Right Path Organic Cafe Brings Vegan, Raw Food to Downtown New London

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Considering it is one of Connecticut’s smallest cities, New London has in recent years — months, even — become one of the state’s more impressive hubs for approachable, affordable and increasingly international cuisine. This positive growth has, in part, been fostered by a burgeoning cultural scene that has helped provide a stronger foothold for small local businesses, particularly in the downtown area. Robert Bernardo, the owner/chef at Right Path Organic Cafe, chose New London, rather than his hometown of Norwich, to launch his vegan, mostly raw-oriented restaurant in November 2015 for exactly these reasons.

“I originally wanted to find a house in Norwich where I could also grow some of my own food,” says the self-described plant guy and long-time Home Depot employee. “Everybody said I was crazy. And I was definitely against drop ceilings,” he laughs. Bernardo says he knew the State Street storefront was perfect because he could make some basic improvements and be on his way in an already active location.

Located just a few steps from Eugene O’Neill Drive in what should be called the mural district of downtown New London — look for the one-story Willie Nelson portrait just a block away on Golden Street — the cafe’s flowery mandala logo adorns its primary window. The clementine-colored interior has an open kitchen, and a handful of handmade wood tables that Bernardo built. On top, paper menus are weighted with colorful minerals.

Teriyaki tempeh, made with soybeans, is served with teriyaki almonds, veggies, rice and an almond sauce.

Bernardo is not formally trained as a chef, but has always been a devoted home cook. His knowledge of vegan and raw-foods cooking evolved gradually after a motorcycle accident left him badly injured and frustrated with the healing process. This process culminated in a two-week raw foods certification internship at The Organic Garden Cafe in Beverly, Massachusetts, from which several key recipes from his menu have been adapted. After the internship, he says, his diet was changed for good.

He says the first noticeable effect of switching entirely to a vegan diet was a shift in his mental clarity. “I was so miserable and tired,” he says. Adding, “It was like a huge fog had lifted.” Another benefit, aside from healing from his injuries, he says, was inadvertently losing about 50 pounds.

Right Path Organic Cafe

140 State St., New London

860-437-9700, rightpathfood.com

Hours: Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Wheelchair accessible

Dr. Anne Procyk, a naturopathic doctor and the founder of Third Stone Integrative Health Center in Essex, suggests that, while no one diet is ideal for all people, a vegan diet can provide a great deal of nutritional benefit. “Vegan diets have been shown to promote longevity, as well as lower rates of many inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and autoimmune disease,” she says.

She warns that in order to thrive with a vegan diet, food choices must be based on plants rather than processed foods — precisely the cuisine Bernardo offers here.

Smoothies, juices, one-bowl meals, soups, snacks, sandwiches and salads make up the menu. Fresh juices range from $2.95 for eye-opening shots of wheatgrass or ginger, to $8.25 for a 14-ounce glass; they include mixes of celery, apple, parsley, beet and more.

The smoothie list (ranging from $7.95 to $9.50, with optional add-ons such as bee pollen, chia and other superfoods), includes a few hearty, meal-in-a glass blends such as the Namaste: almond milk, buckwheat, dates, banana and strawberries.

On the solid-food portion of the menu, fresh, crunchy, raw foods abound in most every dish, but there are plenty of cooked foods such as black beans, tempeh (sort of a soy cake or patty), quinoa and rice. Several dishes have sprouted legume seeds, and other nut or legume/nut-based additions.

The Perspective bowl (a large for $9.95 and a small for $7.95), like all the bowls served here, comes with mixed greens, shredded carrots, purple cabbage, beets and peppers, plus pico de gallo, avocado and black beans. It also benefits from an addition of vegan versions of Jack “cheeze” and sour cream. The “cheeze” is a nut-based mixture flavored with onion and garlic powder and an assortment of blended herbs and spices. Same goes for the sour “creem.” Both add texture and rich flavor to the dish.

Carrot goji berry cake

For dessert, there is a menu of seven options, with no flour or white sugar to be found. Instead, ingredients like dates, almonds, cashews, raw chocolate, goji berries and coconut constitute the flavor profiles of these not-too-sweet, and eminently nutritious desserts. Both the white chocolate cheesecake and semi-sweet mocha cheesecake are made with an almond and date crust, and are creamy and dense. Raw vegan goji berry cake ($7.50) is another surprisingly rich treat.

Having benefited so profoundly from his switch to raw and vegan food, Bernardo says “I just wanted to do something that mattered, and that made a difference.”

That indeed seems like a positive intention and the right path. The good news is, positive intentions and aspirations for healthy living can translate into delicious food that you may actually want to eat.

(This article was originally published on a different platform. Some formatting changes may have occurred.)

Shelley Lawrence Kirkwood is a writer, photographer, avid home cook and health nut. Her career started in food writing for alternative weeklies before veering into teaching and curatorial work after earning her MFA at the University of Arizona.