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Sol Cal Café

910 J Street, East Village

"Become totally manic about organic. Get your healthy on. Super foods for super humans!”

Uh-oh. Back in the land of the super-healthy again. It’s incredible. Healthy is busting out all over. This cute place with hand-drawn multicolor decor you’d expect at a preschool has opened its doors right where J Street runs past Petco Park.

Gal outside in the tie-dye T-shirt stops me to offer a free sample of watermelon juice. It’s enough to get me sniffing inside.

“Plant Power Paradise,” reads a big sign on the wall. Guess that means “Carnivores Need Not Apply.”

It’s lunchtime. Pretty crowded. People mill about as if this is their club hangout. Guess it’s the thrill of having a place that’s about them. A kid runs around barefoot. The guy and gal behind the counter seem to be doing an awful lot of explaining to the customers. Because the thing that takes a while to get is this place is totally dependent on food from plants. No animals were asked to give even milk for anything here.

Stuffed baked sweet potato. Looks like a swimming pig, but zero animal products are allowed into this establishment.

Stuffed baked sweet potato. Looks like a swimming pig, but zero animal products are allowed into this establishment.

But it does look like there’s stuff to get your teeth into, long as you keep an open mind. Like, uh, raw kelp noodle pasta, pad Thai marinara, or pesto.

Raw kelp? It’s supposed to give you lots of vitamin K, iron, and calcium. Costs $10.99.

Naturally, you have a veggie burger, with artichoke hearts, peppers, onions, beans, oats, and quinoa. Costs $6.99. And it comes on a gluten-free bun. Or make it a sandwich. Same price. Or tacos or a wrap.

Or over in the “Breakfast” section, an organic açai with granola, fruit, and coconut costs $8.99. Avocado toast is $5.99 and lettuce tacos (with spiced nutmeat, jicama salsa, shredded cabbage, and spiced pepitas) go for $8.99. They also do a “Sol Kale Signature Salad” ($5.99 small, $10.99 large). They promise a “crunchy salad topper.”

This is when the gal who stopped me out there in the first place comes through. “Try the baked sweet potato,” she says. “It’s awesomely filling.”

“And good for you,” says Anne, who seems to be in charge. “Sweet potatoes are crammed with vitamins like B6, C, D, iron, and natural sugars. And they grew up happy yams: They’re organic. And there’s quinoa stuffed in there, and cilantro, kale, red onion, and it has cream made from raw cashews. So you don’t have to go dairy. And it’s nutrient-dense.”

Wow. Okay, Am I sold? Guess I am. I order that sweet spud. Then I ask for a cup of Kombuja Draft ginger tea ($2.45)

My baked sweet potato comes on a white china plate. Looks like a Viking long ship. The orange and white quinoa lies buried in its belly under a sea of greens. I dig in. Nutrient dense? For sure. The sweet flesh of the yam, guess it is, with the quinoa nuttiness under the whole organic forest, and that greenish cashew spread makes for lush eating. I mean, yes, I could do with some hot sauce to kick it up, but in a way the ginger Kombuja takes that role. It certainly has plenty of flavor. And, hey, you know it’s good for you.

But organic is expensive. How can they keep prices here reasonable?

“Don’t forget we save because we don’t have to buy meat or dairy products,” says Anne. “They say a typical family could save five- to ten-thousand dollars a year if they gave up meat and dairy. And if you look at how much it actually costs to raise a beef cow, versus growing, say, quinoa, we can get the calories for a fraction of the energy costs it takes to raise a cow.”

This is when a slim, lithe-looking guy comes over. Anne introduces him as Jacob Bell. Jacob Bell, the football star? None other. He played for the St. Louis Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals. He co-owns this place with Anne.

“Anne and I were at high school together in Ohio,” he says. “I met up with her again last year and told her I wanted to do this thing. And she had the perfect training. So we decided to make it happen.”

The celebrity chef and the football star: Anne Thornton and Jacob Bell

The celebrity chef and the football star: Anne Thornton and Jacob Bell

Anne, turns out, is famous in her own right. She’s a chef. Has her own show on the Food Network, appeared on The Queen Latifah Show, knows bigwigs like Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair. Is starting her latest restaurant in L.A. soon.

So, why start a nuts-and-twigs place down here in San Diego? Here’s the thing that blows me away: Jacob was your typical football star, bulked up to handle those collisions on the field. He weighed around 320 pounds.

Then came Junior Seau’s suicide. Jacob knew what a career of regular concussions had done to Seau. One day, a month after joining the Bengals on a multimillion-dollar contract, Jacob retired. “I’ve been thinking about health,” he told his shocked fans. “I want to get out before the game makes me get out.”

It was his nutritionist who turned him on to vegan food. Then he decided he wanted to do something to make it mainstream. Looks like he found the perfect partner in Anne Thornton.

“I have lost 100 pounds since I’ve left playing,” he says. “Now I’m down to 220.”

“So, you guys are like gastro missionaries?” I ask.

“Well, yes,” says Anne, like it’s a bit of a revelation. “I guess that’s what we are.”

Hmm... Does that make me a convert? Must say, I’m feeling the temptation.

Whatever, next time I’m going to have to man up to take down that plate of raw kelp noodle pasta.

  • Prices: Organic açai with granola, fruit, coconut, $8.99; avocado toast, $5.99; lettuce tacos (with spiced nutmeat, jicama salsa), $8.99; Sol Kale Signature Salad, $5.99 small, $10.99 large; Raw Kelp Noodle Pasta, $10.99; veggie burger (with artichoke hearts, peppers, onions, beans, oats, quinoa), $6.99; tomato soup, toast, $4.99; quinoa chili, toast, $4.99; Happy Roots veggie juice (beets, lemon, apple, ginger), $9.99; loaded baked sweet potato, $5.99
  • Hours: 10:00 a.m.–6:30 p.m.
  • Buses: 3, 5; 11, 901, 929
  • Nearest bus stops: Park and Market (3, 5); 11th and K (11, 901, 929 northbound; 10th and Market (11, 901, 929, southbound)
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