If "gluten-free" and "organic" aren't big in your vocabulary, you've probably never heard of zucchini puttanesca ($13.95).
Unless, of course, you've already discovered Fresh First, the first gluten-free cafe in South Florida. Mary Siragusa and her pastry chef daughter, Francesca Siragusa, opened the restaurant in June.
Their puttanesca is a perfect example of how far we've come in the evolution of what we once called health-food restaurants. Long strips of shredded zucchini are tossed with sprouted garbanzo beans, sprouted lentils, cherry tomatoes, red pepper, Kalamata olives, scallions, basil microgreens and a bit of garlic-lemon sauce. Food doesn't get any fresher or more satisfying.
Whether your body is already your temple or you're working toward treating yourself with more nutritional respect, I urge you to check out Fresh First. And if you suffer from celiac disease, Fresh First ought to be on the top of your restaurant list.
You can tell right away from the bright, celery-colored walls, the well-trained wait staff in orange trousers and celery-colored shirts that this isn't some fly-by-night juice bar. There are fresh flowers at every table. The Siragusas are serious about food and business. For four years, they operated a healthful meal-delivery program that has been on hiatus since the restaurant opening.
We started lunch with soup. Hearty vegan chili ($4.50 cup/$6.50 bowl) was full of tender kidney and garbanzo beans. Soup doesn't get much fresher than pea and roasted garlic ($4.50 cup/$6.50 bowl), a bright-green puree blended with vegetable broth and topped with chive oil. Each day brings a different soup, including creamy cucumber dill on Friday and creamy cauliflower on Monday.
A section of the menu is devoted to salads, of course, but sandwiches are a delight for celiac-sensitive folks, especially when the bread is freshly baked in-house: raw flax bread or incredibly savory waffle bread. A trio of vegetarian burgers — portabello ($11.95), raw lentil ($12.75) and quinoa veggie ($13.25) — beckon. So does the Tuna Melt ($12.95), made with wild albacore and topped with shredded carrots, melted white cheddar on savory, balsamic-glazed, house-made waffle bread. Have it with a side of house slaw or a salad. It's not a huge serving, but it's satisfying just the same.
Along with that zucchini puttanesca, Fresh First serves several other bowls, including a veggie fried quinoa ($9.95), with carrots, red pepper, scallions and purple cabbage topped with a fried egg; and fiesta brown rice ($8.95), with avocado, papaya, red onion, tomato, cilantro and red pepper sauce.
Francesca Siragusa is a genius gluten-free baker. The crumb in her cupcake ($5.25) is perfect. They're topped with fruit jam and goat cheese frosting and don't leave you wanting anything as so many gluten-free desserts do. Likewise, you don't miss anything in the chocolate chip cookies ($3.25). Hers are made with eggs and butter, however.
Juices ($6.75-$9) and smoothies ($8.25-$9) are a big draw here. The Glorious Green smoothie ($8.75) combines kale, avocado, spirulina, strawberry and flax. The Pink juice ($6.75/12-ounce) is a refreshing mixture of watermelon, cucumber, celery, lime and mint.
Mary Siragusa says she wanted to create a restaurant for vegans, vegetarians, people with celiac disease and a group she calls conscious eaters. I'm not sure I fall into any of those groups. But I find lots here that I want to eat.
Quay Plaza, 1637 SE 17 St., Fort Lauderdale
Cuisine: Healthful American
Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; four-course prix-fixe dinners Fridays and Saturdays starting Sept. 6
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Bar: Gluten-free beer and wine.
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free garage