Z: Opened in mid-June 2013, Dr. J's, located on Main Street in the heart of the downtown action, is the new kid on the block. With its prominent sign and attractive exterior, the café is an inviting eatery with outside tables and an open patio area just beyond the café.
R: Once inside we were impressed with the shear size of the expansive dining area. The pleasant ambience is bright and airy with a hip, ultra-mod vibe highlighting simplicity in its furnishings. I found my eye drawn to the attractive, uniquely criss-crossed plywood beams on the ceiling. The rough, unfinished plywood theme also recurs on one wall of the café as well as a box-like outcropping along the wall.
Z: The exterior walls on both sides of the café consist of floor-to-ceiling windows, inviting an uplifting ambience of cheery brightness. Plenty of recessed lighting lends a warm glow to the nighttime atmosphere, while a pleasant stream of eclectic music brings cordial warmth to the large, open space.
R: Upon entering, we were warmly greeted by the friendly servers behind the order counter and began to chat about some menu recommendations. Veena was very enthusiastic about the Avocado Sandwich she described as a delicious combination of sweet and savory flavors.
Z: She also raved about Dr. J's unique bread used for the sandwiches, describing it as wheat free, gluten free, and packed with vegetables. Because she recommended the Curried Potatoes Bowl so highly, we included it in our order along with the Avocado Sandwich. We were also curious about the Sprouted Lentil Soup and decided we would share everything.
R: Under one of the covered footed cake plates was an attractive stack of walnut-dotted brownie squares. They looked enticing, and we decided if we had enough room for dessert, that would be the one.
Z: We were given a small plastic number tent and placed it on a table along the neat-looking plywood wall and sat down. Within seconds, a smiling server brought our Sprouted Lentil Soup, along with flatware wrapped in napkins made of recycled paper.
R: Looking bright and colorful, the soup was served in an attractive recessed bowl with a wide brim. Floating in a light broth was a generous portion of diced carrots and small bite-sized bits of broccoli and cauliflower. The lentils, rather than being pureed, were left whole and added pleasant texture.
Z: The broth was light, yet flavorful. What made me stop and take notice, was the texture of the lentils and vegetables. Most lentil soups we've encountered consisted of fully or partially pureed lentils and soft, fully cooked vegetables. These veggies were vivid in color with a texture that was definitively chewy, yet not crunchy. Also noticeable was the flavor of each vegetable was distinct, rather than blended into the background.
R: These distinctions are subtle, yet we notice because we are attuned to a restaurant's individual style of presentation. Next to arrive was the Avocado Sandwich dramatically presented on a rectangular slab of black slate. The sandwich was cut in half, as we requested. While the sandwich looked rather small, I was pleasantly surprised at how filling and satisfying it was.
Z: And beside the sandwich. heaped atop a leaf of greenleaf lettuce, were the bright orange carrot fries. The fries demanded to be sampled first. Lightly coated in vegetable oil and sprinkled with herbs, they were roasted to a soft, tender state, and made a delightful accompaniment to the sandwich.
R: Dr. J's signature pure bread, baked in round, thin slices, warrants some attention for its uniqueness and health focus. The bread is made from the pulp of juiced vegetables, along with rice flour, flaxseed meal, and stevia to give it a touch of sweetness.
Z: We should mention that Dr. J's recipes are all wheat, yeast, sugar, dairy, and GMO-free, as well as gluten-free, and all organic.
R: The Avocado Sandwich with its exceptional filling of seasoned avocado, carrots, homemade apple butter and homemade almond butter delivered a combination of sweet and savory flavors and was outrageously delicious. The challenge came with each bite, as bits of the filling oozed out the sides and landed kerplunk on the platter. A quick analysis--the bread is very firm, the filling is extremely soft. Solution--either make the bread softer or the filling firmer so the sandwich stays together.
Z: I love curry dishes and especially adore spicy dishes. The Curried Potatoes Bowl was a flavorful amalgam of perfectly cooked vegetables, vibrant seasonings, and an eye appealing, yet simple presentation. The traditional Indian combination of potatoes, carrots, onions, and peas was fully cooked, yet firm and retained individual flavors. The bowl was bountifully garnished with cilantro, adding the perfect herbal touch to the flavors. I felt the curry spice was lively and pleasing to me but may be a bit spicy for people sensitive to spicy foods. We could have ordered Add-Ons like kale, broccoli, or other vegetables, but the dish was complete and satisfying on its own.
R: Water is available at a self-service table near the order counter. Somehow, we failed to notice it and asked for water. The servers are very eager to please and brought our water in small jars, rather than glasses, along with straws. Many little touches, like the water jars and perky kalanchoe plants on the tables make this restaurant stand apart. We noticed that customers consistently received service with a smile.
Z: We were asked if we would like dessert. Without hesitation we recalled that Carob Brownie at the counter, and when our server suggested it would be even better with Banana Ice Cream on top, we didn't hesitate.
R: Made from a whole, frozen banana processed through a juicer, the "ice cream" was sinfully thick and creamy and made the perfect topping over the brownie. Because each of the baked items is gluten-free and sugar-free, they're unique in flavor and texture.
Z: I dipped my spoon into the soft banana ice cream but hit a wall when I reached the brownie. This is a very dense and firm brownie and required a firmer approach of attack. It was a delicious combination and a tasty conclusion to our meal. When asked about ingredients in the brownie, Veena shared its contents: rice flour, oat bran, finely ground walnuts, large chunks of walnuts, carob powder, vanilla extract, and stevia for sweetening.
R: Considering Dr. J's uses all organic ingredients, prices are quite reasonable. Dr. J's Bowls are $11, while Add-Ons vary from $1 to $2.50. Organic Salads $10 to $12. Sandwich Rolls $5 to $11. Soups $6. Baked goods $4 to $6. Tea $2.75 to $6. Specialty Beverages $7 to $8.75.
R: We were delighted to discover Dr. J's Vibrant Café and know that we can always count on a tasty vegan meal when we come downtown. Our downtown adventure also included an eco-friendly ride on the Metro from the North Hollywood station to Pershing Square station and a few blocks of walking to reach Dr. J's.
Dr. J's Vibrant Café
Reviewed September 2013