St. Augustine has a bit of something for everyone, including a restaurant that serves raw food. Before your eyebrows arch, I’ll clarify: The Present Moment Café is a vegan restaurant, so there’s no need to imagine a deep dish of uncooked chicken pot pie. This “living food” café focuses on a philosophy of healthy eating that includes organic, unprocessed, and fresh foods rich in enzymes and nutrients. Present Moment follows the standards of a raw diet, which discourages heating food above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, to maintain its original nutritional content. I’d been wanting to try a raw café for a while, though I was skeptical that the meals would be any more exciting than a plate of carrots and apples. The Present Moment Café gently kicked my skepticism out the door, and I didn’t mind one bit.
The Present Moment Café opened nine years ago, and hesitant newcomers are still trickling in, alongside loyal regulars. This could be because of the café’s location, which is tucked back on King Street, away from the bustle of St. George Street. Since its opening, Present Moment has incorporated a few non-raw items into its menu, which has helped attract those who may be wary of a raw, vegan diet. The menu is versatile, with familiar favorites that prove that eating raw doesn’t mean eating only fruits and veggies. I was impressed by the range of flavors, from American to Mexican inspirations. The menu also features a variety of choices, like wellness shots, innovative beverages, a bunch of sides and breakfast items served all day.
As I’m beginning to realize, a restaurant’s aesthetics can make the food that’s served there taste better – or worse. Present Moment’s décor is immediately welcoming and the atmosphere is homey and quaint, with a couch and pillows by the window. Soft lighting and fresh flowers give the space a warm feel. The dining experience begins with filtered water infused with lemon and cucumber, served at room temperature for ease of digestion.
I expected to read “Plate o’ Veggies” or “Seeds ’n’ Sprouts,” but Present Moment’s menu caught me off-guard with tacos, burgers, burritos, and pasta. I decided to start with a refreshment: Green Dream Machine juice ($7), a blend of apple, kale, celery, lemon, and ginger. Ginger and I get along great, so I was sold even before I took a sip. Green Dream Machine is frothy and tart with a strong celery presence that satisfies that veggie craving.
My friend and I were torn between appetizers, so we ordered the Triple Dip ($10) and double-dipped in the guacamole, salsa, and hummus. We ran out of the blue corn chips, but the dips were so good, we spooned the remains onto our plates.
After 10 minutes of serious discernment, I finally ordered the recommended Pad Thai ($16). Kelp noodles as the primary ingredient? I was immediately curious. Raw seaweed noodles? I wanted to try. The dish is a generous heap of noodles and vegetables drizzled with a sesame garlic sauce. Curried cashews topped off the room-temperature noodles. I’ll admit, I was sure I’d leave The Present Moment still hungry, but that Pad Thai proved me wrong.
The Present Moment’s award-winning Pad Thai is featured in Handmade in The Present Moment, the restaurant’s recipe book, available online or in the store.
I don’t recommend The Present Moment Café to just vegan or raw food practitioners – I recommend it to everyone, from the most serious carnivore to kids. The Present Moment is a local bridge between the vegan and carnivorous worlds, with a menu of comfortable favorites that taste so good, you won’t miss the meat, fish or dairy.