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Have you ever gotten on an evil junk food binge that you know you need to kick?
That's been me lately. I'm usually a well-balanced omnivore even when I'm not on the job, but for some reason I've been eating unusual quantities of blatantly bad-for-me stuff in the past few weeks, getting little in the way of nourishment. If there's such a thing as a monthly burger quota, mine has been blown out of the water, along with my yearly fast-food quota (oh, the guilt — and the stomachaches). Been eating too much pizza and fried food, too, and acting like Snickers is one of the major food groups.
Of course, I'm pairing all this salty, sugary, greasy, highly caloric crap with ice-cold Diet Coke — as if that will somehow make up for my sins.
4773 N. 20th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Region: East Phoenix
But as much as my brain wants the bad stuff, my body's been screaming for some veggies in there somewhere, some nutrients. Apparently the vitamin boost in my Jamba Juice hasn't done the trick.
So I've found a new place to binge, guilt-free. It's called Chakra 4 Herb & Tea House, and I credit the kitchen here for putting color back into my cheeks. The fresh, simple menu is all vegetarian and organic — and it's scrumptious.
Chakra 4 is a hidden treasure, tucked back in the Town & Country Shopping Center past Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen and Pie Zano's. Shelves packed with tea, incense, aromatherapy oils, and countless jars of herbs fill the retail half of the space, while the cafe section is scattered with floral-painted tables that match a bright wall mural. The color scheme seems plucked from a box of Crayolas, from the cheerful paintings to the mix-and-match plates and teacups. And facing the dining room, an elephant-headed Ganesh is displayed with a sparkly chunk of crystals. It's impossible to feel gloomy here.
The best part is the aroma that hits you when you walk in — a sweet, earthy smell of dried herbs and freshly chopped vegetables.
Before I could even think about ordering food, I got lost in Chakra 4's incredible tea menu, cheerfully delivered by my dreadlocked waitress. There were dozens to choose from, and almost all were organic — Russian Caravan oolong tea, smoky Lapsang Souchong, jasmine green tea, white peony tea, and 11 kinds of chai, for starters. Among the various "health-promoting" herbal tea blends, there were concoctions to help with circulation, cold symptoms, mental focus, and even male virility. I went with a soothing, "stress-relieving" infusion of lemon balm and lemongrass, served in a French press.
A soup of the day made with golden beets, onion, and white beans was deliciously potent and perfumed with curry, while the appetizer combo called "The Fellowship" was enough food to stuff a couple of people, with big scoops of cilantro-flecked black bean sunflower hummus, golden hummus, "Nutty Rawvocado Dip" (a spin on guacamole), and a basket brimming with lavosh, carrot sticks, and sliced yellow pepper. The guac had a bright, zingy taste and great chunky texture, loaded with sunflower seeds, pepitas, and walnuts. Between the two kinds of hummus, the golden hummus had a more pronounced garlicky kick. Both were tasty, though.
My idea of a great salad is something crunchy and flavorful and packed with all kinds of goodies, the kind of thing you could just keep eating with abandon. Salads like that are hard to come by, but Chakra 4's salads were beyond glorious, by my definition. The enormous Kaleidoscope Salad combined chopped kale, sunflower seeds, pepitas, shredded carrot, thinly shaved celery and yellow and green pepper, black olives, cherry tomatoes, red onion, walnuts, and Italian parsley in a perky orange dressing that brought out the sweetness of the carrot and tomato.
Gotta Salata was just as intriguing, like a tangy Greek salad gone haywire. In addition to crumbled feta, cucumber, red and yellow tomato, and red onion, there was carrot, celery, sunflower seeds, pepitas, and Italian parsley piled on a bed of quinoa, with sliced avocado and fresh dill and mint on top. Both salads came with olive bread and cranberry-raisin-walnut bread.
All the salads were also available in wrap or sandwich form, as were the hummus and Nutty Rawvocado. The Johnny Apple Wrap was hefty, a spinach tortilla stuffed with apple chunks, red onion, thinly shaved celery, pine nuts, dried cranberries, and slices of Brie, with quinoa pilaf on the side. I loved the combination of creamy, crisp, and chewy in every bite.
Moroccan Nomad Stew was the heartiest thing on the entrée list, a chunky mix of vegetables, chickpeas, raisins, and cashews in a thick, exotically spiced gravy that oozed into a mound of quinoa pilaf. That was lick-your-plate good. On the flip side, Tacos Carnivale were light and summery, with purple cabbage leaves, a pile of sprouts and veggies, avocado dip, and chipotle salsa for assemble-your-own cabbage wraps.
Although I'm obsessed with cheese, I didn't mind the absence of it in the vegan Veggie-Dilla, since the sundried tomato tortilla was bursting with so much other flavorful stuff — sundried tomato-cashew "cheese" (why even call it cheese when it doesn't resemble it?), black bean hummus, pinto beans, arugula, pepitas, tomatoes, onions, and fresh cilantro. Dare I say, it was a lot more fun to eat than plain ol' cheese-meets-tortilla.