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Food of Destiny

Seed to Leaf fills a meatless gap in Santa Rosa dining

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FULL FILLING Here in cyberspace, we can actually show you the sheer, phenomenal height of Seed to Leaf's lasagna!
  • FULL FILLING Here in cyberspace, we can actually show you the sheer, phenomenal height of Seed to Leaf's lasagna!

Mary Kern didn't plan on opening a vegan restaurant. But then she didn't plan on getting sick from acute lead and mercury poisoning, either.

Kern lives in Rohnert Park, but her former career as an artist and product developer regularly took her to Shenzhen, China. It was in China's manufacturing hub, a city where air pollution stains the sky brown and tints the sun red, that she says she was exposed to toxic levels of lead and mercury.

Once home, Kern felt foggy-headed for days, like jet lag that never ended. Her eyes were red and her nose runny. She knew something was wrong and visited 25 doctors. It was only when she visited an environmental test center in Dallas that she discovered the toxins, and she then underwent various alternative treatments to heal herself.

"I just had to claw my way back," Kern says. "I was told I had to rebuild my cells from the inside out."

It was switching to a vegan, raw-food diet, and healthy servings of chlorophyll, that really helped her feel good again. It was an initially radical change for someone who grew up in Nebraska eating the typical American diet heavy on corn-fed beef.

"I gave all that up."

Her son, Nathan, noticed the role diet played in Kern's recovery, and said he felt better when he ate vegan food, too. Given the lack of vegan offerings in Sonoma County, he struck upon the idea of opening a restaurant to bring the food he was eating to a wider audience. Together with partner Ismael Serrano, he opened Seed to Leaf early last year.

For a decidedly nichey restaurant, the place attracts a crowd of appreciative diners for breakfast and lunch. It's a narrow space with a long bar and a row of tables and banquettes. No doubt many customers are vegetarian and vegans, but thanks to talented chef Brooke Miller, the food is appealing to all. There is no tofu on the menu, an ingredient that's known to cause inflammation, Kern says. Instead, there are whole, fresh foods creatively prepared.

One of my favorite things on the menu are the "tacos" ($12), made with walnuts in place of beef and a cashew-chipotle cream. I also loved the warming beans and greens, a rich, turmeric-spiked broth loaded with pleasantly bitter greens and buttery gigante beans ($8).

Most gluten-free bread I've tried isn't fit for pigeon feed, but Miller's vegan version is excellent. It's more seed than grains and made with millet, teff and quinoa. If you call ahead, you can order it by the loaf.

The list of smoothies, fresh juices and "tonics" is great too. I've become a fan of the "cherry pie" smoothie (cherries, hemp protein powder, cacao nibs, cacao powder, mint and house-made almond "mylk"; $9), and I love the golden latte—almond milk, coconut oil, black pepper, honey, turmeric and a shot of espresso ($6).

The desserts are actually good for you, and you won't miss the eggs and butter. Check out the raw "cheez cake" of the day made with almond meal, coconut-date crust and cashew-coconut cream ($7).

When people thank her for opening the restaurant, Kern demurs, saying it wasn't really her doing.

"That was so much that wasn't intended that came to fruition," she says. "It was something that my destiny drove me to do."

Seed to Leaf, 25 Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa. 707.978.4043

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