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Local grocery, cafe seen in a new light

By Staff | Jan 21, 2011

Less than a year after arson nearly destroyed Good Natured, a health-food grocery and cafe in Martinsburg, what has risen from the ashes is a phoenix of lovely plumage.

Proprietor Pam Smith used the opportunity to not just rebuild but expand, adding a sunny, proper dining room to the rear of the space, where the worst of the fire occurred. Before, cafe tables were squeezed into a front room of the ornately Victorian building; now mismatched farm tables and chairs occupy an open space with walls painted alternately butternut squash orange and curry yellow. Large windows offer interesting alley views, with rough walls and variegated roof lines, as well as a flood of light that makes the recessed ceiling lights nearly unneeded at lunchtime.

Enter from the rear of the building, and you’re in the dining space. Come in from the front, however, and be entranced by the variety of foodstuffs and dry goods for sale.

The wide front porch of the building offers warm-weather seating. A front vestibule opens to an antique piano, now used to display candles for sale. Also up front is a bin of CDs that includes both local artists and venerable folkies, such as Pete Seeger.

“They’ve rekindled my interest in CDs,” said our 20-something server, who is likely more accustomed to receiving music via MP3 files.

An open bowl of garlic bulbs sits atop a shelf that separates the retail area from a nearly-open kitchen. Below are stocked supplements from bee pollen to aloe vera juice, almond-cashew cream for coffee, “milks” made from hemp and soy and beyond, homeopathic remedies for everything from acne to hot flashes.

Shelf-stable goods include all sorts of flours and butters, oils, canned veggies and condiments. A small refrigerator includes tofu and vegan cheese, and frozen vegetarian “meat”loaf.

After perusing all of this, a diner may be ready to sit down and look at the menu.

It’s vegetarian. And it all sounds fabulous.

Starters include soups, which on the day I visited included Thai curry, spring pea and chili. Homemade hummus made with cracked toasted coriander and cumin seeds and served with olives and warm pitas is listed as an appetizer but could easily anchor a meal. Chocolate-cherry or savory cheddar scones are also available.

Entrees include a Thai noodle bowl made with curried tofu, cilantro, coconut milk and asparagus served over Japanese Udon noodles. However, on the day I visited, a menu special departed from this. The bowl offered grape tomatoes and pea pods atop noodles slicked with peanut sauce, with a salad garnished with toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, watermelon radishes and dried cranberries.

A daily quiche special offered roasted tomato, feta and zucchini in a high, fluffy custard, also alongside a salad.

An upsidedown vegetable pie is a menu staple: peppers and other vegetables baked under a cheddar biscuit topping. And a vegetable frittata is available daily.

Order tea, and you’ll have your choice of loose teas or bags that include everything from a buttoned-up English breakfast to a variety called Sun Moon and Stars, that combines green, jasmine and oolong. Ask for milk, and out will come a quart glass bottle from Tricking Springs Dairy in Pennsylvania.

In a menu section entitled “Between Bread,” are sandwiches from a cheese-stuffed panini, to felafel that departs from chickpeas to incorporate sweet potato. There are vegetarian BLTs that employ a bacon substitute and burgers made from veggies (that sometimes include eggs as binders). A dessert table offers cookies and cakes, all vegan, including a chocolate-coconut cupcake, glutenless chocolate cake and a chocolate-chip cookie made with mesquite flour. By the cash register up front, candies include spicy ginger lozenges, as well as dark chocolate spiked with sea salt and almonds, or chilis and cherries.

A microphone stand and amplifier stack in a corner of the dining space attest to live music events. Additionally, the cafe offers cook-and-dine evenings that begin with a demonstration on cooking with less (or no) meat, and end with a meal.