1301 Locust St. Ste. D Des Moines, IA
QISA (3.5, 4, 3, 3.5), $6-10, Vegetarian
Ritual Café is a deep blue dot in a light blue city in a purple rural state. Although it is one of the very few all vegetarian restaurants in Des Moines, Iowa, the vegetarian menu comes off as secondary to the restaurants primary role as an ultra-liberal, culturally diverse coffee house.
The walls of the Ritual Café are covered with works of local artists, and the art runs the gamut from paintings to paper cuts to daguerreotypes. The upper walls are covered with concert posters from local musicians, and every bit of space in between sports a bumper sticker, poster, or silk screened mat that praises the goddess, invokes meditative Sanskrit letters, supports Bernie Sanders, advertises Cesar Chavez Day, or rails against Israeli apartheid of Palestine (but conspicuously ignores every other country with any marks on their civil rights record, including the United States). Despite the low-key, relaxing atmosphere, Ritual Café does not take the safe road, finding something that will offend at least someone. Even their tip jar says, “support counterintelligence.”
Which doesn’t change the fact that they make a tasty sandwich.
I ordered the Sweet & Spicy which has curry chickpea spread, mango jam, massman curry spread, spinach leaves, and red onion grilled on marble rye bread. The sandwich was a wonderful mix of texture and flavor, combining sweet mango with a moderately spicy curry. The chickpeas are mashed only slightly to give the sandwich a topography of textures. Served with thick cut tortilla chips, it makes for a decent lunch.
The other lunch items were equally tempting, but I will have to wait till my next visit to try out the Po Boi’ (red and green peppers, onions, artichoke hearts, cheddar and feta, grilled on garlic focaccia) or the black bean burritos with sweet potatoes and Serrano peppers. Or perhaps I will stop by for breakfast instead and try out the Grateful Oats made with rice milk chai and hempnut granola, or maybe even the breakfast bowl with steamed eggs, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, and feta cheese.
I went for a simple cup of coffee, which was reasonably decent but nothing to rave about. I suppose I could have gone for something more exotic, like a Mayan Mocha (espresso, Mexican chocolate and steamed milk) or a Horchata Latte (espresso, steamed milk, almond, cinnamon, and vanilla flavors.) Maybe, just maybe, I could have gone all out with an Omega Hemp Nut Smoothie, a series of drinks that seem to combine exotic flavors, health benefits, political consciousness, and a straw.
It is strangely refreshing to walk into an establishment and feel like the conservative odd man out. Me, a man whose parents were at the forefront of the liberal elite at CalTech, a man who has only once in his life broken his Democratic voting streak to vote Independent, a man who has raised his two sons on a steady diet of multicultural rhetoric, rational thought, dogmatic challenge, and sympathy for the downtrodden. I had the strangest urge to rouse a little rabble and talk a little trash. I wanted to challenge every one of their uber liberal assertions. Israel is the bad guy and not Hamas? Do you even read newspapers? How do you juxtapose goddess symbology with Sanskrit meditative letters straight out of a patriarchal tradition?
But I didn’t, and I shouldn’t, and I won’t. In the end, Ritual Café is a relaxing, chill coffee house in the best of liberal traditions. The staff are polite, the menu is creative, and the atmosphere is calming.
I’ll save my belligerence for Sunday morning at Cracker Barrel. They don’t serve hemp nut smoothies.