The Starfish Café
- story and photos by Lisa Monti
“Wellness for a lifetime” isn’t just the tagline for Starfish Cafe; it’s a kind of “mother sauce” for the flavorful meals prepared in the kitchen by executive chef Zac Fillhart and his apprentices.
Using garden-fresh herbs, vegetables and edible flowers along with locally grown and purchased ingredients, the Starfish Cafe has crafted an eclectic menu that goes beyond good, and straight to good-for-you. “We shop every day,” said Di Fillhart, executive director of PNEUMA Winds of Hope, the nonprofit that oversees the cafe. There isn’t even a walk-in on the premises, so you know it’s all fresh.
Each dish — from starters and soups to sandwiches and specials — is created and prepared with a focus on great taste and good health. That’s the commitment Fillhart made when she opened Starfish in 2013 as the centerpiece for a culinary learning program.
A recent lunch for our trio started with greeting friends we spotted at just about every table in the small dining room. It’s that kind of place: familiar, friendly, and comfortable.
Our timing was off because of a very long freight train so the must-have spring rolls were already gone. Get there early to enjoy the spring mix with tomato, carrot, mango, cukes, mint and sesame ginger dressing inside a tapioca rice wrapper. The accompanying peanut sauce is homemade, as you would expect.
Rebounding from the spring roll miss, we ordered the roasted asparagus “fries,” deliciously crunchy with a parmesan coating, and a delicious, addictive starter.
One of the daily specials made its way to our table: the blackened Mississippi catfish tacos with mango mint coleslaw were served with organic chips and homemade pico.
“We’re so small that we can customize a lot of orders according to taste and dietary needs,” Di said. “If you have dietary restrictions, this is the place for people who find it difficult in other restaurants.”
If you’re the kind of diner who likes to go by the numbers, the cafe’s menu has an Under 500 section just for you. I’m not that kind of person but the Thai steak salad caught my attention. The marinated strips of filet topped a large portion of romaine, garden fresh basil, mint and cilantro and all of it was flavored with a citrusy Thai lime dressing. All that goodness and just 160 calories. I know.
There are a couple of other ingredients the folks at Starfish Cafe like to use in generous amounts. “We put a heavy portion of love and happiness in every dish,” said Di. “Our regulars tell us they can taste it.”