The cold temperatures I was warned about are starting to creep into the picture as fall foliage is starting to dim and a chill is creeping into the air. On a particularly blustery day today with high of 52 degrees, the combination inspired me to venture up to Towson to a cafe that has been patiently waiting on my to-do list: Zia's Cafe and Juice Bar. Located in the heart of the bustling city center and steps away from Towson Hot Bagels (as reviewed earlier), Zia's strives to serve everyone a healthy, hearty meal whether they are meat-lovers or vegans. Specializing in raw, gluten-free, and sustainable foods, I couldn't wait to taste and see what Zia's was all about.
Before I go in further, I thought I'd clarify what raw foods are for the uninitiated. The raw foods diet emphasizes a plant-based diet (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, etc.) with no foods heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The belief is that keeping foods in their natural state preserves their maximum health benefit in terms of naturally occurring enzymes and nutrients. For more information, check out this guide to the diet from US News. Although many of Zia's menu items are raw, some offerings (such as meat) do come fully cooked.
As I stepped in off the windy street, I was pleased to find the cafe has a nice, bright color scheme and welcoming vibe. Since my visit was during my lunch hour, I knew I wanted a sandwich or wrap of some sort. after quickly glancing at their menu, I went with the turkey powerhouse minus the cheese and avocado mayo. Promising to be stuffed with smoked turkey, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and alfalfa sprouts, my mouth watered at the chance to get a real sandwich after watching my peers hit the deli line in the dining hall all semester. I requested that my sandwich be made with the gluten-free, vegan, and raw everything bagel, but was turned towards the gluten-free, vegan, and raw wrap option by the cashier after I was informed it would make for a better sandwich.
A few short moments later when the wrap was delivered to my table, I marveled at it's pretty asthetics. After all, how often can one get a gluten-free wrap that actually holds it's own after being stuffed with meat and vegetables? The turkey had a nice, smoked flavor and the veggies were crisp and clearly fresh. It was so nice to be able to eat a lunchtime staple I used to pack frequently in middle and early high school. The wrap itself is made from zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes and had a good taste and texture. In both form and function, it was far superior to other gluten-free wraps I've tried. My one caveat was that I wish I had a dash of dijon mustard as an added splash of flavor.
As I was leaving, I stopped by their grab-n-go refrigerator which is stocked with an assortment of desserts, meals, juices, and other treats. They vary in status (gluten-free, vegan, raw) but more often than not, they are labeled with all three attributes. With a myriad of options to choose from, I considered each one and selected and entree and dessert to take back to the dorm.
The entree I selected (above) was their zucchini puttanesca. Made with zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, peppers, onion, oil cured olives, capers, olive oil, garlic and oregano, the dish was a raw, vegan take on this popular Italian noodle dish. I loved the spot-on taste and texture of the zucchini "noodles" and the flavorful and complex "sauce" that had strong notes of red onion and tomato. Normally adverse to olives in any shape and form, I found that I could not distinguish them in the flavorful medley which made for another food "first" for me. By no means am I an olive lover now, but once again I find that there are payoffs to not discounting foods before I try them.
The dessert I selected was their mint chocolate "cheesecake." Also gluten-free, vegan, and raw, this decadent creation was made with cashews, almonds, dates, organic coconut oil, organic cacao powder, vanilla extract, mint, and sea salt. A dead ringer for the traditional preparation of this dessert, I loved the thick, creamy texture of the filling and rich taste of the mint and chocolate that was authentic and not too sweet or overpowering. Although there's a Cheesecake Factory restaurant down the street, I think they have a thing or two to learn from Zia's creations which are special diet friendly and superior in the nutrition department.
Without a doubt, I will be making a return trip to Zia's in the near future. I cannot wait to sample more of their offerings including their smoothies (when the weather warms up) and grab-n-go offerings. I love how they easily accommodate a variety of dietary needs and preferences; When all else fails, patrons can simply create their own sandwich or salad from their make-your-own menu. I'm so glad I made the decision to wander off campus and brave the blustery day to uncover this true gem of a cafe.
For more information Zia's food philosophy and standards, click here. It's definitely worth a read for those who care about food with integrity.
Update 1/19/17: On a recent visit I ordered the Jenn Quin Special smoothie, which comes with bananas, blueberries, dates, almonds, almond milk, and coconut oil. I liked the sweet fruitiness of the smoothie, but also it's staying power- I didn't have a sugar crash after drinking it. Zia's has many GF and vegan options when it comes to smoothies, juices, and smoothie bowls.
Cuisine: Gluten-free wraps, sandwiches, and salads. Assorted coffee drinks, smoothies, juices, cleanses, and cold drinks. Raw, vegan, and gluten-free assorted grab-n-go options.
Ideal For: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack (9am-7pm Monday-Saturday)
Price: Sandwiches range from $3.75-$8.76 (gluten-free wrap/bagel an extra $.99). Salads range from $6.49-$13.49. Assorted pricing for smoothies, coffee drinks, juices, and grab-n-go.
Accessibility: Easily wheelchair accessible
Special Features: You can order Zia's juices, cheesecakes (raw, vegan, gluten-free), a 3 day raw food plan, and gift cards on their online store. They also offer drop off catering.