Soul food is often misconstrued as fat-heavy comfort food — or food that's hard on the heart but good for the soul. But Lonni Byrd, chef and co-owner of Love, Peace & Sol Cafe, a new vegan soul-food eatery at the corner of 35th Avenue and Albion Street, has a better definition. "Soul food is the food of the African diaspora," she explains.
Byrd and Caronne Porter opened Love, Peace & Sol on Friday to serve a healthy version of the food they love to a Park Hill community that doesn't need much convincing when it comes to good food. Although the idea of soul food cooked without meat or dairy seems like a hard sell, Byrd says it's quite the opposite. "Once they taste it, there's no need to convince them," she notes.
"We're using ingredients people already know," Porter adds.
The Cafe's opening lunch menu hits on many soul-food classics: black-eyed peas, collard greens, corn bread and split-pea soup. But the recipes eschew pork and lard in favor of coconut milk and touches of seasoning from Caribbean and Gulf Coast cooking, like Jamaican-inspired rasta pasta or lentil patties with just a hint of curry.
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Breakfast is also available, with breakfast burritos, steel-cut oats and spelt toast on offer. Porter, who says she earned the nickname "Juice Lady" for the fresh juices she has been selling at local markets, provides a number of liquid options, including a blend of orange, lime and sugar cane juices she calls Ghetto Phresh Drink — named for the nutrition advocacy group she founded called GHETTO Phresh. (The acronym stands for "Gaining Healing Education Thriving To be Organic.")
Byrd and Porter are both Colorado natives who spent time in Georgia before returning to Denver. Byrd says she switched to a vegan diet in 2010 and "spent a lot of time immersed in the urban agricultural scene." She has been cooking and catering for several years, selling vegan soul food at local farmers' markets. The Victorian mansion that houses the restaurant is also home to The Garden: Your Neighborhood Farmhouse, a community garden operation that sells produce at you-name-it prices to ensure that anyone who wants fresh veggies can partake. As members of the Garden, Porter and Byrd cook with some of the produce grown right outside their kitchen during the growing season. They also insist on GMO-free ingredients and use as much organic and locally grown produce as possible.
Love, Peace & Sol is open Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m and is currently cash-only. Brunch is served on the first Sunday of every month, and with Valentine's Day coming up this weekend, the cafe is offering whole cakes at buy-one, get-one-half-off every day this week.