Restaurant Review: Ezra’s Enlightened Cafe

It’s hard to say if Broad Ripple is one of my favorite neighborhoods because of Ezra’s Enlightened Cafe or if Ezra’s is my favorite restaurant because it’s in Broad Ripple but as owner Audrey Barron said, “it’s probably a mix of everything”. That sounds about right to me, and it’s a fitting answer from Barron, since Ezra’s is itself an alchemy of many elements. From their nearby farm that produces everything from fruit to wild herbs, the monthly offering of classes and the recently formed yoga platform at the farm for communal events, there’s a lot more to this cafe beyond the vibrant plant based cuisine.

As her college days were wrapping up, Audrey began to make shifts in her dietary lifestyle as a means of improving her health which had gone the way of most college students after utilizing the cafeterias and restaurants populating campuses coast to coast. Unlike most, Audrey became aware of these new habits and the effects they were beginning to have and took action to restore her health. Now it’s not just her own health that she’s guiding, but the health of her family, Indianapolis and abroad.

The joyous atmosphere and welcoming energy of Ezra’s permeates the area that it’s so perfectly cocooned within. Once the space is in view it’s clear how bright of a beacon this repurposed space has become. This was my third meal at Ezra’s and each time there’s been a steady flow of regulars, those wise souls hip to the vibration Ezra’s exudes. With an expansive and eclectic menu it’s easy to see how one could easily become what Norm was to Cheers.

The cafe is named after Audrey’s son and though I’m not a parent myself I was curious to hear her take on how she handles her son’s dietary choices. I have a deep respect for Audrey’s approach to this. While she does pack his lunch and make desserts for him to take to parties, she’s aware there may be times with friends where he opts for some unhealthy foods, but knows this is all part of the learning experience and his choices are his own. By providing Ezra with options, and more importantly, the information to back them up, she’s truly letting him decide to follow a path towards a healthy life.

The reason I love places like Ezra’s is because you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy it and that’s crucial to get people introduced to plant based foods, whether raw or cooked. When I first went plant based I basically ate stir fries, pizza, or when I was still doing eggs, frittatas, because I could work in new ingredients. I simply didn’t know what to do in the kitchen with plants. There’s immediate value in every dish ordered from Ezra’s because they’re overflowing with flavor and made with organic, often local ingredients that do the body good, but it’s the influence that each dish may induce that’s beyond calculation. The author John Green once said if you want to be great writer you’ve got to read, and read a lot. I think the same about anyone looking to expand their capabilities in the kitchen. Whether that’s in a more formal setting like one of the monthly classes offered through Ezra’s or by simply trying dishes or ingredients outside of your comfort zone, exploration is a powerful precursor to inspiration.

About 10 years ago Audrey graduated from the Living Light Culinary Institute and her expertise shows, not because the dishes are outlandishly gourmet, but because they are so balanced. From my understanding, one of the main purposes of Ezra’s is to spread education. By creating over the top dishes, the creation of which are beyond comprehension to most, plant based foods could seem to be of an unattainable league. The other side of that coin is that going too simple makes it difficult for newcomers to get excited about. The dishes at Ezra’s are impressive, but there remains a trace of, “I think I could make something like this at home”, which is so vital in generating shifts within customers, rather than leaving healthy foods as an occasional fare.

I sampled a few of their raw offerings and but they offer a fabulous array of cooked food as well. If I weren’t raw, I would be all over the Nacho Mama’s Bean Bowl ; ) Ahead of lunch I had a wonderful talk with Audrey, covering everything from her history, to our share love of musk melons, one of the luxuries of our shared Midwest residencies. While we conversed, I enjoyed an uplifting Blissful You elixir shot made with and their exceptionally refreshing Green Goddess juice. The cafe is lined with teas for sale, information about herbs painted on the walls and the conversation between Barron and I continually led back to herbs and their powerful properties, so I’m glad to have enjoyed one of Ezra’s many herbal offerings before digging into my meal. While many aspects of a healthy diet are ancient, there are plenty of recent innovations and Barron clearly has a sharp eye on both aspects. Seeing the option of adding CBD to drinks and some of my favorite superfoods as add ons for smoothies allows for more medicinal and personalized meals, but also signaled a level of understanding that’s hard to come by, even within vegan food businesses. The morning started brisk but it warmed up quickly so the cooling cucumber in the juice was especially welcomed. At home I just don’t find myself juicing apples too often and I forgot there was some in the juice, so when I tasted it I lit up! It was balanced perfectly, just the right amount of sweet along with the rest of the mix.

For my meal I went with a slice of pizza and the avocado bagel, both of which were raw and beautifully crafted. Oddly, the main thing I loved about the pizza was the onion. It had the perfect amount to give the dish a pop but wasn’t leaned on to generate the overall flavor of the pizza. As the picture shows, the pizza is covered in kale. Some people would be turned off by this but I’m quite the opposite. That being said, even though I do love greens, I still want pizza to taste like pizza whether it’s raw or cooked and this dish did not disappoint.

That was followed up with a pleasant surprise from the avocado bagel. Honestly, I was bracing to bite into an oversized flax cracker with some avocado and other toppings but the texture of the bagel was soft and the density was true to form. As if the spot on texture and artfully coordinated flavors weren’t enough, that plate is presented in way reminiscent of fine dining not usually synonymous with vegan fare. It’s that level of craftsmanship, forethought and care that shine through in everything done at Ezra’s making it more than you’re average health food spot. It’s no wonder that after over 150 reviews on Facebook they have an impressive average rating of 4.9 out of 5.

Hands down the best deal I’ve every seen on a raw vegan meal from a restaurant goes to the Buddha Bowl at Ezra’s. As Audrey and I concurred, it’s like the salad we make at home! It’s got all the goodies. Fermented foods, sprouts, falafel balls and a tahini dressing that pulls everything together. The portion is generous and I knew it would be too much for me this go around if I wanted to sample other things but to review this cafe and not mention this dish that’s among their top sellers would be an obscene oversight. One of my favorite things about the dish is that it’s not overtly raw. Whether you’re into raw foods or not, this is just a damn good looking dish with the flavor to back it up.

I loved all the savory, veg heavy dishes but it’s the desserts that were calling my name ahead of my day trip to Indy. While I could eat a whole tray of my personal favorite, Sam’s Brownie, instead I got 1 small piece of several different options because I’m just professional like that : ) Like I mention in my review of Chicago Raw, I’m more critical than the average customer. All the desserts I tried were outstanding but I would like to see some labeled as no bake rather than raw if they use ingredients that aren’t raw such as maple syrup. It’s not a big deal and 99% of customers won’t mind but it is a bit misleading. That being said, I still enjoyed them because if you get too rigorous with exclusionary rules it can soak the fun out of life at times and I’m not going to stress what was probably a collective tablespoon of maple syrup, one of the best sweeteners on the market. So even though these desserts were a bit of a guilt pleasure for me, they were still a superb and welcomed delight.

I tried the Almond Fudge Brownie, Sam’s Brownie, all 3 types of mini doughnuts and after walking around Broad Ripple a bit I circled back for a CBD chocolate. I knew well in advance that I’d be getting the Sam’s Brownie and it was as glorious as I remembered. As I type this I’m kicking myself for not buying extra to take home. I can’t recommend it highly enough. The display case had about 20 different options with the top selling being the Key Lime Cheesecake. I haven’t been eating cashews much lately but in my time at Ezra’s multiple people commented on it being a must try. It was even featured on the Food Network. So if you’re going to Ezra’s, be sure to grab at least one decadent dessert because unlike most sweet treats, these are made with whole, plant based ingredients that you’re body will truly appreciate.

Before the cafe opened Barron was doing workshops around Indy and her knowledge clearly translates into the dishes. Our conversation was incredibly inspirational to me personally and while all the food was wonderful, it was that conversation that particularly had me feeling a deep sense of joy. I admire so much about Ezra’s and all of the work Audrey does. I’m so grateful we were able to connect. I fell in love with plant based foods a few years ago and knew it was a path that I wouldn’t walk passively. I want to spread this love through many forms, much like how Audrey has done. She’s the type of person I look up to. A true rock star in my eyes.

While Audrey is certainly the captain of the ship, the rest of the staff are vital in making Ezra’s such a warm and positive experience. The manager Evan was exceptionally hospitable and the whole team was just so happy, a detail which speaks volumes about the cafe to me. Every time I’ve been in it seems like the most fun place to work and that energy is weaved into everything about Ezra’s Enlightened Cafe. I’ve never seen an unhappy personal there. How could you be with such a beautiful setting, radiant plant foods and a staff of people that my be strangers but feel like friends. I so look forward to my next chance to enjoy what Ezra’s has to offer because as Audrey’s story shows, when someone has a strong vision and the work ethic to back it, the possibilities are boundless.

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