This restaurant is closed.
“We’re opportunivores,” says Brian. “No,” says Jake. “We’re freegans. Like vegans, but only when it’s free.”
Everybody’s sitting around two tables here inside Roots, chatting to stop the teeth from chattering. We’re sheltering from wind and c-c-c-cold out there on O.B.’s Newport Avenue, slurping hot split-pea soups and eating organic wraps and PB&J (peanut butter and banana and jam) comfort sandwiches.
It’s market day outside. I’d been clawing my way up through the tents to find this place when I heard the sound. Foghorn on speed? Oh, man. A didgeridoo. Spotted two guys and two gals squashed together on a blanket in a closed shop entrance. They were playing bongos, a pennywhistle, a “guitar” made of a long, inflated, bowed sausage-balloon with one pluckable string stretched up the middle, and that didgeridoo.
“You guys a band?” I asked.
“Yeah. The Traveling Dingleberries,” said the dude in a Bob Marley knitted hat, Brian.
They all laughed. Brian must have just thought the name up. They looked so dank and shivery I told them I had a few clams to spare if they needed something to eat and wanted to join me. I know. Me? Spare? Joke. But a certain Mr. Jackson was hiding down in the thigh pocket. Knew that. Seemed the O.B. thing to do. Told them where I was headed and left them to think about it.
Roots is a tiny vegan eatery in the Rock Paper Scissors stationery and ethnic-knack store. Normally you order through a window on the street, but not tonight.
“Come inside,” says this gal Jaime (pronounced “Jamie”). “I can take your order there.”
Inside, I spot three wooden tables in a brown-walled, art-covered alcove that the shop has set aside for Roots customers. Jaime comes out with a little recycled paper menu. We’re talking mainly wraps and sandwiches, and not the cheapest in the world. Like, around seven bucks each. But I’m guessing these gals are paying a premium to be organic and buy local.
I like the look of the very first sandwich, the Portobello. Mushrooms, sun-dried tomato, and provolone cheese, plus basil, romaine, and vinaigrette on ciabatta. It’s $7.50. The Avo — avocado with onion, tomato, and (soy-based) “vegannaise” on multigrain bread — is $7. A veggie burrito with black beans, mock chicken, lettuce, and avocado goes for $7.50, the hummus wrap’s $7, the Arti wrap with artichoke hearts and feta cheese is $7.50, and so is the Thai peanut wrap.
They have soups for $5 (bowl) or $3 (cup). A cup of soup plus half a sandwich or wrap is $3.50, which could be the best deal. The farmers’ market salad is $6, and the taco salad, with black beans, avocado, jicama, and corn, is $7.50.
I decide on the Portobello, just ’cause I love mushrooms. It’s a nice split ciabatta with layers of sun-dried tomatoes (“because winter hothouse tomatoes are tasteless”), provolone, and a thick wad of delicious tangy mushrooms. And a nice vinaigrette salad to go with it, with touches like chopped peas in their pods, julienned beetroot, and cucumber. It all feels fresh-plucked and tasty.
But now, hey hey! The musicians turn up. Brian, Shauna, Shasta, and Jake — and Micky, Jake’s dog. What with the wind and the cold, they hardly made a sou tonight. So I’m a little worried. My sandwich cost $7.50. Only got that ten left. “Uh, can you do something for my friends with this?” I say to Jaime, waving the Hamilton. “I mean, I know…”
“We’ll work something out,” says Jaime.
And guess what? First she comes out with cups of hot steaming split pea soup for everybody, then she brings out half-sandwiches loaded with PB&J, “peanut butter, local jam, organic banana, nuts, and local honey” on multigrain bread, and with fresh slices of apple all ’round. Everybody hoes in. “Man, this is the coolest place,” says Shauna.
Good God. Now Jaime’s partner Heather brings out another round: whole-wheat lavash — tortilla-looking breads — with veggies and avocado in them. And some shade-grown organic coffee with agave, and lemon water. This is grr-reat. I mean, ten bucks? Jake celebrates with a crazy little ditty on his pennywhistle.
A couple more customers come in. Gail and Erin. First-timers. Order an Arti wrap and the cilantro hummus wrap. Third guy, Tim, comes for an Arti Wrap, too. “Here,” he says. “Taste it.” (This is O.B., remember?) He cuts off a slice. Oh Lord. Yes. Vinaigrette and the artichoke heart. Really good. Plus Tim holds up a zinnia flower Heather put in his salad. “It’s edible,” Heather says.
Jaime, Heather, and Heather’s sister Danielle are the owners, and they know quite a bit about food. For starters, Heather has a master’s from UCLA in public health. “Most food at restaurants is processed,” says Jaime. “Not here. About 60 percent of our food is local organic. And we always buy from this O.B. farmers’ market.”
“Really appreciate it,” Brian says.
“We had this left over anyway,” Jaime says.
The Dingleberries and I kind of share it all, and talk flows like organic vino. Shauna’s from Wyoming. She sings. Has a CD out, Shauna Frye, Little Women. Jake did a degree in mass communications, then decided he wanted to write. So now he’s heading off around the world, with no money, to write about heading off around the world with no money. Think Kerouac, larger canvas. Shasta came to get away from Arizona. Brian may or may not go back to Keys of Creation, his reggae band in Hawaii.
Meanwhile, seems, life’s a little hand-to-mouth.
“Being broke sucks, if you want to eat healthy,” Shauna says. Best cheap way to get a veggie meal cheap, she says, is to go to, say, Burger King and order just the bun, for about 60 cents. “Then ask them to add the normal extras. Lettuce, onions, tomatoes mayo. It’s all free.”
Huh. What a night. As I head for the 35 bus, the Traveling Dingleberries are back huddling in the shop front, deciding where to stay tonight. Last night was Black’s Beach, with a fire. But last night, it wasn’t, like, howling a gale.