By By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Defying the old adage “birds of a feather flock together,” Parakeet Cafe practically stands alone in terms of Little Italy restaurants advocating ultra-healthy eating. Aside from the nearby all-vegan Cafe Gratitude, this wholesome newcomer to the hood touts a “mostly organic” menu of breakfast-brunch dishes served all day while allowing for poultry, salmon, eggs and a little bit of dairy.
Not to be confused with Morning Glory — the other buzzy, new brunch spot across the street serving heavier fare — Parakeet Cafe is where you nest over things like mushroom-blend lattes, matcha waffles, assorted toasts, farro salads, and grilled chicken sandwiches with almond-miso aioli.
Now with three locations, including the flagship kitchen in La Jolla and a new outpost in Carmel Valley’s One Paseo development, owners Jonathan Goldwasser and his wife, Carol Roizen, took a healthful approach to the business for a sincere cause.
More than 10 years ago, their youngest daughter, now 13, was diagnosed with a rare disease that required chemotherapy. In an effort to strengthen her chance of recovery, the couple decided to change the family’s eating habits by switching to healthier recipes using organic ingredients. The nutritional change of course paid off; it augmented their daughter’s road to healing and ignited the trio of restaurants, which began in 2017.
Goldwasser hopes to open two more locations within San Diego County before expanding further into Orange and Los Angeles counties.
I dropped in to the cafe with a vegetarian friend shortly before the lunch rush on a weekday. By a stroke of luck, we scored easy parking in what has become a neighborhood that pretty much demands you visit by trolley.
Located below Prep Kitchen, customers enter into a bright, earthy space defined by light woods, potted plants and attractive parakeet-print wallpaper. Glass-domed cake holders perched at the order counter display muffins, cookies and snickerdoodles, as well as gluten-free scones made with black tea and blackberries.
I’ve rarely met a scone I like due to their dry, crumbly texture. This, however, yielded lovely pockets of moisture from the slightly sweet berries. No coffee or milk was required for getting it down.
We ordered a couple of hot beverages nonetheless — two different lattes made with various mushroom blends. My friend’s was flavored with matcha, lavender honey and ashwagandha, an herb used throughout India for lowering blood-sugar levels and reducing anxiety.
My latte was immensely less grassy tasting due to its hefty doses of cinnamon and low-glycemic cacao, which gave it a soothing flavor resembling Mexican hot chocolate.
That same cacao pleasantly dominated a waffle topped with organic berries, bananas, chia and coconut yogurt. It was served with syrup. But only a few drops were needed.
While I vigorously slurped from a deep bowl of excellent, organic chicken noodle soup, my friend forked into his Mediterranean toast loaded with a plethora of ingredients.
The craze for arranging things like avocado, salmon, eggs, and veggies atop toasted breads is alive and well here, given there are eight different toasts to choose from. In this case, the combination of Persian cucumbers, salty hummus, heirloom tomatoes, kalamata olives, mint and other herbs proved lively in conjunction with the thick, grilled slice of organic multi-grain bread.
As for the soup, I started with a spoon and finished eating it a fork. The white and dark chicken meat floating within was abundant. It veered a bit from traditional American recipes because of its hearty udon noodles and lack of celery. Chef Jeff Armstrong later told us that he feels celery tastes too dominating. Its absence was compensated by plenty of cubed carrots and achiote squash.
A bowl of roasted vegetables mingling spinach, Brussels sprouts, squash and mushrooms with brown rice and polenta held high appeal for my friend. Me, not so much, as I craved a vinaigrette of some kind and the sacrilegious addition of bacon or ham.
My least favorite dish was the shakshuka, a Tunisian breakfast of poached eggs nestled typically in tomato sauce boasting onions, garlic, peppers and Middle Eastern spices. The sauce in this recipe verged on all-American chili in the making. The only spice I detected was chili powder.
Next visit, I’ll get my organic egg fix via the chilaquiles, which are accented with feta cheese and guajillo chili salsa. Eggs are also paired to beet-cured salmon, which like several dishes across the menu, can be tailored to paleo or keto diets by omitting the toast wherever it’s included and adding olive oil, meat or butter here and there.
Other choices include an “Icelandic Skyr” bowl made with a type of strained yogurt common throughout Iceland; plus other toasts such as avocado, mushroom, mango chutney or salmon. There’s also organic greens with scrambled eggs, and hibiscus lettuce cups containing braised hibiscus flowers, grilled pineapple, and avocado.
Coffee drinks are plentiful, along with organic teas and “signature sips” such as turmeric latte and iced matcha lemonade. Basically, if you need a break from the pizzas, pasta dishes, over-sized meatballs, steaks and other weighty fare largely available along this busy dining track, the Parakeet Cafe provides a hip and healthy sanctuary.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.