As any dieter knows, cooking wholesome-yet-craveable food is no easy feat. And with a slew of health-centric restaurants (Lyfe Kitchen, Native Foods, and Protein Bar) closing locations around Denver, it seems that creating a successful, health-focused restaurant is no easy task.
But if anyone can do it, it’s Justin Cucci. The chef-restaurateur and founder of Edible Beats has the track record (Linger, Root Down, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox) and the vision to make a healthy restaurant a full-blown hot spot. There’s no doubt that his latest endeavor, Vital Root, should be just that.
Vital Root is located a few doors down from Vital Center for Mind-Body Health on Tennyson Street, in the former location of Mountain Man Nut & Fruit Company. In typical Cucci fashion, the space has undergone a marvelous makeover. Cucci aimed for a “tree house” vibe, and the airy space is accented with botanical illustrations, lots of greenery, and unexpected touches (like the rows of vintage trays that line the patio herb garden, a nod to the restaurant’s quick-service format).
Whereas Cucci’s previous restaurants have always flirted with healthful ingredients, Vital Root’s menu is uncompromisingly wholesome. The kitchen here is free of all processed sugars, meat, and white foods (flour, sugar, and rice). “Sugar is America’s battle it doesn’t even know it’s fighting,” he says. Cucci partnered with Desi Springer, founder of Vital Center for Mind-Body Health, to develop the menu, which leans heavily on healthy fats. “We just wanted a place that celebrates that way of eating and still hits all the right spots on your palate,” Cucci says.
And while some of the menu descriptions may remind you of a Portlandia skit (there’s even a “Safe Word Cacao” smoothie), much of the food here is tasty enough that you’re apt to forget it’s actually healthy. Chilled carrot-ginger soup is a silky purée of carrot, ginger, coconut milk, beets, cucumber, and apples, studded with crunchy squares of micro celery and topped with floral chamomile oil. A satisfying breakfast sandwich features curried egg, sun-dried tomato, feta cheese, and a drizzle of chile-walnut oil on gluten-free sunflower seed bread. Cocktails, like the 24 karat (carrot juice, vodka, ginger, elderflower), employ fresh-squeezed juices and unrefined sweetening agents.
And the (sugar-free) icing on the (gluten-free) cake? All of the breakfast, lunch, and dinner items are priced around $10 and served in 10 minutes or less. Vital Root is also developing a grab-and-go app that allows patrons to pre-pay for their meal and pick it up from a cubby.
Bonus: When you visit, check out “Vital’s Vitals,” a constantly updated, transparent list detailing what percentage of local and organic ingredients the kitchen is currently using and the restaurant’s other sustainability initiatives.
3915 Tennyson St., 303-474-4131