The whole yoga studio meets restaurant thing has been done before, most famously at Ubuntu in Napa, California. But, The Apothecary Kitchen at Mountain, an alternative medicine holistic wellness facility with yoga, acupuncture, and a healing foods eatery in Crown Heights, kicks it up a notch. Before treatment rooms and a yoga studio sits the cafe, an unfussy, minimalist room where customers choose their own adventure from mostly pre-prepared vegetable, meat and grain options displayed in a refrigerated case. Order at the counter and someone will deliver the goods.
The journey to bring such a facility to New York took chef Tom McCauley and wife/acupuncturist Justine Lynch seven years. But, as of two months ago, on a stretch of Franklin Avenue rife with dollar stores and barber shops, The Apothecary Kitchen offers a welcome relief of healing foods based on the principles of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is the ancient alternative medicinal system rooted in the Vedic culture of India based on natural healing. Ayurveda celebrates balance of the human body through herbs, diet, and lifestyle, and ties in both mental and physical wellbeing. Through yoga, naturopathy, and cuisine, Mountain honors the Ayurvedic approach.
"I want to help [people] live a life that prevents sickness," explains McCauley, who previously owned the now-shuttered Miracle Grill in the West Village. McCauley moved to New York from Ohio 25 years ago to pursue a PhD in literature from Columbia. Part way through he decided to become a novelist, and instead graduated with an MA. To support himself while writing he turned to cooking and never looked back.
In the last decade or so McCauley completed a dual acupuncture-herbalist program, which was inspired by a back injury he suffered. Doctors informed him he needed immediate surgery, but instead he underwent acupuncture treatments, which eventually cured his back issues. "It changed my life," he says. It also greatly impacted his approach to cooking, pushing him to embrace food as both fuel and preventative medicine.
Alternative Chinese medicine is rooted in Ayurveda, and one will find a blend of medicinal Chinese herbs and Ayurvedic formulas in all Apothecary dishes. The cafe's tonifying chicken soup is made from a classic Qi tonic called Bu Zhong YI Qi Tang, which is a ginseng-astragalus combination that energizes and boosts the immune system. A Qi tonic is a formula that promotes physical and mental well-being, overall strengthening internal organs, sinews, nerves, and the immune system.
Ayurveda isn't entirely based on eating organic foods, but regardless, half of the ingredients McCauley cooks with are certified organic, while the other half are grown according to organic standards. So it's all 100 percent clean, pesticide-free food. But, McCauley asserts that he doesn't follow any specific healthy dogma. He prepares vegan and raw dishes, but also cooks with dairy and animal fat. His vegan coconut muffins made with coconut flour, flax, banana, quinoa, and coconut oil have proved especially popular, and every day one will find a raw kale salad. Also, soon to come will be almond and cashew nut mylks added to Apothecary's line of cold-pressed fruit and veggie juices.
Although Apothecary has a printed menu, McCauley makes small tweaks and adds specials daily. He plans to start serving simply grilled local and sustainable fish in mid-November. All ingredients prepared at Apothecary are procured from within 250 miles of the cafe. Chickens, which hit the menu by way of Goffle Road Farm in New Jersey, are slaughtered the day they are delivered to Apothecary, and collaborations with Local Bushel and the Union Square Greenmarket ensure that produce arrives just one day after it's picked. Dairy and pastured eggs from Finger Lakes Farms go into non vegan options.
McCauley's belief in cooking with the freshest ingredients possible spreads from produce to baked goods. He's known for his agave-sweetened pies and buys his flour from Cayuga Pure Organics in upstate New York. The flour is milled just weeks before it's use in pumpkin, apple, and sweet potato pies. Apothecary's oatmeal, which goes into almond butter breakfast cookies and house-made granola, is from Cayuga, too. And though Apothecary does cook with organic evaporated cane sugar and dark brown sugar, McCauley says he's using it less and less frequently. In addition to agave, he's been balancing dishes with raw honey from Tremblay Apiary upstate.
There's free wifi and excellent Sightglass Coffee on brew, in addition to Mountain Rose Herbs tea. But, for a pick-me-up, go for the Magenta Ginseng, a decoction of Siberian ginseng plus beets and apples. Or the Sunflower Truffle Cups, which call for dark chocolate, sunflower seed butter, and love.