Feeling Good at The Cider Press Café
At 50 years old, Chef Johan Everstijn of St. Petersburg’s Cider Press Café is a walking example of a Hippocrates quote he and co-owner Roland Strobel hold dear, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Johan believes it’s more important to be conscious of what you’re eating than to label yourself in regards to how you eat, which leads to a split between the two owners when they’re asked to describe the style of cuisine they create, and the updated menu they recently introduced. Not wanting to typecast the food or fall prey to preconceived notions, they laugh and agree on the simple statement that this is feel-good food.
Others agree. Just past the one-year mark in August, the café had only been open for 21 days when it already won Creative Long’s 2015 Best of the Bay award for best new vegan restaurant, and continues to garner local, national (and even worldwide) recognition for their inspired cuisine.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Johan and Roland embraced the idea of eating only raw vegan food, based on the idea that doing so allows for digestive enzymes to absorb nutrients faster and signal the brain sooner that you’re full.
After a two-week trial run, they felt so good – energetic, clear-headed, and with “glowing skin and light stomachs” – they made it part of their lifestyle. e duo had long entertained the idea of launching a restaurant, and in 2011 the deaths of one of each of their parents were the catalyst to do just that. While their original location was in Naples, they officially moved to St. Petersburg last April to focus on their new location on Central Avenue’s 600 block.
Four separate yet connected spaces that once housed an art gallery, tattoo shop and taxidermist, combine to create a fresh, open space that incorporates raw materials into the design ... a nod to the food that’s created here. The mid-century modern vibe is fresh and refined with natural woods, bamboo barstools, white walls and polished concrete doors. LED lights and local art add to the ambiance, with the art rotating often.
Greeting you inside the doors is an apple press that came along with the small Ohio farm that Roland’s parents bought in the 1960s. is authentic piece of history was used at the family farm to make apple and grape juices. Since apple cider is raw and vegan, Johan and Roland thought the Cider Press Café was a sitting name for their restaurant featuring food that follows suit.
The owners are successfully making vegan and vegetarian options more accessible to everyone who loves food. “We want to be inclusive in attracting people who may be hesitant to try it,” Johan stresses, “Vegan is a cuisine now, and delicious in its own right, but it’s about meeting people halfway.” He poses the question, “Do you go to a ai restaurant if you’re not Thai?”
Although mostly raw and vegan, the food has dimensionality and robust flavors, with dishes ranging from esoteric to more down to earth. Florida-inspired and plant-based, with no animal products, the menu is also gluten free (except for a few options where you can sub out for a gluten-free bun).
Johan describes some of the items, such as eggplant bacon, as impressionistic: “Obviously this is not bacon, but it’s how we get across the idea and taste of it.”
Chefs Nate Bohn and Christina Barbara hold court in the kitchen, overseeing labor-intensive food prep. For example, the garden lasagna calls for vegetables marinated for four hours, plus three separate recipes: one for the “cheese” (cashew-based), one for the marinara and one for the pesto, before it is carefully stacked and plated. e team even makes their own vegan mayo, with lemon-forward flavors, and ranch, which has celery as the root ingredient.
Judging from the diverse group dining on a recent weekday – including friends in workout attire, a trio of older women and a young family with toddler in tow – Johan and Roland have found a way to introduce vegan cuisine to a variety of diners.
“You don’t have to become a member of a food cult to eat here,” Johan laughs. He and Roland seem to simply want people to feel good about the food they eat. As Johan says, they want you to “have your kale and like to eat it, too.
The Cider Press Café,
601 Central Avenue,
Crafted with food that grows here, the Cider Press Café’s raw vegan sushi roll starts with Jicama, which is cut up and processed for consistency, put through a hydraulic press, then soaked in rice wine vinegar to become the “rice,” and stars tamari-infused watermelon that fronts as tuna after being put in a cryovac to suck out any air. Paired with mango in a Nori wrapper and topped with avocado and a sprinkling of sesame seeds for an authentic look, it’s an example of the “impressionistic” approach many dishes at the restaurant display.