The Musical Forest Café, located inside , 473 Washington Ave., opened two weeks ago with a unique lunch and dinner menu consisting of completely animal-free foods.
It’s already been reviewed on vegan chef Mary Lawrence’s blog “Well on Wheels” and Mark Minotti, Musical Forest Café proprietor, and his wife, Mary Minotti, who owns The Music Center, have big plans for the restaurant.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 5 percent of Americans call themselves vegetarian and 2 percent are vegan. That’s around 21 million people who exclude meat and at least some other animal products, like dairy, eggs, seafood, and honey, from their diets.
For Mark Minotti, his vegan diet started in February when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He switched to a macrobiotic diet, which emphasizes food quality and eliminates processed food and animal products.
“The drive in you to fix things happens,” Mark Minotti said. “I want to be around for my grandkids, I want to be around for my great-grandkids.”
In two months, Mark Minotti lost 52 pounds and a follow up MRI showed enough swelling reduction to downgrade his tumor to benign.
“So out of all that tragedy, this was born,” said Mary Minotti.
For now, café food is prepared in an off-site kitchen by Jonathan Martinek, whom the Minottis met through Rotary Club events.
“We looked at each other and said, this guy’s amazing,” said Mark Minotti.
Martinek runs a catering business in Cheshire, Have Grill Will Travel, which offers vegetarian dishes alongside a meat-centered menu.
“I’ve been cooking vegetarian food for quite a long time,” said Martinek. He added that working on the café has been interesting and challenging.
The trio spent a week taste testing just cheese substitutes, and applied the same stringent tests to other toppings. Mark Minotti emphasized the restaurant’s food source is all fresh, local, organic, and in season; nothing canned or boxed makes it to the table.
“Whatever’s at the market, that’s what comes in that day,” said Mark Minotti.
Mary Minotti explained that trial and error led to the creation of one of the menu’s most popular dishes, the black bean burger. In two days, the café sold all 40 burgers estimated to last for the week. Now the burgers are made 60 at a time.
Another successful dish is the vegan macaroni and “cheese,” made with nutritional yeast and almond milk. And another cheese substitute yielded the French onion soup, made with mushroom stock.
“I was so excited,” said Mary Minotti. “I can eat French onion soup now.”
Even the drinks reflect healthy eating. In addition to espresso and smoothies, the variety of teas offered range from mushroom antioxidant to bōcha twig.
Plans to expand include adding a fish tank, outdoor seating, and Facebook specials and contests. Already featured are off-street parking and free wifi.
“I want to make it more of a place, a destination,” said Mark Minotti. He also pointed out that parents drop their children off for music lessons, now there’s a place to grab food afterward that’s convenient and healthy.
A quick look at the menu shows reasonable prices and Mark Minotti assures the portions are big.
“It becomes exciting,” said Mark Minotti. “What can we do next?”
Live music starts the second week of August. For bookings contact entertainment director Jared Hunter, (203) 234-8867 ext. 3.
Hours: Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For further questions call (203) 234-8867 ext. 4.