I tried Green Sage Cafe back when they had only one location in 2010 (their original location opened in 2008). It’s impressive in the restaurant business when an independent restaurant, especially one with a strong commitment to sustainable and healthy practices, is successful 15 years after opening.
Owner Randy Talley has clearly found a version of the breakfast and lunch cafe that works well for the unique ecosystem that is Asheville, as there are now three Green Sage Cafes, sharing their popular menu items with people all around the Asheville area.
One complaint I have with a lot of restaurants is that I often walk in famished, and famished-Laura makes less-than-healthy choices due to sheer hunger. If a menu has only a salad here or a soup there, a single veggie-forward bowl that features something I don’t love to eat, I will probably gravitate to the richer, less nutritionally dense items, often deep-fried, often full of refined flour and sugars. My personal self-discipline just doesn’t head for the limp iceberg lettuce salad very often!
Here’s where the good news arrives. Green Sage has opted to create a menu that does the opposite: no matter how hungry you are, every delicious meal on this menu is going to feature nutritionally dense food full of the fiber, protein, and vitamins we need to sustain our busy days in Asheville.
For instance, I’m a huge fan of the Pura Vida Bowl, where sunny-side up eggs provide the rich yolky sauce over black beans, flavorful kale and onions, a hash of root veggies, and brown rice, all with avocado salsa to brighten it all. I feel full after eating it but not sluggish at all, and it fuels me for hours (my single-donut-for-breakfast days have a harder time managing that).
The Everything Avocado Toast with a crunchy everything-bagel seasoning on top is another favorite, and since the avocado is perfectly ripe, it checks all the ravenous-Laura boxes: light, chewy ciabatta, crunch from the seeds, rich creaminess from the avocado. All without deep frying any candy bars, which I think I’d probably eat if I got hungry enough!
For someone in the mood for fast food, though, Green Sage can still deliver, packing all the satisfying flavors of a rich meal with tons of nutrients. The Sage Burger is a welcome sight, I’m sure, for visitors who aren’t big kale and tempeh fans, but it is made of high-quality beef from local farm Hickory Nut Gap and layered with house-made chimmimayo, onions, pickles, lettuce, and tomatoes.
My personal favorite way to feed myself when getting hangry is the Smashed Falafel Burger. If you’ve never had crispy chickpea-based falafel, you’re missing out on one of the best fried foods I can imagine. Layer all the burger fixins on some of that great ciabatta bread, add some crispy falafel fritters, and put a little extra garlicky perfection on it with a dollop of hummus… mmm.
I had it with sweet potato fries, which was a great sweet contrast to the savory flavors of the falafel burger. I can’t imagine leaving more satisfied from anywhere: this place certainly will dish up a great salad if that’s what you’re looking for, but they have the variety to serve a huge range of appetites and tastes.
Green Sage Cafe is more than the flavors, though. They have so much space in their North Asheville location that it is a good place to write on a laptop without bothering others while still having access to counter-service ordering for both coffee drinks and full meals.
Even though I haven’t been to the South Asheville location, I know the downtown locale also offers plenty of space and free Wi-Fi. As one of Asheville’s many entrepreneurs and remote workers, I appreciate a place where I can patronize the place for coffee, breakfast, and lunch as needed.
One thing that I also find impressive is that Green Sage Cafe isn’t a sustainability bandwagon jumper. They’ve been caring about the environment and about nutrition since before it was nearly as trendy as it is now.
Take, for instance, their trash station. It’s absolutely standard to have one big trash can and a bin for dishes at fast-casual restaurants – they could get away with it easily. Instead, they have a compost section, a recycling section, and a landfill section, each with detailed lists and pictures to help people know where each part of their waste goes.
Very little has to hit the landfill because there are simply so many ways to compost the food waste and items like their compostable napkins. They also use as many recyclable items as possible, as well as durable stainless-steel plates that can be used nearly endlessly, washed in the back.
The team at Green Sage Cafe really lives their values – they often bring their own reusable containers so they can bring Green Sage food home for themselves without using disposable takeout containers.
To recruit people who share the restaurants’ values, they work hard to provide a living wage to every employee. They want to be able to be proud of the work they do. They also are actively involved in the community, connecting with multiple local organizations and sponsoring events.
As for a tour of the menu, you’re spoiled for choice here. Breakfast can go savory or sweet, like the Huckleberry Bowl, which tops coconut chia pudding with granola, blueberries, and bananas.
There are also breakfast sandwiches (don’t worry, it’s all available from open to close!) like my favorite Everything Avocado Toast but also a Carrot Lox ciabatta sandwich that features avocado, lettuce, red onion, and tomato alongside the chimmimayo that is a common condiment in these parts.
You’ll find that your vegetarian and vegan friends can easily eat here. In the same way that I can get something rich that is also full of six different vegetables, people with dietary restrictions like gluten sensitivity have actual choices here rather than just one or two options.
For the lunch menu, you’ll find a variety of wraps, bowls, salads, and even tacos. Many of the dishes are served with a choice of side, like sweet potato chips, sesame ginger slaw, and brown rice tabbouleh, or you can upgrade to one of the premium sides, which includes side salads, root hash, kimchi slaw, and more.
You won’t see a regular soda machine in this cafe, but you will see an incredible drinks menu. First, a full espresso bar and high-quality Larry’s brewed coffee offer options that make this a great spot for a coffee date, especially since Green Sage selected Larry’s for their practices and their fair trade, organic, shade-grown sourcing.
Then there’s the incredible cold-pressed juices. Pristine Green combines a little apple and lemon with kale, ginger, cucumber, and celery, while Heart Beet draws on the natural sweetness of beets and carrots and combines it with celery, apple, ginger, and lemon.
While cold-pressed juice is not cheap, due to all the fresh produce needed to make it, there are occasional discounted juices available, so be sure to check the case if you’re loving these juices as a splurge.
If you’re in a more creamy flavor mood, there are smoothies that feature fruits, juices, almond butter, chocolate, and even cinnamon in the perfect proportions for a great treat. These flavorful mixtures don’t have the fillers or added sugar that sometimes make it hard to know whether a smoothie is truly full of nutrients or not – Green Sage likes living their values, which makes it easier to make your choices too!
Finally, there are milkshakes – yum! From a Golden Turmeric milkshake to a Coconut Chai milkshake, these milkshakes are all made with vanilla oat milk ice cream, so they’re plant-based from the start. What else would you expect at this point?
I’ll point out that the menu does change due to variability, but the menu that is up-to-date will give you all kinds of useful information. There’s color coding for ingredients that are organically grown and notes for which dishes are vegan, vegetarian, and appropriate for gluten-sensitive individuals.
Some dishes have common substitutions that can easily make them vegan or vegetarian, and this is a routine part of the life of Green Sage. Using this menu, accommodating allergies by knowing what is in every dish and finding food that fits one’s dietary preferences is easier than in the majority of restaurants.
What I think has become very clear through this journey around the Green Sage Cafe menu is that they have chosen to take the principled route to success. They’ve designed a menu that manages to be affordable as casual breakfast and lunch fare, densely filled with high-nutrition fruits, veggies, and proteins, and still incredibly delicious.
I have made it a frequent stop on my journeys around the city, and I trust that anyone I’m meeting up with for a meal will find something flavorful that will make them feel refreshed and refueled for the rest of their day.