December 11, 2018 – If you are curious about what will be on the menu at Primal Santa Cruz—the new restaurant opening in the next few days on the corner of Mission and Laurel Street—take a look at the photo gallery on its website or Instagram feed. A rainbow of colors, textures and bountiful plates of food will greet your eye. You might not even notice that there is zero gluten pictured. In fact, this is Santa Cruz’ first 100% gluten-free, organic and non-GMO restaurant.
“Our vision is to provide a place that embraces healthy eating, fosters interaction and movement in our community, and follows an intuitive approach,” explains owner Jason Morgan. “We want to inspire people to think about what they are putting in their body and where their food comes from.”
That vision of his has been a long time coming, and finally, what began as a franchise under the now-defunct Primal Kitchen brand started by paleo diet guru Mark Sisson, has emerged as an independent restaurant with big ambitions.
Morgan decided to keep part of the name to represent the core philosophy behind his idea. He hired Lauren Maloney, a CHEK Institute certified health expert, to recraft the menu and re-concept the brand. “We want to inspire people to remember the roots of food, and their ‘primal’ relationship to it and nature,” Maloney adds. She has spent the last three years developing her own business, Vital Theory, and through her work, looped in executive chef Mark Jeffers from the Ritz Carlton in Lake Tahoe to consult on the menu.
While the menu is paleo-centric, featuring ingredients that are staples in that diet, like grass-fed proteins, wild fish, root vegetables, leafy greens and bone broth (Primal Santa Cruz prides itself on their in-house version), Morgan believes that pulling in a professional chef consultant will result in dishes that will really sing to everyone who walks in the door.
“You gotta get tricky with the seasonings and the little things the chef can do,” he says. But the person that will be making sure these recipes really work, day to day, is chef Joseph Moens, who has worked at Café Cruz for the past 5 years and before that was a chef at prestigious wine country restaurants in Healdsburg.
Expect to see items such as a pulled pork hash with sweet potatoes, breakfast salads, a grass-fed burger, a half chicken from Fogline Farm, sweet and sour Brussels sprouts and parsnip bone marrow mash.
Morgan also says not to miss the chicken and waffles that are “paleo inspired with cassava flour and coconut flour. It’s gonna be a big hit.”
Beverages on offer are varied, highlighting paleo go-to’s like “fat coffees” (known as Bulletproof in the paleo world), “keto coffees”, charcoal lattes, kombucha, and hard kombucha on tap. Local wine and gluten free beer will be available as well.
Local drink vendors include Verve Coffee, Vida juice and a special collaboration with Dry Farm Wines in Napa, which claims to offer low glycemic wines. Primal is one of the very first restaurants that the winery is partnering with on a wholesale level, generally serving as a natural wine club prior to this account.
The space, a former medical clinic, has been transformed. “In our design, we wanted to showcase the incredible natural landscape of our community and home. We aim to be as minimally invasive on nature as possible. As a standard, we’ve selected natural materials and fibers—including biodegradable packaging, handmade décor, and small-production artistic accents. Custom woodwork serves a foundational element to the interior…The overall vibe was designed entirely around the idea of nature interplaying with urban industrial hardware and edgy modern contrast,” Morgan says.
But most importantly, will we all want to eat here? That is the question someone who might still enjoy regular bread and beer and burgers might ask. “I wanted this restaurant to be for all people, not just on a special diet,” says Morgan. “It is an all for one restaurant, with good whole food, good wine and beer, in a great atmosphere…not just specific to one type of person.”
So stop in to try a charcoal latte and some fish tacos sometime soon. Likely, the mission statement will resonate with everyone here: “To influence the food industry, nourish our community, and redefine what it means to eat healthy.”
Primal Santa Cruz will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Monday to Thursday from 7am – 9pm. Fridays and Saturdays 7am – 10pm and Sundays 7am – 8:30pm.
Amber Turpin is a food writer and baker who homesteads in Ben Lomond.