We investigate raw food dining spot The Cider Press Café.

It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s officially summer in Southwest Florida. Which means the thought of eating something hot makes me feel like I’ll melt. Unfortunately, a girl can’t live on salads and popsicles alone.

The solution? A little slice of heaven: A creamy cool slice of a chocolate ganache tart, a sip of hard hibiscus lemonade, or a soothing banana chai smoothie from The Cider Press Café. This new Naples hot spot cool spot serves gourmet raw, vegan and gluten-free food and drinks, often with a Florida twist.

Co-owners Roland Strobel and Johan Everstijn have penned their vision for the restaurant right on the menu, where they say: “[we] choose to bring you uncooked foods to awaken your palate to the true tastes, colors, and vitality that our foods naturally have.”

The kitchen—with no hot stove in sight—is slightly screened off from the dining area and features a host of unusual culinary equipment, like a dehydrator and a sous vide machine. In raw dining there’s no butter or melted cheese to hide behind, so every detail in the preparation process matters, as does using super high quality ingredients.

cider press cafe

Take, for example, the tortillas. “We use non-GMO corn,” explained Everstijn. “We make a huge effort in what we buy, and want it to be good quality. We know that normal corn, for example, tends to be genetically modified, which is something we don’t want here. For 40 tortillas, it takes about an hour of labor, another half hour to actually make the little tortillas by hand, and then an additional 24 hours of dehydration. These aren’t your everyday enchiladas.”

Strobel and Everstijn clearly have a passion for healthful food, and during both of my visits to the restaurant, I observed them circling the dining room, chatting with patrons and happily explaining different menu items. When Executive Chef Everstijn stopped by our table to chat he explained the process of making a dish I’d had on a previous visit, the cheesy kale chips. It’s a multi-step recipe, which includes dehydrated kale, cashew cheese and nutritional yeast. “Preparation time is about an hour, because we have to make the cashew cheese,” explained Everstijn, adding, “[The cashews] are soaked for a few hours, then we add nutritional yeast, salt, and spices, red or yellow pepper for coloring, blend it, and massage the whole thing into the kale, which has also been prepped. Then it goes into the dehydrator for two days, sometimes more. We like to leave it in there a little longer for good measure.”

cider press cafe inside

My lunch date, Samantha Duffy, took the gorgeous photos accompanying this review. We started our meal with cold drinks—I opted for a selection from their juice menu, the Emerald Green. Featuring D’Anjou pear, parsley, cucumber, celery, and lime, the juice tasted refreshingly crisp and clean, and had a fun bit of froth at the top. Pear, which has anti-inflammatory properties, was the strongest flavor, with the celery and parsley offering herbal notes. Samantha enjoyed a banana chai smoothie, which was a fantastic alternative to a milkshake for the dairy-free set. Both would be good substitutes for the sugar-laced fast food milkshakes and slushies that tempt us on muggy afternoons.

As an appetizer, we ordered the coconut spring rolls, which are filled with sea tangle kelp noodles (which are high in calcium and iron, two things vegans can have trouble getting enough of), cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers. Everything is rolled up in a coconut wrap and served with an almond Caribbean jerk sauce. The wrap was thin, like parchment, and slightly chewy with a definite coconut taste. The filling made the rolls crunchy, and the sauce had only a hint of jerk spice, which balanced nicely with the clean flavor of the filling. This appetizer is a perfect starter for summer date nights, or a lunchtime treat in place of a traditional salad.

cider press cafe spring roll

For lunch, I tried a new menu item, the King Trumpet Louis Salad. I demanded that Samantha try the Buckingham Farms tomato ‘lasagna’—I’d had it before and knew it was a not-to-be-missed menu item. The ‘lasagna’ truly is wonderful. I actually watched her eat it in envy, wishing I’d ordered it. The salad was not what I had expected (but fans of a traditional Crab Louis salad may have more luck than I did). The King Trumpet mushrooms were mixed in with a dressing, which had a sun-dried tomato base. The beautiful and delicate trumpet mushrooms just seemed to be drowning in the heavy dressing.

But let’s focus on the good stuff. The Buckingham Farms tomato ‘lasagna’ features hearty slices of locally grown tomatoes and thin ribbons of zucchini layered with sun dried tomato marinara, herbed cashew ricotta and a basil walnut pesto. It’s a deceptively simple dish that delivers an explosion of flavor with each bite. It all reminds me of summer: a delicious ripe tomato, fresh basil, the slight crunch of zucchini, perfection! My favorite part, though, is the onion bread that is served alongside it. A flat triangle of what looks like smashed and tangled onion slices, the bread is actually dehydrated onion, and is crispy enough to give even the hardcore Paleo/gluten-free folks the illusion that they are crunching on a piece of fresh crusty bread. By far, the lasagna is my favorite dish on their menu, and Samantha loved it so much she ordered a couple more to-go and took them to her parents, who eat gluten-free and have not had lasagna in years.

cider press cafe dessert

We could have (and probably should have) stopped there. But Samantha pointed out the desserts, and being in the throes of Ironman training, I thought, why not? We have not reviewed many desserts for FitNation, but The Cider Press Café features healthy(ish) desserts with quality ingredients. And in truth, eating healthy shouldn’t mean foregoing all sweets all the time. We ordered and shared the chocolate ganache tart and the salted caramel cheesecake. The tart featured coconut oil (high in medium chain triglycerides and lauric acid for energy boosts), agave, and cacao powder. It reminded me of a very good dark chocolate bar—just a little bit sweet, with the slight bitterness of the chocolate coming through. The salted caramel cheesecake is cashew-based, with a walnut/date crust. It had the same texture you would anticipate from a dairy cheesecake, which was impressive, considering it’s made with soaked cashews. Pink Himalayan sea salt dotted the top and provided a salty contrast to the sweet dessert. Both the tart and the cheesecake were such treats that I’ve added a trip back to my summer to-do list—and you should too.

If You Go
Hours: The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily. From 9-11 p.m. all sangria is half priced, as is wine from open bottles. For summer, sparkling wines are 30 percent off.
Where: 1201 Piper Blvd., Suite 26, Naples.
Details: Prices are on the pricey side of moderate, with entrees ranging from $15-$22. For more info, call 239-631-2500 or visit CiderPressCafe.com.

Raw or Cooked?
Before you run out and purchase your own dehydrator, know this: Cooking actually can do a veggie good. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that boiling or steaming tomatoes, carrots, and zucchini better preserves the antioxidants, partly due to the cooking process breaking down the thick cell walls of plant cells. So while cooking may decrease some nutrients, such as Vitamin C, it can have the opposite effect with other nutrients, making them easier to absorb or available in higher amounts.

Vegetable Nutrient Better cooked or raw?
Carrots Carotenoid Cooked
Broccoli Vitamin C Raw
Tomatoes Lycopene Cooked
Zucchini Carotenoid Cooked
Beets Folate Raw
Onions Allicin Raw