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Vegan food, minus the 'twigs and leaves'

Lasagna is served raw at Green Bar and Kitchen, the newest eatery to pop up off Fort Lauderdale's Southeast 17th Street and tucked inside the plaza housing Waxy O'Connor's and the Village Well. The Irish establishments have new Italian neighbors, who are all about the power of plants on a plate.

Co-owners Elena Pezzo and Charles Grippo grew up eating red sauce and meatballs in New York, but they serve only vegan fare at Green Bar and Kitchen.

After suffering depression and weight gain following her mother's death, Pezzo says she turned down doctor-recommended drugs to try holistic healing. She formerly operated the Zenergy raw-food truck with Grippo, her chef and fiance.

The two opened their restaurant Feb. 4, with help from friends in the business. Everything on the menu is gluten-free, including wines and beers.

A health-food market takes up roughly half the indoor space. Grains and cookbooks are shelved next to a large selection of organic wines averaging $15 per bottle, and organic ciders and beers are chilled next to Kombucha teas.

Although the menu features smoothies and salads, Grippo says he tried to approach his dishes "from a guy's perspective."

"Our burger doesn't taste healthy," he says of the rice-quinoa-and-chickpea patty. "It's not 'hippie-style.' You don't feel like you're eating twigs and leaves."

But he says the living lasagna has been the most-popular menu item so far. It's a platter of thin-sliced zucchini layered with sun-dried-tomato marinara, with dollops of macadamia-nut "cheese" and basil pesto.

"It's familiar food," he says. "It almost mimics the food you're used to. We're not the food police."

Green Bar and Kitchen is located at 1075 SE 17th St., in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-533-7507.

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