Flavor runs deep as the Sanctum sets a new standard for meat- and gluten-free meals in Mills 50 

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Photo by Rob Bartlett

God only knows the sort of gastronomic wizardry taking place in the sanctum sanctorum of the Sanctum, "the most badass plant-based restaurant Orlando has ever seen," according to owner Chelsie Savage, but she and her culinary conjurers have managed the rare feat of luring not just dedicated vegans and flesh-weary meat-eaters but, in the case of yours truly and this review, a run-on sentence. Words alone, no matter the number in continuous succession, couldn't do this inviting little eatery justice, but that doesn't mean I won't try.

Those who frequented the space when it was the Blissful Café will recognize the Sanctum as a step up. Savage, a yoga instructor and holistic health coach, takes a sort of power of positive cooking approach in her kitchen with an emphasis on what she calls "good for you" food. But the green bowls, grain bowls and pasta bowls are just as plain good as they are good for you.

While dairy and wheat are available, we kept things to a plant-based minimum on one visit by starting off with a No. 4 ($7), a smoothie with banana, pear, kale, cinnamon and almond butter blended with hemp milk (60 cents extra). It made for a friggin' delish start, as did a juice ($10) of beets, apples, cucumbers and ginger punctuated with a greensy finish.

Roasted chickpeas in the kale Caesar ($11) had me wondering why I stopped eating spicy chana – it was my fave snack as a kid. The crunch of peas, the pop of quinoa gracing leafy kale like grainy dew,and the briny kick of sea-vegetable (instead of sea-animal) Caesar dressing made quite an impression. Avocado ($2 extra), slivered onions and roasted rosemary potatoes added to a salad that was anything but one-dimensional. For a hyperlocal version, Fleet Farming greens can be substituted into any salad for an extra 50 cents.

By the way, reading the ingredients of a dish on the menu doesn't necessarily preclude a pleasant surprise. "I didn't know there were Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes in that," my dining partner declared after sampling the boldly favored "Southern Comfort" grain bowl ($13.50) of brown rice, quinoa and black beans anointed with a lentil-miso "gravy" and curried peanut dressing. Dig deep, people, and the flavor nuggets shall be revealed (as well as horribly dry and crumbly tempeh; not my favorite).

Faults in the "Mo'Rockin Bowl" ($13), thankfully, were nonexistent. Roasted cauliflower reddened with harissa provides a piquant base to the salad bowl, but chunky cubes of beets, candied walnuts and sultanas add just the right amount of sweetness. While the DiPaolo "pasta" bowl ($14.50) comprises zucchini noodles and shells fashioned from brown rice, it doesn't make the dish any less confortante, especially with the addition of crimini mushrooms, crispy polenta, tempeh-walnut "meetballs" and cashew cream sauce.

The inviting bar at the front of the restaurant is an ideal place to enjoy a properly poured espresso ($2) or a stimulating spiced chai ($4.25). Pair your hot beverage with a delightful brownie-macaroon mashup called a "macarooni" ($3.35) or a beet bar ($4.50) baked with brown rice syrup, coconut milk, raisins and chocolate, if your sweet tooth needs some love.

Savage and her team deftly disprove the antiquated notion that meatless and wheatless equates to tasteless, but, more importantly, they believe they can change how the restaurant-going public thinks about healthy food. It's a credo the eco-conscious folks at the Sanctum hold sacred.


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