mango, Greek yogurt, and almond or coconut milk doesn’t sound low-cal to me. I don’t know if it’s true that nutrients last three days when cold-pressed. I just love what ArteSano has to offer, and not just because I live a few blocks away.

My favorite sandwich is the turkey on wheat, served warm with melted provolone, avocado, and red onion; Torres says it’s the sauce she prepares in-house, with chipotles and almond cream, that makes it special — and a vegan alternative to mayo. It’s a great blend of flavors.

The other sandwich is a vegan wrap in a spinach pita, very full of greens and cucumbers, with the same sauce and with avocado as the satisfier.

Of the three salads, the Spring is the most interesting, with apples, strawberries, red onion, cukes, avocado, and caramel nuts topping a big bowl of baby lettuces. These are meal-size salads. Torres makes the sharp dressing from sumac, lemon, and cold-pressed olive oil. Other salads feature provolone or chickpeas and cherry tomatoes.

Torres, whose warm welcome is another reason to visit El ArteSano, says she’s often asked “why this type of food?” She’s from Mexico; the area abounds in Mexican restaurants serving nothing similar. Her answer, she says, is always the same: “The healthy can also be delicious.”

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Jane Slaughter

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Monthly Review, and In These Times.
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