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Awake at the Whisk: Sugar Plum Cafe

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Sugar Plum Cafe

If June Cleaver opened her home for business, it would probably look like Sugar Plum Café. This white picket-fence lined café is actually a converted home, and that’s exactly how you feel as you approach. Except for a tiny banner waving precariously in the wind, you wouldn’t even know there was a business presiding inside.

The warm, homey feel will trick you into believing that those pies and cupcakes you’re seeing in the petite display case were baked by June Cleaver, too. Pretty cupcakes billow high with clouds of vanilla frosting topped with freshly cut pink flowers in the shade of a baby’s cheeks. The pie crusts puff, ready to burst over mountains of high-piled fruit. And the savory smells wafting from the kitchen warm your nose and tickle your tongue, like walking into the house as mom is pulling dinner from the oven.

You may still believe you are at June Cleaver’s home as you are greeted by a cashier dressed sweetly in head-to-toe vintage. Have you entered the 1950s?

No, you are certainly not in June Cleaver’s home. The moment you meet the chef and read the menu, you know you are indeed planted firmly in 2010.

On a recent visit, as I step up to the counter to order, I inquire about the Whoopie Pies. The chef, hearing me make my purchase, emerges from the kitchen, dreadlocked hair pulled back neatly in a pony tail, beard bobbing as he speaks. He tells me with a literal "Whoop!", "You must pronounce it 'WHOOP!-ie pie!'" So, I do. I’m sure that sound was never uttered by The Beaver himself, let alone June.

The tone has been set. I’m in vegan territory. The diet comes with a culture: communal; earth, plant, and animal-friendly; outside the norm; and utterly inviting. Please check all snobbery (and rules about keeping elbows off the table) at the door. June Cleaver does not work here.

Not yet ready to decide my order, I ask about all the pastries, which are gleaming with halos in their little pastry case. The cashier walks over and describes everything to me individually. "Those are really good," she says genuinely after describing each item. I gather I can't go wrong no matter what I choose.

So, I choose them all! Well, almost. I take a red velvet cupcake. A 'WHOOP!-ie pie!'" A maca-roon, and a cupcake topped high with vanilla icing and an edible poof of pink flower.

With pastries tucked safely inside brown paper bags, I am now ready to order my lunch. This is easy. I let the smells wafting from the kitchen and the overflowing plates in front of the other diners guide my decision: nachos.

As I wait for my order, I chat with the busy chef, whose restaurant/house is full, but who is happy to talk to an interested customer. He hands me a brunch menu from last Sunday's Easter brunch: pineapple cashew quinoa, rolls, pastries, salads, and on and on. The price? $12! I ask how he can afford to have such a reasonably-priced menu. I gather from his answer that it is as much about the philosophy of vegan eating as it is about being a business man. He explains that his mom raised him on a vegetarian diet, and that any time they met someone who was hungry, she would invite them into her kitchen and pile their plates high with delicious, healthy food.

As for the food... I take it to go. I am currently munching madly on my bursting to-go box of nachos. The vegan cheese and sour cream taste just like the real thing. The chips are plentiful and loudly crunchy. I'm half-way through the pile and my stomach is already content. This is a hearty helping! But I just keep eating. I can't stop. They're too tasty. Just one more. Just one more. Just one... oops! They're gone.

I’m not a huge proponent of vegan-friendly faux foods. I like real cheese. And I don’t miss eating real meat, so I don’t crave products that pretend to be it. But on a philosophical level, vegans certainly share many of my own food beliefs about treating our planet with a gentler hand. Any food that is prepared with these values in mind is bound to produce quality fare.

Despite its use of faux chicken in my nachos, Sugar Plum Café is serving up quality fare. The ingredients are fresh, the flavors delightful. My favorite (so far) is the vanilla frosting-topped cupcake with edible flower. The frosting is creamy, sweet, and smooth. Underneath, the moist, white cupcake has a hint of cherry-bright almond.

I’m not crazy about my “Whoop!-ie Pie.” The creamy filling, like the frosting on my cupcake, is superb! But the chocolate cakey cookies are a little dry. My thoughts on the red velvet cupcake are exactly the same: good frosting, but the cake is too dry.

But don’t let that stop you from enjoying a delightful meal at Sugar Plum Café. There are plenty of wonderful items to choose from, and the prices are reasonable. I paid $11 for my nachos, and I could have easily split them with someone. Other lunch items include a roasted vegetable Panini for $9, house made vegan burgers for $11 and salads for $8. The pastries range from $2.50 for a cupcake to $3.50 for a slice of pie.

Whatever your political persuasion, if you like good, fresh food, you’re bound to enjoy Sugar Plum Café. But tell me if you spot June Cleaver. I’m sure she’s hiding around there somewhere!

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Yum YUM!! I am so excited to visit Sugar Plum when I'm back in town again! It's great to see more earth-friendly options in Sacramento.

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