The Present Moment Cafe is a staple in northeast Florida and is one of the most well known vegan and vegetarian options in the area. It’s tiny and unassuming, located off the main drag of St. Augustine in a little building with a garden behind it. Not only vegan, The Present Moment Cafe also focuses on organic, unprocessed, and living foods. We host a monthly vegan event series in Jacksonville and had heard so much about The Present Moment that we knew we needed to stop in and try it out.
This visit was a super late lunch and when we arrived we were the only patrons in the restaurant. We sat in a corner table on comfortable couches and relaxed. The ambiance is wonderfully casual in this little space – it’s welcoming and clearly designed for people to sit back and stay awhile. Our waitress was seated in the back with a friend and came over quickly to greet us and bring us menus. She also brought us a pitcher of water with lemon that was excellently flavored, the lemon was very apparent so they infused it perfectly. We went ahead and put in an order for the Maki Sushi Roll appetizer ($9) while we figured out the rest of our order. It didn’t take us long to decide on entrees and we placed that order in prior to our appetizer arriving. We opted for the pad thai ($16), the tacos of life ($11) and a side order of the beet salad (daily special).
The timing on the dishes brought all to our table nearly simultaneously, we only had our appetizer for a few minutes before the meals came out. This made sense though because the sushi was clearly labor intensive and was beautifully plated. The Maki Sushi consists of seasoned parsnip and pine nuts as the “rice” to hold the sushi together, avocado, seasonal vegetables, untoasted nori, and wheat free ginger tamari sauce. This dish was absolutely delicious. The flavors and textures of sushi were abundantly present. The roll itself was a tad bland, there weren’t any “strong” vegetables in there as anchor flavors, but once we dipped it in the ginger tamari sauce it was pretty perfect. It had a wonderful fresh and crunchy texture. It did fall apart a little bit as this is “two bite” sushi, but not tremendously. We highly recommend this as an appetizer. The portion size is very large and could even be a light lunch as a stand alone.
Our first entree, the pad thai, consisted of sweet and spicy Asian vegetables, served over kelp noodles with a sesame garlic sauce, and topped with curried cashews. This dish fell a little flat for us. It was a little heavier with the garlic sauce, but for us being non-vegan this wasn’t an entree that would make us substitute this for the traditional pad thai at another restaurant. If you are vegan, this dish hits the highlights of traditional pad thai, with just a touch less heat to it. If you aren’t vegan, this isn’t going to be the dish that wows you and encourages you to order it again. The Tacos of Life however, are actually life. Wow these are good. Tacos of Life consist of pine nut and walnut pate, fresh salsa, mexican “cheese” and guacamole, in two romaine shells topped with cashew sour cream and jalapeno vinaigrette. I can say with certainty that as a meat eater, if you would have put this in front of me I would have not known it was vegan. The nut pate had the exact texture and flavor of ground taco meat with the intensity of mexican seasonings to it. It was served in an “ice cream scoop” sized portion, as was the guacamole and salsa. The salsa was by far the best I’ve had in a long time. You could taste that it was fresh blended because the tomatoes were absolutely vibrant. The guacamole was equally as fresh and flavorful. This is not only one of my favorite dishes I’ve eaten in St. Augustine, I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite taco dishes I’ve eaten ever. My beet side salad was another hit. It was lightly dressed shredded beets and I devoured it. It was such a simple and excellent representation of this seasonal vegetable. To me, this would have been a great addition to the sushi rolls to give it a signature vegetable and some more definition to the dish.
The only downfall to our visit was the service was tremendously slow. We actually had to get up and go back to our waitress’ table where she was sitting at the back of the restaurant to request our check because we waited for so long without being checked on. Since we were the only people in there, it’s not that she was busy, she was just visiting with a friend and distracted. We also had a few moments to speak with the chef at the end of the meal and it was evident why this food is so amazing – he has an intense passion for the tenants of The Present Moment Cafe in delivering high quality raw cuisine. He spoke emotionally about how long he’d worked for the owners and how much he respected their vision. You can’t ask for a better person to represent a small business – the chef treats the restaurant as if it were his own. The Present Moment Cafe is bringing unique, high quality, exceptional food to North Florida and in a manner that makes it perfect for a visit regardless of your dietary needs.