Quite possibly my biggest fail among many this year is not having learned about Pomegranate Café until recently. Apparently this amazing vegetarian and vegan restaurant opened seven months ago in Ahwatukee and I didn’t have a clue. I may have read about it and thought it was just a juice bar, or maybe it hasn’t received enough glowing recognition from the traditional press in town yet. Or it could be that Ahwatukee isn’t on my radar as Greater Phoenix’s emerging vegan dining destination. Either way, I’m making up for it now and will probably go there every weekend I can for the foreseeable future.
Pomegranate Café is a casual, order-at-the-counter restaurant, coffee shop and juice bar tucked into a strip mall west of I-10 on Chandler Blvd. at 40th St. It’s currently only open for breakfast and lunch, Tuesday through Sunday, which will make it predominantly a weekend-only option for me unfortunately. On first glance, the menu offers fairly straight-forward health-food-oriented vegetarian fare. Breakfast includes granola, egg and tofu scrambles, and some interesting looking sandwiches and tacos. The lunch menu features salads, sandwiches, wraps and bowls, all of which are either vegan, or can be made vegan, and many are gluten-free. They also offer a variety of daily specials.
However, what the menu doesn’t communicate is how well-prepared the food is at Pomegranate Café. Owner and chef Cassie Tolman is a gourmet vegetarian chef who knows how to take what could be written off as just bland health food and give it the TLC needed to make it compelling and exciting to vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free diners and omnivores alike. She clearly uses fresh organic ingredients that are selected for both their health characteristics and their flavor. In short, this restaurant offers the closest thing to Millennium-quality food I’ve had in the Phoenix area (aside from what my husband makes at home, of course).
On our first visit, I ordered the breakfast burrito with tofu and vegan cheese, which was a special for the day. I expected it to be the typical tofu scramble stuffed in a tortilla with some potatoes and beans. I couldn’t have been more surprised and pleased with what I was served.
The ingredients included tofu pieces (not a scramble), black beans, a potato “hash” which included sweet and golden potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, red peppers, and yes, Daiya vegan cheese. The predominant seasoning was rosemary, but there was also a touch of garlic as well. The burrito also came with a side of fresh and flavorful salsa. With my first bite of the burrito I was in love. It was unique, savory, and perfectly prepared. Adding the salsa gave it a hint of spice as well. My husband kept stealing bites, to the point where I started to get a little nervous that it would be gone too soon.
My husband tried the Smoking BLT, because it’s his standard non-adventurous “trying a new vegan restaurant” choice.
While not as heavenly and unique as the breakfast burrito, it was also a high-quality vegan item. It came with smoke-flavored tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado on multi-grain bread. It was served with a side of vegan smoky miso mayo, veggie chips and a green salad that included sprouts, bell peppers, and cucumbers, topped with a light pomegranate vinaigrette dressing. After trying my burrito, he was a little disappointed that he hadn’t ordered something more ambitious, such as the vegan Philly Melt that was on special for the day.
An even more pleasant surprise was Pomegranate Café’s treats, which are apparently made by Cassie’s mother, Marlene Tolman.
We saw a variety of cookies, cakes and macaroons on display, and were thrilled that when we asked, “Are any of your treats vegan?” the response was a big smile and, “All of our deserts are vegan!” We promptly ordered two “Cowgirl Cookies” and a slice of coconut-lime cake to-go. The cookies were an oatmeal-based chocolate chip, with a touch of cinnamon/spice and coconut added for flavor. They were perfect, and one cookie was more than I could eat. As fate would have it, we didn’t check the cake box before leaving and were given a slice of chocolate pomegranate cake instead of the coconut cake. No complaints here! It was moist and rich, with a slight fruit flavor from the pomegranates in the frosting. I still want to try the coconut cake though!
Beyond groaning about the at least 30-minute drive it takes us to get there, Pomegranate Café gets a slight ding for being pretty pricey ($10.50 for a BLT?). But, I know quality organic ingredients cost real money, and I don’t mind paying more if it’s good. Based on the long line at the counter when we arrived, we’re not the only ones with the opinion that Pomegranate Café is worth the money. It also took awhile for our food to be served, but we did go during lunch hour on a holiday weekend, so they’ll get a pass on the wait time for our first visit.
At the end of the meal, my husband and I exchanged sad glances that we had been missing out on eating at Pomegranate Café for months. We’ll be back soon to try more!
Note: you can “like” Pomegranate Cafe on Facebook to find out what’s new at the restaurant, but I couldn’t find a Twitter account.