R: After spending a stimulating morning at the Los Angeles Harambee Farmers' Market at Slauson and Crenshaw, we were ready for a hearty lunch. Just a few blocks away on Slauson we spotted a colorful pink and blue trimmed building with large letters that read, "Mr. Wisdom Organic Wheat Grass Farm and Health Food Store." Prominently placed near the street was a tall, freestanding sign announcing "Mr. Wisdom Organic Health Food Hari Krishna Restaurant."
Z: Reuben said, "Looks interesting. Let's explore." We parked and walked down the driveway where a sign guided us to the entrance of an old house on a raised foundation. The horizontal railing bars that flanked the narrow porch leading to the rear of the house were also painted in alternating pink and blue. How many years this aged house was standing was anyone's guess.
R: Mr. Wisdom, a gentle man with a smiling face, greeted us warmly as soon as we entered. Immediately to the left was the juice bar, a room that was once the kitchen of the old house. The old dining area became Mr. Wisdom's kitchen, a small space that more closely resembled a laboratory with shelves, counters, cupboards, and a small steam table that held the day's lunch and dinner specialties.
Z: Mr. Wisdom, whose real name is Clifton Billings, has a third name as well. While living many years in a Hari Krishna ashram, he took the spiritual name Krishna Bhavana that means fixed in devotion to Krishna. During his years in the Krishna community, he learned to cook vegetarian foods using the principles handed down from the teachings. His goal when he left the ashram was to come back to his African American community and share the Hari Krishna teachings.
R: The enticing aromas emanating from the steam table reminded us about our focus on lunch. Proudly Mr. Wisdom raised each of the lids and described the foods he had prepared. He spent a busy morning cooking Pinto Beans, Black-eyed Peas, Steamed Vegetables, Brown Rice, Sabzi, Mung Bean Soup, and Tomato Chutney. Everything was pure vegan. We had only to decide on a small, medium, or large serving that would be placed in a Styrofoam container.
Z: Prices were quite reasonable. The small size was $4.95, the medium $6.25, and the large $7.95. We decided on the medium size. When we saw the huge portions Mr. W. was generously heaping into the container, we realized the second container ought to be a small one. We carried our meals into the living room of the old house and chose one of three small tables. Sitting on bridge chairs next to the window, we began our simple feast.
R: With the first taste of the Pinto Beans we shared silent nods of approval. Noticeable was a moderate touch of spice in the well-seasoned beans. Then we dipped our plastic forks into the Sabzi, a green and golden combination of cooked potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, and Swiss chard pleasantly seasoned with Indian spices and heightened by a generous sprinkle of cayenne.
Z: Mr. W. spooned the flavorful and lightly spiced Mung Bean Soup over the Brown Rice, sparking the rice with rich flavor. Steamed vegetables dressed in Tomato Chutney completed our luncheon plate. Mr. Wisdom believes variety is important. The vegetable combination included carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, turnip, and green and purple cabbage.
R: The vegetables themselves were unseasoned, but the topping of Tomato Chutney was a deliciously unique blend of fresh tomatoes, fenugreek, ginger, mustard seed, turmeric, cayenne, and Turbinado sugar that were cooked down to a comfit. We discovered just how much Mr. W. loves to cook with cayenne pepper when he took a few minutes to talk with us.
Z: Cayenne pepper, we learned, is very cleansing and better for the digestion than any other kind of pepper. Mr. Wisdom hurried back to the kitchen area to greet other customers who came in for health advice, some smoothies, and wheat grass juice. Adjacent to our dining area was the Herb Room with shelves displaying large containers of dried herbs. Our dining area with its uncarpeted hardwood floors took up one half of the living room that was partitioned by a wooden lattice. On the other side of the lattice were shelves displaying a small variety of health food items and a few vegetarian cook books.
R: What gave the room its real character were the numerous wall posters of Hari Krishna spiritual figures. Along the lattice was a colorful, life-size poster of Prabhupada, the spiritual leader who brought the Hari Krishna philosophy to the United States in 1965.
Z: Painted on the wall were philosophical expressions. One said, "You can tell the tree by its fruits," Another read, "Your health is your wealth."
R: Sunday is a special day for Mr. Wisdom. He posts flyers to announce an open invitation to those interested in a self-realization discourse, meditation, and a free vegetarian buffet. During our dining experience, we asked many questions of this man with an embracing spirit, yet we never felt proselytized.
Z: Before leaving, I suggested we order a small cup of wheat grass juice. Usually wheat grass juice has an unpleasant astringent taste. But as we sipped our little cups of freshly squeezed wheat grass, we savored an intense sweetness. It felt good to leave with a sweet taste in our mouths.
R: That fresh organic wheat grass is homegrown by Mr. Wisdom in his backyard greenhouse where he rasises it along with his special barley grass.
Z: Strolling down the driveway toward the sidewalk, we saw a sign on the wall we hadn't noticed before. It read, "You are entering the spiritual zone. Please turn off all radios and negative thoughts." We didn't have any negative thoughts to turn off. The lunch was a very positive experience.
3526 W. Slauson Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90043
Reviewed November 2003