A new restaurant opened in Bay View last week, but it's not one you're likely to notice unless you're looking for it. It's called Cafe Tarragon and it's inside Future Green, an organic living retail store.
Co-owner Swee Sim and his wife Lisa officially opened the venture Jan. 15 in the back of the store, 2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., which is going on its fourth year in business. Open daily except for Mondays, the small eatery serves build-your-own panini, soups, salads, bakery, candies and desserts between 11 a.m. and 2 or 3 p.m.
The cafe features foods that are vegetarian, vegan, raw and / or gluten-free (although conventional breads and croutons are available). Absolutely nothing here is processed; everything from pie crusts to pasta is made from scratch first thing in the morning. It's more expensive, Lisa admits, but well worth it.
In spring when the weather warms, Swee will start his rooftop garden above the store, which will be source for all the restaurant's herbs. He also sprouts his own wheat grass and peas, ensuring your food is about as fresh as it can get without having harvested it yourself.
During the winter months he's using his colonies of worms to cultivate compost from the restaurant's scraps in the basement.
What they can't grow on their own, they'll get from area farms, such as Pinehold Gardens and Sweet Water Organics. When temperatures are too cold for Midwestern farming, Cafe Tarragon sources from places like Outpost Natural Foods and Goodness Greeness with the goal of using as many organic food products as possible.
"Because we are an environmental store, we have products that are healthy," says Swee. "We also want our restaurant to be healthy and good for you."
The cafe focuses primarily on lunch, though the coffee (from a fair trade farm in Puerto Rico called Sandra Farms where workers earn U.S. wages) and the fresh bakery are available earlier or later for take-out.
Lisa and chef Cassandra Comerford, both equipped with culinary degrees, do all the cooking, or preparing, as is the case with the raw items.
"Raw is great," says Comerford, who has worked with Ann Wigmore, one of the raw movement's earliest proponents. "People are into it for the full enzymes of the food. We won't do anything over 105 degrees and the reason is to maintain food's full enzymes." She lived on a raw food diet for two years while living in Puerto Rico, but says that she now enjoys a more balanced diet.
Both Lisa and Cassandra took a raw class in Chicago, where they were inspired by dishes like raw couscous and raw desserts. For those who have never delved into raw foods, the truffles and other assorted candies in the deli case might be a surprise.
"We made a raw chocolate pudding over Christmas and had all these kids in to eat it," Lisa says. "They loved it and even the parents said 'it's so creamy'." It was made from avocados, cocoa and agave. With the avocado's nutrients and good fats, it's relatively good for you.
"It's a cleaner way to eat," Lisa adds. "It's not heavy, it's a lot lighter. We wanted to offer an alternative for people -- not just vegans or raw or gluten-free eaters -- but anyone looking for healthier choices."
This week the cafe debuted the first of its Raw Saturdays series, and the menu included items like curry couscous, marinated kale in a miso dressing, spaghetti (made from zucchini) with a raw marinara and a sweet potato pie with a date and walnut crust.
Eventually, Lisa hopes to incorporate a buffet brunch on Sundays, too.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”