Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Smooth & healthy

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2002 at 12:00 AM

  • Metro Times Photo / Larry Kaplan
  • Atom's Juice Cafe

Atom’s Juice Café could change your mind about healthy food, if you’re of the “it can’t be good to you unless it’s bad for you” persuasion. I had perhaps the best smoothie of my life at Atom’s, plus the disorienting experience of eating sausage guilt-free.

Owner John Chetcuti says that his food is 100 percent cholesterol-free; he also tries to use organic ingredients whenever possible; I saw a box of organically grown potatoes there.

Now nearly two years old, Atom’s menu is evolving rapidly, with the hiring of a new baker and of chef Pam Scott from Govinda’s. Chetcuti plans to start baking on the premises (as of now, date bars are from Avalon Bakery), serve a warm evening meal and make roll-ups to order. Near-future plans are to serve organic espresso and cappuccinos made with vanilla soymilk; he hopes to put tables on the sidewalk in front.

A while back, Chetcuti ran into an altercation with his Subway neighbor. Subway’s lease required that the owner of the strip mall both restaurants occupy not lease to any competitor nearby. The settlement requires Atom’s to shun sandwiches, so Chetcuti serves roll-ups on whole-wheat lawash instead.

That best-ever smoothie was cranberry juice plus strawberries and raspberries. I could taste each flavor separately, first the tart, then the sweet. Also fabulous was a thick blend of raspberry juice and blueberries, the deep, gorgeous color of grape jelly. The smoothies can be made with just fruit juice (papaya and mango among them), “fresh-frozen” fruit and no sugar. The base can also be soy milk or soy yogurt, flavored with vanilla, sweet and rich. The cheesecake smoothie uses graham crackers and a dairy-free “cream cheese.”

I told Chetcuti that my chocolate-banana-peanut butter smoothie hadn’t been chocolaty enough, and he promised that the problem had been fixed. He now uses soy milk and cocoa; you can specify just how chocolaty you want to go.

“Cream” soups, such as broccoli, are also made with organic soy milk and organic soy creamer. Rounding out the liquid menu are raw juices, made of anything from apples to kale to garlic.

Prominently featured is wheatgrass juice, with flats and flats of bright green grass growing in the front window and a take-home titled “The Wonders of Wheatgrass.” If you are silly enough to believe that eating grass will keep your hair from graying, cure cancer, relieve rectal itch, suppress your appetite and make you nauseous, then you will doubtless want to fork over $4.35 for a chartreuse 2-ounce shot.

Atom’s most popular salad is shiitake noodle with sesame seeds. (You can buy an accompanying “Shiitake Happens” T-shirt.) I liked sharp “garlic-lovers’ pesto pasta,” which is full of roasted garlic and almonds. Mjadra, purchased at a Middle-Eastern restaurant, is also rich, the lentils tasting more fried than steamed, though perhaps that’s the caramelized onions.

On Sundays 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Atom’s does brunch: three items for $7.49. Choose from a breakfast scramble (despite the scallions, dill, turmeric and red peppers, it’s hard to make tofu taste like anything); roasted potatoes; meatless sausages (they taste like sausage spice); and outstanding pancakes. These have a slightly nutty flavor of their own, and come with real maple syrup or fruit compote.

In addition to all this good-tasting health, Atom’s is the only green-certified restaurant in Michigan, meaning that it doesn’t use Styrofoam and is proceeding through the Green Restaurant Association’s 11 other steps (yes, it’s a 12-step program). These include recycling, waste reduction, biodegradable products, energy- and water-efficiency and composting.

The smoothie containers are a plastic that can be curbside-recycled. I’m dubious about how many customers will actually take their used cups home and wash them, but at least Atom’s tries. No worry with the carryout utensils: They’re made of cornstarch and cottonseed oil and biodegrade to compost in 90 days.

Open seven days.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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