It’s an often-asked question: Can healthful, organic, gluten-free food actually taste good?
The answer is a resounding yes, and one of the best places proving this theory on a daily basis is the Lotus Leaf Cafe, 251 N. Washington in Old Town. Owner Jackie Keefer took a rather circuitous route through various health care jobs before landing in the restaurant business. She’s firmly convinced her work and studies in massage therapy — and especially acupuncture — are intrinsically linked to her foray into the salubrious side of eating.
After almost dying from what should have been a routine surgery, Jackie nursed herself back to health through a clean, vegetarian diet. She advised her acupuncture patients to eat healthy organic food as well. One day after hearing yet another complaint from a patient saying there was no place to get food like that in Wichita, Jackie saw a notice for space for sale in the Delano district. She saw it as “a sign from above.” Six years and a location move later, these life experiences pour out of her when she talks about the food she makes and serves at Lotus Leaf.
On a recent visit, we let Jackie’s sister, Casey, guide us on our choices. We started with the Cauli-Power ($10), cauliflower pieces dipped in a light and airy batter of organic flour, tapioca starch and sparkling mineral water, then fried and topped with fresh lime zest and cilantro. The spices added so much to the flavor of the usually-bland cauliflower, and the fresh celery tzatziki sauce and spicy buffalo sauce served on the side made this a don’t-miss dish.
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As non-vegetarians, we were pleasantly surprised to find salmon, cod, chicken and turkey on the menu. (There is no red meat or pork served at Lotus Leaf.) I was immediately drawn to The Ketchikan ($18.50), a generous portion of wild Alaskan coho salmon stuffed with artichoke hearts, spinach and feta. Those ingredients alone would be enough to make me a fan, but the creamy, melt-in-your-mouth homemade curry aioli that surrounded it took it to a whole new level. The spice of the curry, the coolness of the feta, and the slightly sweet flavor of the salmon was definitely a winning combination. It was served with a simple baby greens salad topped with a light lemony-sweet vinaigrette.
My carnivorous husband really stepped out of the box and ordered the totally vegan spaghetti squash primavera ($11.50), perfectly cooked spaghetti squash noodles with bits of red pepper and crimini mushrooms in a very light lemon, herb and garlic sauce. It was surrounded by a ring of sautéed spinach. While a true meat eater may miss the flavors of their local butcher shop, for the person who’s looking for a truly vegan, summery dish, this is a great choice.
The extensive menu includes soups, salads, turkey and black bean burgers plus vegetarian and fish tacos. Prices range from $8.50-$18.50.
To our pleasant surprise, we discovered even the desserts at Lotus Leaf have a healthy angle to them. We sampled two of their “cheesecakes.” Cheesecakes is in quotes because there is not an ounce of the stuff from the City of Brotherly Love in them. Jackie explained the complicated process involved in making her cheesecakes.
The crust is made of hand-ground almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds, while the base of the filling is cashews soaked in water, strained and rinsed, then blended with coconut oil and coconut milk and sweetened with organic sugar or agave. She then adds the flavors of the day. The night we were there, we sampled the chocolate caramel with sea salt and the avocado lime with strawberry topping. We couldn’t believe how delicious they were, and didn’t miss any of the ingredients in traditional cheesecake.
Lotus Leaf serves organic and sustainable wines and beer and has a juice and smoothie bar. The lime green, orange, and white plastic chairs, bright green teardrop lighting, and colorful artwork pair perfectly with the clean, fresh food served there.