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Thursday, June 21, 2001

Power surge

Posted on Thu, Jun 21, 2001 at 4:00 AM

Funny about the side streets off Park Avenue in Winter Park. While the main strip retains its, shall we say, "upscale" image, little spots along Welbourne and Morse house stores filled with small brass Buddhas, dog toys and ice cream.

Just off the corner of East Lyman, hovering near the latest and greatest shopping additions, is a little restaurant called the Power House Café. Some might call it a throwback to simpler, hippier times; this is what used to be called a "health food" restaurant. The menu is replete with tabbouleh and yogurt, sunflower seeds and bulgur wheat. But with the increased popularity of stores like Whole Foods, Power House might simply be ahead of its time.

Although current owner Milad Bassil took over only last year, Power House has been in business since 1970, an enviable accomplishment in a town where far more ambitious restaurants have closed and reopened several times in that span. There are tables throughout the relatively recently expanded place, but most of the action takes place at the counter, sort of a Whole Earth diner concept, where you're invited to join your fellow diners. Pitas and salads rule, as does the delicacy that single-handedly revived the blender -- the smoothie, a big glass of sweetness for $3.

From the vantage point of a counter stool, strange happenings are spotted. What's that, being spooned into the blender for a smoothie? Real strawberries? Where's the prefrozen, melted, sugared syrup we've come to expect at smoothie bars? And wait -- bananas? Not powdered 'nana extract? And they use real honey instead of white sugar. Are they trying to put me in shock? To watch the whole ingredients being placed in a well-used blender and shaken into submission is an almost thrilling reminder of how food used to be made in our younger, precorporate days. There's also a big list of yogurt shakes with granola, peanut butter and all-natural fruit juices. They're a bargain at $3.25, and if you buy six you get one free.

The solids on the menu ain't bad, either. I was very impressed with the hummus, chick peas puréed with garlic, lemon and tahini paste. The "Middle Eastern platter" ($6.95) is accompanied by lovely fried falafel patties and tabbouleh, the rich, green parsley salad mixed with cracked wheat and fresh tomato. An unusual item is a chicken salad mixed with carrots, deliciously sweet and served on apple slices and raisins ($4.50). Or try something as simple as a veggie sandwich with avocado on a pita ($4.50), and savor the fresh aromas.

Every menu item has a calorie listing, and side items like yogurt-cucumber dressing or lemon sauce make for great touches. Join the gang at the counter.

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