Venue Review: Luna's Living Kitchen
The Charlotte Observer
2102 South Blvd., Charlotte, NC, 28203-
Deep green raw collard leaves enclose, burrito-like, a mix of sweet-curry-sauced sprouts, avocado, peppers, tomato and cucumber.
Kale, marinated with orange, arrives looking like a salad, but tasting heartier and more substantial.
"Lunasagna" bears only the slightest resemblance to the Italian classic, since all its parts - thin-sliced zucchini instead of noodles, cashew-basil "cheese," sun-dried tomato sauce - retain the brilliant colors they came into this world with, and include neither meat nor dairy products.
And that veggie burger? Quinoa (say "keen-wah") and kamut (a brand of khorasan wheat), of course - and simply terrific.
Luna's Living Kitchen is exactly the sort of gentle yet bright space you'd expect of a business specializing in raw, vegan, organic and local foodstuffs. It's got the leisurely, deliberate pace of one, too.
Don't expect dishes designed to mimic regular fare. The veggie burger doesn't taste like a hamburger; it's a crunchy, rich, flavorful patty - something like a falafel - on small squares of dense organic whole-grain bread (from Lucille Benoit of the Matthews farmers market, who also does other things for Luna's). This comes with your choice of condiments, from hummuses (different ones!) to salsas and pickle relish.
Spouses Juliana Luna and Randy Powell, with two investors, opened Luna's almost a year ago, in the former TEA Rex space in South End. The place has evolved to include a borrowing library of books on food, nutrition and wellness, and products for sale ranging from Ecuadorian chocolates to headbands. Walls vary from brick to bright yellow to teal and a lunar mural fronts the counter.
Juli - it's a first-name kind of place, as you can gather from either spending time there or perusing the ethereal language on the website's "About Us" - is the main food person. (Or, as the website explains, she "brings living art from nature's bounty and teaches the mysteries of the elegant palate.")
Randy serves as general manager. (And what GM wouldn't agree to the website's description: "He swims in a bottomless sea that none shall ever fathom and peers into the blackest of nights through which none can find his way."?)
But she's also quick to note that employees pitch in with culinary ideas and that everyone pitches in with everything: "We all do everything."
The menu has undergone a few changes since last July. The lineup includes breakfast dishes, from the classic Swiss bircher muesli (oats marinated in almond milk with orange, Fuji apple, raisins and spices) to raw buckwheat granola with choice of house-made milks (hemp, almond or coconut).
Sprouts come with local greens and hemp dressing; "Gaia's Treasure" tosses shiitakes, carrots and broccoli with ginger sesame marinade and puts them over zucchini noodles and rice. Raw banana ice cream and macaroons are offered, along with a pretty lengthy lineup of drinks: Avocolada is a smoothie with the consistency of light sour cream, made with avocado, pineapple, coconut, mountain apple juice and more; Purple Porpoise Magic (!) has berries, banana and hemp milk. Organic juices, alkaline-ionized water and house-made ginger ale are other options.
Juli (pronounced "hoo-lee") says she got a business degree in her native Colombia and concentrated on culinary arts during a Swiss hospitality education before coming to Charlotte for an internship at the uptown Hilton. She can envision a bigger place, but enjoys her current close contact with customers. "The community has supported us so much!"
If Luna's gets enough continuing support, the menu can diversify and expand; even now, I'd like a touch more variety. Diners have yelped for years for strong vegetarian/vegan/etc. places, but raw wasn't built in a day, and the fan base never seemed big enough before. Maybe it's finally reached critical mass.