By Kimberly Turner
When my in-laws visited from Sydney last year, we took them to some of Atlanta’s best restaurants. This year, their first request was to “go back to that place with the incredible chocolate cake” – Cafe Sunflower, a vegetarian treasure tucked in an unassuming Buckhead strip mall. But even if you’ve experienced the richness and decadence of Sunflower’s dairy-free, egg-free desserts – red velvet cake, chocolate peanut-butter mousse cake and the swoon-inducing old-fashioned chocolate cake – leaving room for them is a challenge.
The chatty, laid-back waitstaff buzzes around the earth-toned dining room, enthusiastically touting the day’s specials, soups (don’t miss an opportunity to try the thick, creamy butternut squash soup) and herbal iced teas (raspberry is particularly refreshing). With its combination of spring rolls, stuffed mushrooms, steamed dumplings, Asiago stuffed olives and sharp red pepper hummus, the Sunflower Box is the best way to sample a variety of appetizers. Sunflower Nuggets, served with zesty barbecue and tangy honey mustard sauces, can be ordered separately.
The Garden Loaf, beautifully presented on a bed of mashed potatoes with asparagus spears, would benefit from even more peppery mushroom gravy but, like the nostalgic smell of Mom’s meatloaf, it creates a cozy vibe that complements Sunflower’s homey decor. By day, sunshine filters through the geometric stained glass in the front dining area; by night, orange globes of light cast a warm glow on the cheerful faux sunflowers and casually dressed clientele. While the fajitas with soy steak, freshly made salsa and grilled zucchini, peppers and mushrooms are a good choice, the menu’s true star is the mock sesame chicken – golden and crispy outside, tender and moist inside – accompanied by organic rice and a thick brown sauce that strikes the perfect balance of spicy and sweet.
Dinner entrees, most in the $11 to $15 range, may be a little pricier than those at many vegetarian restaurants, but the generous portions will leave you wondering whether you can handle that chocolate cake. Trust us, it’s worth a try.