Berkeley is known for its diversity, global identity and inclusivity; this includes the dining scene. As a local, it can be hard to keep up with all of the restaurants that open and close, and because I am neither vegan nor gluten-free in my dietary choices, it is easy to understand why Sanctuary Bistro never came onto my radar.
The restaurant is located at the opposite end of where I live in Berkeley. I am closer to Oakland, whereas Sanctuary Bistro is closer to Albany. Tucked into a storefront area that looks more like office space than retail or commercial, Sanctuary Bistro can be easy to miss. It is right around the corner from Philz Coffee, Farm Burger and the Gilman Whole Foods, but I still missed it when I drove by there in the past.
I was on a mission to eat a healthy lunch. I know all the reasons why it is important to be vegan, and I really admire vegans' unwavering commitment to the Earth, but to be gluten-free on top of that, I was ready to be underwhelmed. I was already feeling guilty walking through the door. Do they smell the bacon I had for breakfast? Do they know that I love French salted butter and cheese rolls from The Cheese Board Collective?
Well, let me tell you that I was blown away with my meal there! I was impressed with the "Mix It Up Lunch" option of one item for $10, two items for $18, and three items for $25. This is pricing per person, and because it was priced like this, I thought maybe the portions were quite small. The knowledgeable server let me know that each portion is a full size meal, and she was sure right. Since I was new to Sanctuary Bistro, I wanted to try everything! I went with the three items for $25, and I ordered the Chowder of the Day - which was king oyster mushroom; Roasted Beet salad over mixed baby lettuces, hemp seeds, toasted walnuts and a “bleu cheese” dressing; Blatt-Dilla - their take on a vegan, gluten-free BLT, made with Shiitake bacon, lettuce, avocado, Rhizocali tempeh, tomato and “mayo” on a brown rice tortilla. My dining companion was my child, and she loved the soup and salad and heartily ate both. As she was eating this healthy, beautiful lunch, I felt nourished watching her dip another beet in the "bleu cheese" dressing with spoonful after spoonful of creamy vegan chowder in between her bites of salad.
I have always enjoyed vegan food and try for a more vegetarian diet when possible, and I even have a few vegan recipes I picked up along the way that are real crowd pleasers, but it takes time to make vegan cheese, and that is time I do not have these days. After my daughter was snapping photos for this story, one of the owners Jennifer Jones Horton came out to greet her, thinking she was taking photos for a school project. I saw her husband, executive Chef Barry Horton peek out into the dining room. Jennifer and I chatted about Sanctuary Bistro and the soon-to-be-published cookbook they are writing. I gave my genuine praise for the food - the flavors, the textures, the richness and how sated I felt after my meal. I then admitted I am not vegetarian - let alone vegan - and Jennifer said without one ounce of judgement in her tone, "The majority of our customers are not vegan." I felt relieved because I love this place, and I want to return again and again. I cannot wait to try dinner and brunch.