Travel and Leisure
Voted the South's best restaurant by Vegetarian Times readers, this suburban Atlanta standout has been serving a mixed portfolio of Asian, Caribbean, and Mediterranean flavors for nearly two decades. Try the spicy pad thai and spring rolls, both of which also turn up at the restaurant's newest location, in Buckhead.
At Cafe Sunflower, chef-owners Lin and Edward Sun create bright, flavorful dishes influenced by American basics like meatloaf and chicken nuggets. They also whip up global favorites like Asian dumplings, Mexican quesadillas and Thai noodles. Quite remarkably, they do it all without a speck of meat.
An offshoot of the Sandy Springs location that opened in 1994, south Buckhead's Cafe Sunflower is one of the city's best vegetarian restaurants. While Atlanta's increasingly diverse population has produced a smattering of authentic Indian, Chinese and Ethiopian veggie options, its supply of non-ethnic vegetarian restaurants isn't exactly robust. (Case in point: Edgewood Avenue's critically acclaimed Dynamic Dish, featuring imaginative vegetarian cuisine, recently closed after just three years.)
In a town that's burger-crazed and churrascaria-packed, the Sun family's casual, mid-priced kitchen is an anomaly: a veggie haunt that samples freely from world cuisine with mainstream diners in mind. Here, patrons take delight in consistently delicious salads and soups; soy-based replicas of everyday grub like burgers and ravioli; and a stellar lineup of original dishes. The food is freshly prepared, beautifully presented and accessible to both hardcore vegans and omnivores-anyone what wants to inhale the magic of sweet-potato polenta, stuffed acorn squash or soy "steak" fajitas.
The design is earthy and warm, the energy low-key and friendly. Divided into a roomy front area and a cozy back section, the space is painted a kind of mudslide brown and festooned with illuminated paper lanterns and sunny floral fabrics. Thanks to an enormous mirror covering the rear wall, the 3,000-square-foot restaurant feels more capacious that it actually is.
A midday visit started with a couple of choices from the "specials" list: batter-friedbrussel sprouts doused in sweet Asian sauce and a lovely, rather light soup of butternut squash. The brussel sprouts were quite tasty, though not exactly "crisp," as described on the menu. Lasagna, offered at both lunch and dinner, is a winning pile of portobellos, eggplant, zucchini and red peppers, slathered with a roasted shallot marinara. Instead of the traditional sheets of pasta, there are layers of vegetables and a layer of orzo, the rice-shaped pasta made from barley. A pleasing entree, the lasagna comes with crisp salad greens studded with artichoke hearts and fat green olives.
I was curious about a "chicken" dish that a young friend had raved about. But before I ordered, I had to text him to confirm that I had the correct item. Turned out that is was sesame chicken--peppery soy nuggets smothered with a sweet-tangy sauce and paired with brown rice and a festival of broccoli, snow peas, mushrooms and zucchini. Memo to Sam: Right on, Bud. This stuff is seriously good.
Stopping by one night for dinner, my guests and I were surprised to discover a jaunty jazz saxophonist who apparently plays there on Thursdays and sometimes feels moved to vocalize. We may have had to lean forward to hear one another, but that didn't drown out our lust for the fried green tomatoes slathered with hummus or the harvest salad: organic lettuces tossed with asparagus, Granny Smith apples, candied walnuts, dried cranberries and gorgonzola.
Pad Thai was a big, comforting bowl of noodles, veggies and strips of tofu bathed in peanut sauce, while the garden loaf was a dramatic, pyramidal affair crafted from triangles of soy-and-vegetable "meat," mashed potatoes and a spring roll sliced on the diagonal. Our hands-down favorite entree was the walnut-crusted tofu cutlet, a richly burnished slab of faux meat, arranged on piles of collards, shiitakes and rice. The evening's superstar.
The wine list mirrors the menu, circling the globe and bringing together a dependable selection from California, Italy, France, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand. About a third of the 20 choices are organic. (You'll have to go elsewhere for cocktails, however, Cafe Sunflower is not a liquor-swilling kind of place.)
In an effort to entice you to have dessert, servers always stop by with a tray of flawless-looking wedges of carrot, coconut, chocolate-peanut butter and chocolate raspberry mousse cake. All are vegan and most are prepared by an outside bakery. A better sweet indulgence is the house-made blueberry cobbler, spiked with fresh ginger and topped with a scoop of regular or soy ice cream. It's a vivid finish to a memorable meal.
Here's what you should know about Cafe Sunflower: If your teenager suddenly announces he's gone vegan, or if your middle-age spread requires you to cut cholesterol, this restaurant offers a wise, healthy and affordable way to still eat out. In the end, I have come to believe it is an essential Atlanta restaurant that just happens to be vegetarian.[Back to Top]
The Scoop: Caribbean, Asian, Southwestern and Mediterranean flavors...which, oh yeah, all happen to be vegetarian. But that doesn't stop people with all kinds of diet requirements (meat-lovers, gluten-free, vegans, Cheetos-only) from coming in here and chowing down on some award-winning, beautifully-presented vegetarian cuisine. The menu is far from your average rabbit food usually associated with going veggie. Which is exactly why Sunflower has become known as the place in Atlanta to get a vegetarian meal. So if you follow a limited diet or just want change your tastes from your usual carnivorous ways, Cafe Sunflower is the go-to in Atlanta for all of the above. You'll be shocked to realize you won't really miss much by going meatless; aside, of course, from the meat sweats.
Scout Notes: I'm reminded just how good it can be to go vegetarian every time I eat at Cafe Sunflower. Whether I'm finishing off some Spicy Pad Thai or a Black Bean Quesadilla with a healthful Spring Salad, I have the same internal mid-meal debate, which usually goes something like this: I think I could go vegetarian. I mean, I really want to start eating healthier. And I love animals. And I really love this food. I bet I won't even miss the meat. Of course, the reality of my standards for vegetarianism are set a little high when I eat here, since nothing I can find anywhere else ever comes quite close to that of Sunflower. So then I realize I'd probably just be setting myself up for disappointment. It would be all downhill from here. But at least, for now, I can enjoy my time as a well-fed vegetarian.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way. According to Lin, the owner of Cafe Sunflower (who opened this Sandy Springs establishment in 1994 after becoming a vegetarian herself in 1990), most of her customers aren't actually strict vegetarians. They just really, really like the food here. And the friendly service. To top it all off, desserts like the Old Fashioned Chocolate Vegan Cake that let you have your cake, and eat it too. And still be vegan...
What's most amusing to Lin, she says, is to see all the "manly men" who come in here for lunch because they rely on Cafe Sunflower to help them enjoy eating healthy. Even if they can't get the rest of the fellas to give up their midday burgers, you'll see one or two wander in, many times alone, to seek quiet solace in some Garden Lasagna or one of the hearty meat-free burritos. Of course, I had to put this "man-approved" claim to the test (I mean, I may not be vegetarian, but as a girl, I'm not opposed to eating like one once in a while.) I brought along a so-called "manly man" to see if Sunflower could in fact earn his stomach's stamp of approval. His verdict? A resounding "Whoa, this is really good." Seems even meat-lovers can get behind Macro Stir Fry with Tofu when it's prepared this well. And sure, he could've just been saying that to appease me, diving for the nearest piece of meat as soon as he left the building. But I doubt it...mostly because he wanted to take all of our leftovers, plus an extra Tuscan Sandwich to go... for another vegetarian dinner a few hours later.
So I guess that makes one more possible vegetarian-convert for Cafe Sunflower.[Back to Top]
Vegetarian Times 2009 Dining Out Awards
Nearly 700 readers voted in VT's 2009 Dining Out Awards, casting their nominations for five regional winners and a roster of specialty awards, including Most Eco-Fabulous and Totally RAWsome!
From the Big Apple to the Bay Area, the sheer number of eateries that garnered votes reflects that vegetarianism is alive and well in every neck of the woods in America. And that, dear readers, is something we can all be happy about.[...]
The Vibe: With two Atlanta neighborhood locations - Sandy Springs and Buckhead - Cafe Sunflower offers a friendly atmostphere and delicious veg food even omnivores love. World travelers Edward Sun and Lin Sun have crafted a menu full of international flavors, including tastes from Caribbean, Asian, American Southwestern, and Mediterranean cuisines.
Signature Plates: Stuffed Acorn Squash: baked acorn squash filled with navy beans, corn, dried cranberries, mushrooms, carrots, wild rice, walnuts, and spinach; Spring Salad: mixed greens with asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, apples, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, Gorgonzola cheese, caramelized walnuts, and herb croutons tossed in a thyme vinaigrette; dairy-free Carrot Cake.[Back to Top]
Atlanta's Top Dining
In a city where it seems a new restaurant—or five—opens every week, we nailed down the top eateries to try during a visit to Atlanta. From sushi to steak, tapas to Thai, here are some places that will definitely please your palate. [...]
Dine on vegetarian cuisine at its finest at either of Café Sunflower’s two locations. Highlights of this earthly eatery’s menu include the mock sesame chicken with veggies and organic brown rice, and the grilled garden soy steak fajitas. And make sure to save room for the dairy-free chocolate raspberry mousse cake. Even carnivores will leave full and satisfied.[Read full article at GO Magazine] [Back to Top]
Cafe Sunflower, Sandy Springs
Q: My boyfriend took me to the Cafe Sunflower in Sandy Springs because of my love for vegetables and teas. I had the Stuffed Acorn Squash, and my jaw just about fell off in palate-worship. I've since had it many, many times, and now I crave the taste — not to mention that it reminds me of my love. Can you sneak out the recipe on this one?
A: No need to sneak out anything; this recipe appears in "Cafe Sunflower: Recipes You Can Cook at Home" by the restaurant's owner, Lin Sun (self-published, 2006, $30). Sun said the dish first appeared as a seasonal special a few autumns ago, but it was so popular she added it to the menu. "It's very harvesty," she explained as she itemized the ingredients — wild rice, red cabbage, cranberries, mushrooms and walnuts, among others. "There's a very full range of things that make the dish very exciting," she said. Most exciting of all are the spices, which lace each bite with lavender, coriander and tarragon.
Stuffed Acorn Squash
This entree is so beautiful, it can be served on your nicest occasions. But be very careful when seasoning the filling: With each taste, you'll be tempted to, you know, check again to make sure there's enough, uh, salt. Yeah, salt. Better taste one more time ... before you know it, you won't have enough filling left for the squash.
4 medium acorn squash
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the top quarter off the squash. If necessary, cut a coin size off the bottom ridges so the squash can stand upright. Scoop out the seeds.
Brush the inside of each squash with the margarine. Drizzle with the honey and sprinkle with paprika and salt. Place the squash in a large baking dish. Add water to the pan to 1/2 inch deep. Cover the pan with foil, making four 1-inch slashes as vents for the steam to escape. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick can go easily into the squash.
Heat the oil in a sauté pan over high heat. Sauté the mushrooms until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the cabbage and carrots and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the corn, cranberries, walnuts, wild rice, navy beans and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the herbes de Provence, tarragon, coriander, black pepper, allspice and a pinch more of paprika; stir well. Season to taste with salt. Stir in the spinach and remove from the heat. When the squash are done, stuff them with the filling. Serve hot.
Per serving: 530 calories (percent of calories from fat, 48), 9 grams protein, 66 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fiber, 30 grams fat (4 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 169 milligrams sodium.
From the carnivorous point of view, the key to a successful vegetarian restaurant is helping diners forget about the absence of meat. It's a chore not easily accomplished. No matter how much crunchy granola goodness reigns, if certain dishes don't have the hearty umph of meat-infused offerings, then you're hugging trees on a not-so-satisfied tummy.
Cafe Sunflower's Sandy Springs location stays up for the task with wonderfully satisfying entrees with a smart vegetarian sensibility that not only keep both camps happy, but downright glowing with delight.
Box me in
Cafe Sunflower hooks you out of the gate with sensational appetizers. Although the choices are nearly doubled on the dinner menu, the Sunflower Box is the hot pick either day or evening. This sampler arrives in bento box fashion with compartments separating the goods. With pot stickers here and basil rolls there, it's hard to decide where to dive first. But each selection is so top notch, just grab blindly. We cut into the spaghetti squash cake, a flat and flavorful soft patty made of squash, leeks and polenta. The soothing, squashy warmth from each bite exudes the essence of comfort. A duo of dumplings are both expertly-created Asian nibbles. Squishy steamed dumplings come packed with spinach, carrots, glass noodles, tofu and black mushrooms. And the crunchy pot stickers provide pan-grilled bliss. A pair of rolls follow the soft-versus-crispy format, too. Cabbage, onions, carrots and glass noodles are housed inside the fried outer shell of the Sandy Springs roll. For the basil roll, tiny squares of tofu join celery, snow peas, carrots, jicama, glass noodles and basil in a rice paper wrap. The fried-yet-light air of the Sandy Springs and the fresh zest of the basil roll prove equally enjoyable.
Mighty and meatless
We wash down our starters with the perfectly brisk country peach iced tea before eyeing the entrees. Its World's Best Veggie Burger boasts a heavy claim. But after an initial bite, it may not be too far off the mark. The hand-formed patty has just the right hint of soy without being overbearing and a stick-to-your-ribs excellence not always found in fake meat burgers. Ours comes with a thick slab of golden soy cheese. And the sunflower sesame seed bun makes perfect book ends.
The garden lasagna plays out the same way. Although veggies like zucchini and yellow squash are plentiful, it's the ground soy that helps amp up its overall heartiness. And the roasted garlic marinara blankets the delightful pasta square in soothing flavor.
Cafe Sunflower knows solid wraps, from the sweet brown sauce found drizzled atop its moo shu vegetables to its brick-size burrito. But don't try munching by hand. Cutting into the former finds a wave of tofu, sprouts, green onions, cabbage, carrots and mushrooms spilling forth. But the burrito's rice filling glues together its tasty innards (beans, cheddar cheese, bell peppers, corn, onions, tomato and cilantro).
If the kitchen expertise of Cafe Sunflower helps dismiss the lack of meat on the menu, its desserts may just seal the deal. Large triangles of dairy-free cakes roll out of the kitchen. And mousse fans take their pick of chocolate, carrot or chocolate raspberry.
Some carnivores are under the impression that meat eating is imbedded into the human genetic code, and that vegetarians are missing out on the thrill of the hunt. As a vegetarian going on two years now, I beg to differ. I'm constantly on the prowl, searching for something suitable to eat.
I'll spare you the animal-rights soapbox. I made the decision for myself as both a naturalistic attempt to help get some health issues under control and to right a guilty conscience. The ends simply no longer justified the means for me when it came to eating animals.
And I'll admit, it's not always so easy. Some broccoli-and-onion soups are made with chicken broth; french fries are often cooked in the same oil as chicken fingers; and lard is usually a key ingredient in refried beans. So here in Atlanta – the land of biscuits and gravy, collard greens and fried chicken – where can a vegetarian go and feel like a hunter rather than a scavenger?
About eight years ago, my mom took me to what she called "a funky little place" named Café Sunflower (5975 Roswell Road, 404-256-1675). Located in the back corner of a Sandy Springs shopping center (I have yet to visit the Buckhead location), the restaurant has been serving outlandishly tasty vegetarian and vegan fare since 1994. From the herbal iced teas and the light and crispy Sandy Spring rolls to the woodsy Tuscan sandwich made with goat cheese and portobello mushrooms, Café Sunflower pretty much has it all. My only complaint: the macro stir-fry's cardboardlike tempeh. But honestly, avoiding the tempeh just left me with more room for the billowing dairy-free chocolate raspberry mousse cake.[Continue reading the article at Creative Loafing] [Back to Top]
When my in-laws visited from Sydney last year, we took them to some of Atlanta's best restaurants. This year, their first request was to "go back to that place with the incredible chocolate cake" - Cafe Sunflower, a vegetarian treasure tucked in an unassuming Buckhead strip mall. But even if you've experienced the richness and decadence of Sunflower's dairy-free, egg-free desserts - red velvet cake, chocolate peanut-butter mousse cake and the swoon-inducing old-fashioned chocolate cake - leaving room for them is a challenge.
The chatty, laid-back waitstaff buzzes around the earth-toned dining room, enthusiastically touting the day's specials, soups (don't miss an opportunity to try the thick, creamy butternut squash soup) and herbal iced teas (raspberry is particularly refreshing). With its combination of spring rolls, stuffed mushrooms, steamed dumplings, Asiago stuffed olives and sharp red pepper hummus, the Sunflower Box is the best way to sample a variety of appetizers. Sunflower Nuggets, served with zesty barbecue and tangy honey mustard sauces, can be ordered separately.
The Garden Loaf, beautifully presented on a bed of mashed potatoes with asparagus spears, would benefit from even more peppery mushroom gravy but, like the nostalgic smell of Mom's meatloaf, it creates a cozy vibe that complements Sunflower's homey decor. By day, sunshine filters through the geometric stained glass in the front dining area; by night, orange globes of light cast a warm glow on the cheerful faux sunflowers and casually dressed clientele. While the fajitas with soy steak, freshly made salsa and grilled zucchini, peppers and mushrooms are a good choice, the menu's true star is the mock sesame chicken - golden and crispy outside, tender and moist inside - accompanied by organic rice and a thick brown sauce that strikes the perfect balance of spicy and sweet.
Dinner entrees, most in the $11 to $15 range, may be a little pricier than those at many vegetarian restaurants, but the generous portions will leave you wondering whether you can handle that chocolate cake. Trust us, it's worth a try.[Back to Top]
This is a great article in USA TODAY about us. We were listed with some of the country's best vegetarian restaurants including Millennium (San Francisco), Green Zebra (Chicago) and Counter (New York).
10 great places to eat with an easy conscience
If you've ever looked at cows and felt guilty or realized that the bacon you ate for breakfast was from an animal smarter than your pet pooch, you might have the sense and sensibility to become a vegetarian. Vegetarianism has come a long way, baby greens, from the tofu days of Birkenstocks and communes, says Val Weaver, editor of Vegetarian Times magazine. "Vegetarianism has become almost mainstream, and it's definitely upscale." says Weaver who, along with the world's millions of vegetarians, today celebrates World Vegetarian Day. Here, she shares with USA TODAY's Shawn Sell favorite spots at which to veg out.
"A cute, relaxed place with friendly service, sane prices and very good food, including Jamaican black bean cakes, stuffed acorn squash and the 'World's Best Soy Burger.' From the start, there's been so much to like that Atlanta now supports two Sunflowers." 404-256-1675; cafesunflower.com [See the article at USA TODAY][Back to Top]
Vegetarians Among Us
You grab a bean burrito with chips and salsa for Wednesday's supper. For lunch the next day you eat tomato soup and a black-bean-and-corn salad. Pasta primavera and garlic bread sound good for dinner. Oh, and by the way, you've eaten vegetarian meals for two days.
Vegetarian meals are mainstream eating; most people just don't realize that. Veggie pizza; eggplant parmesan; cheese lasagna; those wonderful, Southern greens and black-eyed peas (when not prepared with meat); most Indian food (a nation of predominantly vegetarian Hindus) and many Chinese stir-fries--all qualify. At last count, between 14 million and 16 million Americans considered themselves to be vegetarians, and many more are "occasional vegetarians," who eat meatless meals periodically.
Let's clarify the term vegetarian. Vegans are the most hard-core: they eat only vegetables, fruits and grains and will not consume animal by-products, including eggs, milk, butter, cheese and honey. Lacto-ovo vegetarians are less strict and will eat cheese, milk, butter and eggs. Pesco-lacto-ovo vegetarians also eat all dairy products and well as fish. Some people even consider themselves vegetarians for not eating red meat. (continued in article)[Back to Top]
Vegetables play second fiddle to none at Chef Lin Sun's Cafe Sunflower
Lin Sun is in love with vegetables; she speaks of them as though they were jewels. Her restaurant, Cafe Sunflower, is their throne room.
"Vegetables are beautiful," she rhapsodizes, citing the virtues of Chinese eggplant and butternut squash. She launches into a recital of Cafe Sunflower's wild mushroom fettuccine with sun-dried tomatoes and "homemade" sage oil, cooked in a mushroom stock that simmers for six hours.
"Fresh vegetables," Sun says, "have their own flavors, so they don't need heavy seasonings or a lot of oil." She describes a vegetable soup that begins with an all-vegetable stock: vegetables cooked in vegetables, not merely water. "We cannot take it off the menu; people come in every day expecting it." Then there's the daily special soup, always made with vegetables in season. A fall soup, for example, might include such ingredients as butternut and acorn squash; root vegetables for early winter; and summer months might bring gazpacho made with plentiful, inexpensive, and wonderfully ripe tomatoes.
It wasn't always so. Sun married into the restaurant business, which means she did everything. "You have to," she laughs, "that's how you learn. I was the fryer at one point!"
First she and her husband had a Chinese restaurant, then a Polynesian restaurant in Texas. Then they moved to North Carolina and opened two successful Chinese restaurants in Asheville. Six years ago, Sun officially became a vegetarian, but she's always been interested in healthy eating-she was a pharmacy major at St. John's University.
No slabs of bland tofu doused in soy sauce for her. "You have to make the food taste good," she enthuses.
And Sun does just that, with fresh herbs and culinary skill. Many of the seasonings are freshly ground in the kitchen. For chili, Cafe Sunflower chefs roast the peppers themselves before grinding.
"We don't buy seasonings premixed," Sun explains, "because they all taste the same." By employing freshly ground spices in stunning variety, Sun ensures that no two dishes taste alike. Imagine a Tunisian stew comprising seven-mostly root-vegetables laced with herbs. Or carrots, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes, squash, zucchini and chick peas simmered in cardamom, curry, cinnamon, ginger, and paprika.
"I want to serve healthy food," Sun says happily, "as healthy as people will let me. I would like to serve whole-wheat pasta, but people prefer the taste of refined pasta, so I serve that. But you can always teach over the years what's good by talking (to customers) and providing specials like seaweed and telling what's good about it. I enjoy doing this!"[Back to Top]
Upscale vegetarian cafe opening on Peachtree
Cafe Sunflower will take root in south Buckhead August 15. Located at 2140 Peachtree Road, the upscale vegetarian restaurant will replace Sweet Potato.
It will be the second location for owner Lin Sun, who opened the original Cafe Sunflower in Sandy Springs in October 1994. She will be joined at the Buckhead restaurant by her husband Edward Sun and business partner Amy Heard.
"There is great demand for this in the Buckhead and midtown area," Lin Sun said.
The restaurant, which seats 80, will be open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Prices will range between $6 and $9 for lunch, and between $10 and $15 for dinner. Reservations will be accepted for both meals.
The menu, which is being developed, will include dishes made from whole grains as well as organic and fancy vegetables. A selection of custom-made, "totally vegan" desserts, which include no egg or dairy products, will be offered. The decor of the new restaurant, designed by Asheville, N.C., artist Vadim Baraev, will include wood and aluminum sculpted panels to create a natural, garden-like atmosphere.[Back to Top]
We have won so many awards! Here are a sampling of what we've achieved since opening in 1994. We'd like to thank our patrons for supporting us through the years!
A veritable vegetarian heaven
Almost every fast food joint serves something they'll call a 'veggie burger,' but for diehard vegetarians and vegans, truly innovative dining options remain at a precious minimum. That probably explains Cafe Sunflower's popularity among Atlanta's health-conscious community, likely attracted by the restaurant's warm upscale decor and the fit staff's infectiously sunny dispositions.
The cafe takes a fusion approach to vegetarian cuisine that includes a broad range of Caribbean, Mediterranean, Southwestern and especially Asian influences. Sure, you can get a veggie burger that's widely considered the city's best, but you can also scarf ethnic appetizers such as hummus and spring rolls and entrees ranging from garlic eggplant and curry vegetables to black bean quesadillas. Just because you're watching your diet doesn't mean you can't indulge your sweet tooth -- the cafe's popular carrot cake and remarkably moist chocolate cake contain no eggs or dairy and are good enough to make anyone consider a healthier way of eating.[Back to Top]
The vegetarian spot for "normal" vegetarians and meat eaters who just may not be in the mood for flesh or are humoring their veggie partners. No live food gimmicks or macrobiotic manifestos here, just warm, woodsy ambience and good, meatless offerings. We like the steamed dumplings and spring rolls to start and always have good luck with the specials. ***[Back to Top]
Everyone has to eat, and fortunately (or unfortunately) Southerners are known to enjoy this aspect of life more than anyone. Enter Cafe Sunflower. With a menu comprised of the most delicious vegetarian cuisine this side of the Mason Dixon, owners Edward and Lin Sun and Amy Head have given Atlanta a healthy alternative. Located in the heart of Buckhead, this "southwestern-style vegi-cafe" showcases dishes from the Caribbean, Asia, and the Mediterranean. Entrees like Roasted Vegetable Pavé and Bombay Curry prove that detailed attention is given to style as well as taste. Cost-friendly, the experience of dining at this charming restaurant is not only good for your body, but for your pocketbook as well. 2140 Peachtree Road, 404-352-8859 and 5975 Roswell Road, 404-256-1675.[Back to Top]
Meatless IN ATLANTA
A vegetarian dinner shouldn't be any scarier than an occasional meal in a seafood restaurant or ethnic eatery. Treat it as a gastronomic break in your routine and an opportunity to discover new tastes. It could also be the outing you seek if you need to detox after the holidays, or if you have resolved to get a grip on your nutrition.
True vegetarians and vegans (people who eat no eggs or dairy products) are especially grateful for the culinary ambition and upscale decor of both Cafes Sunflower, the original location in Sandy Springs and the newer restaurant in Buckhead. Until the Suns and their Buckhead partner, Amy Head, entered the scene, the options for a special meatless meal were limited.
The concept is the same in both locations:contemporary vegetarian cuisine with an international flair, no alcohol (no brown bagging, either) and a busy, craftsy decor. But there are substantial differences between the more casual original restaurant, which seems to have been decorated by a Martha Stewart type with an account at Williams-Sonoma and interest in handblown glass, and the recently opened Buckhead spot, which feels more avant-garde and more contrived, as if the decor had been handed over to an East Hampton craftsperson.
The two cafes have a few dishes in common (including their excellent moo shu vegetables and their signature soy burgers on sunflower rolls), but 80 percent of the menu varies from one location to the next. "We didn't want to be in the chain business," says Edward Sun.
In Sandy Springs the dishes are definitely homier, and the presentations aren't as elaborate. There are some good preparations, such as the Tunisian vegetable stew with couscous; a pleasantly rustic fettuccine with wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and sage oil; and an Italian polenta with grilled vegetables.
An excellent salad, with a choice of awful dressings, is included with dinner in Sandy Springs. The appetizers, chilled sesame noodles, stuffed mushrooms and fried spring rolls among them, are pleasant enough. Barbecued mashed potatoes (mashed potatoes topped with barbeque sauce) and a grainy tofu pie topped with fresh berry compote give vegetarian cuisine a bad name.
We don't feel deprived of animal protein at Cafe Sunflower, but we wish that more dishes would be a celebration of one dominant ingredient. The Bombay curry (potatoes, chickpeas, carrots, celery, onions, zucchini, and yellow squash, Indian spices) turns into a shopping list. Ditto the risotto-and-ratatouille entree, which includes 12 different vegetables (some of them stacked as a tower), plus saffron, capers and fresh mints, and it doesn't taste on bit like a risotto.
The Asian dishes have a clearer focus. One suspects that the owners' Asian background is responsible for such choices as pan-grilled dumplings with fresh spinach, tofu and glass noodles; northern Chinese-style moo shu pancakes with marinated tofu and delicious vegetables; crisp wild rice and roasted corn pancakes with a awful but easily ignored wasabi-orange dipping slime.
One could limit oneself to the simpler dishes such as a perfect Santa Margherita soup (navy beans, greens and tomatoes) followed by a comforting rice-and-grilled-vegetables burrito for an economical meal at Cafe Sunflower. But if one splurges on gourmet experimentation, from speckled bean dip (stiff as spackle) to spicy Thai salad (tart and snappy with raw, baby bok choy) and a real entree followed by a decent chocolate cake, the cost matches that of a chic, mainstream restaurant.
The Buckhead Cafe Sunflower, bland on the outside, ambitiously decorated on the inside (modern stained glass, picket-fence art, dried flowers, faux walls), has the potential to be a showcase vegetarian restaurant. A greater commitment to locally raised organic produce and a step away from complication, towards elegant simplicity, would seal its gourmet fate.[Back to Top]
CBS 46's Adam Murphy from Restaurant Report Card came by Cafe Sunflower on June 1, 2006.
Cafe Sunflower is featured on Food Network's The Best Of: Light Delights.
Air Time: February 6, 2006 9:30 AM ET/PT
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