New OB Garden Café: Vegan, vegetarian and organic

The onetime Tiny's Tavern on Voltaire Street is now home to what is a logical extension of the natural- and organic-minded Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Market. Owned by the same co-op of customers and employees that owns the market, the Ocean Beach Garden Café marked its grand opening in late March and is quickly becoming a fixture in the neighborhood, offering a sit-down experience not only for the store's regular clientele but for customers new to vegetarian and vegan fare.

The bright and cheerful café, distinguished by its airy patio, the giant peace sign on the wall in the dining room, and a sunny upstairs terrace, offers seating for 60 and a sizable menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner (until 7 p.m.), plus beer and wine.

Katie Holmes, the café's front-of-house manager, provided some back story: "The co-op had been thinking of expanding (from just the market) to include the sit-down experience, and to bring the vegan-vegetarian lifestyle to a broader group." The food items are purchased from the same supplier the market uses, and employees cross-train to work at either venue. There is a steady roster of about 25 employees at the café.

While the social aspect of the new café has been attracting customers from OB and beyond, it's the menu of organic choices that is turning them into regulars.

"We want to make sure people are well fed, but also to make prices reasonable," Holmes emphasized. The extensive menu is also designed for customers who are new to vegetarian cuisine or those who might be intimidated by it. "If you stumble in you can find something," she said. "And you can eat cleaner and healthier and not feel like your guy buddies are going to make fun of you."

The café's appetizers range from samosa to flatbread pizza to roasted carrot and curry hummus, mostly under $10. Popular lunch items include soups, salads and a couple of burgers: the black bean and red quinoa burger ($9.95) and the Portobello burger ($11.95).

Among the entrees, you can choose from Spoodles (that's spiral carrot and parsnip noodles) in a choice of sauce, zucchini lasagna, Portobello tacos and a vegetarian pot pie that Holmes calls a great "dad dish." (Entrees price out at $11.95.) There also are small-plate entrees for the kids, starting as low as $3.95.

Like a lot of spots in Ocean Beach — even those to the south on busy Newport Avenue — the OB Garden Café caters to breakfasters. Its morning menu tempts with dishes like French toast, vegan pancakes and shakshuka (poached eggs with onions, tomatoes and fire-roasted red peppers). All breakfast items are under $10.

Naturally (and that's a pun that's definitely intentional), the café is big on juices and smoothies, all made with natural, organic ingredients. You can get your coffee and tea fix, too, if you wish.

The list of beers includes five on tap and five by the bottle, and one of the craft beers comes from Protector Brewery, which bills itself as "The First Organic Brewery Company in San Diego." (The café, incidentally, hosts a happy hour 4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday.)

To Holmes, who has been a member of the co-op for seven years and lives just across the street from the café, the business is a source of pride. "We're the only ones in OB who do vegan, vegetarian and organic. It's great when we see so many young people and families with kids come in and are ready to eat vegetables."

All the natural and organic food aside, there are other aspirations for the café.

"My hope is as people come in and tell us what they like to see in a café, or they have menu suggestions, that we respond to that," said Jim Kase, who is general manager of the co-op. "I also want it to be more than just a café, but to be a meeting place. We want to see ourselves as integral to the community. Not just a place to eat but a place to gather, to talk, to participate in the community. A place to come and relax and meet friends."

Holmes feels the same way. Already the rooftop area, which is the site of high-intensity games of bean bag toss, has hosted yoga and Pilates classes. "I'd like us to do more hosted events," said Holmes, "and just see more people using us as a place to hang out."

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