Vegetarian food lover, are you? If you’re ever in my neck of the northern woods, you may want to check out the Gaia Cafe in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This little vegetarian hot spot is tucked away in the Eastown business district where funky shops and hip dining abound. Gaia has been a favorite with my family for several years, and it’s one of those places you return to again and again, feeling more at home with every visit. The restaurant sits in one of GR’s old brick buildings. The wooden floors creak when you walk on them, the seating is mismatched and even contains a set of old church pews, and the eclectic hodgepodge is topped off with original artwork hanging on the walls. Don’t think “little black dress”; think “come as you are”. It’s a friendly spot.
Upon entering the cafe, you’ll most likely be met with quite a crowd waiting in line to eat. No one seems to mind the cramped conditions in the restaurant’s entryway, which also contains the steamy and delicious smells of the kitchen, in full view to those who wait. If you enjoy being social, here’s your chance. Diners at the cafe love to chat with one another, and you’ll find the restaurant draws in a wide variety of customers. Hippies young and old, parents taking their kids out after church, college students pouring over their notes all seem to feel perfectly at home here. There’s an unusual feeling of acceptance, which is probably due to the friendly wait staff that treats everyone like a regular.
My guess is that besides the unique atmosphere, all these people crowding through the doors appreciate eating real food for a change. In today’s world of fast food and restaurant fare most likely whipped out of the freezer and nuked for the guests, at Gaia you’ll actually see the cooks chopping fresh tomatoes and avocados, the staff toting large boxes of fresh greens, whole fruit within the display cooler, and baked goods (such as our most favorite Gaia Nearly Famous cookies) being prepared from real things like flour and eggs – not pre-made dough.
I first discovered Gaia several years ago while perusing the site Happy Cow, which provides a search guide for people looking for vegetarian restaurants in their cities and towns. My husband and I love to eat out, but we’re not always thrilled with the fare, which is all too often pre-made in an industrial kitchen somewhere else in the country, then shipped in for the local chain to reheat before serving. We were tired of feeling weighed down after an evening out, and we knew that if we wanted to continue to enjoy the dining out experience, we’d have to make some serious changes in our choice of locations. That’s when we discovered Gaia. It’s a favorite weekend stop for our family, and my son never fails to eat every last bit of food set before him. With dishes on the Gaia Cafe menu such as the Mean Green Burrito and Cuban Tempeh, Veggie Hash, or BYOB, our plates are always set before us loaded with such great food that we don’t hesitate to take guests along who may not be accustomed to vegetarian food. Believe me, no one leaves hungry and no one has to stop for a burger an hour later. Everyone leaves full and happy, feeling like they did themselves a healthy favor. How’s that for guilt-free dining?
If you happen to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan and you want a unique and tasty vegetarian dining experience, stop by the Gaia Cafe at 209 Diamond Ave. SE. You’ll definitely be met with at least half a dozen smiles from staff and happy customers alike.