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Soul food

There's a new chef, new kitchen, and new cuisine at Smiling Dog Café



- HEALTHY LIVIN’ :  Chef Brett Van Linge creates vegetarian and vegan fare that lightens and energizes at Smiling Dog Café. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • HEALTHY LIVIN’ : Chef Brett Van Linge creates vegetarian and vegan fare that lightens and energizes at Smiling Dog Café.

If you take yoga classes at Smiling Dog Studio, you may notice a new scent wafting through the space—not quite sweat or inner peace, but a gentle, intricate aroma. Surrounded by a patio, the kitchen is situated so visitors can peep through the windows to watch the chef in action. Pull up a stool at the counter and watch your juice blended, or munch on a milk chocolate almond cookie or a macaroon while browsing a magazine.

The café is emerging from a complete overhaul. Previously a raw food café (meaning the food was prepared without being cooked), the eatery now boasts a balanced and extensive menu featuring main courses, steaming soups, and salads that are raw, vegan, and vegetarian. Though the cuisine is well suited to the yogic lifestyle—fueling physical exertion while leaving practitioners light and energetic—the menu appeals to anyone who likes to eat healthy and feel satisfied.

Twenty-six-year-old chef Brett Van Linge is a self-taught cook and has been a dedicated vegetarian for more than six years. The rich flavors in his dishes are influenced by his travels in Southeast Asia and India.

“I went alone and basically just wandered around eating delicious food,” Van Linge said.

His gentle, open personality is reflected in the meticulous way he prepares, garnishes, and presents food. While preparing a recent lunch entrée, he finished by sprinkling a pinch of bright purple cabbage and cilantro on top of the salad.

The rest of the plate included a pesto, mushroom, ricotta, and basil lasagna with fresh tomatoes, accompanied by a cup of hot butternut squash soup with carrot and coconut curry, served with red quinoa.

“The produce is beaming with light, it looks vibrant and glistening, alive,” Van Linge said. “I put a lot of love and time into it.”

Made with whole foods, nothing is oily or heavy. The chef uses olive oil in place of canola, and nothing contains white sugar or white flour. Honey, agave, and maple syrup are used as sweeteners.

The café now has a dehydrator, too. A big box with little shelves, this machine works at such low temperatures it’s hardly considered cooking. Foods that pass through it maintain their rich nutritive and healing properties. Currently in the dehydrator are raw onion flatbreads, sun burgers, coconut macaroons, and cacao truffles.

“The food is light and flavorful. You are ready to move afterwards, while your senses are satisfied,” Van Linge said.

The most recent change to the café is the produce sourcing. Pozo Organic Farm and Thomas Hill Organics supply ingredients. The Pozo Farm is a sustainable, off-the-grid farm that grows on a small scale for friends, neighbors, and a few local restaurants. This year, it offered Kiowa blackberries, table grapes, pomegranates, walnuts, olives, and other fruits. Located in the East Hills of Paso Robles, Thomas Hill Organics is a 10-acre family-owned and -run farm dedicated to growing organic, unique, heirloom fruits, veggies, and nuts.

Smiling Dog Café is located at 1227 Archer St. in San Luis Obispo, where Higuera and Marsh intersect. Lunch is served Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and brunch is available Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For more information and to find out what is being served that day, call 546-9100 or visité.

Fast facts

The Small Wilderness Area Preservation (S.W.A.P.) is looking for volunteers to help alleviate erosion and provide weed control in the Elfin Forest. Jan. 8 is the next work party from 9 a.m. until noon. Volunteers meet at the north end of 15th Street off Santa Ysabel in Los Osos. Don’t forget work gloves! For more info, call 528-0392. …

Always wanted to learn Spanish or Italian? Register now for introductory language classes, which include plenty of opportunities to converse. Spanish class meets Thursdays from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and Italian class meets Thursdays from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the Colony Park Community Center in Atascadero. Classes start Jan. 20 and end March 31. The cost is $60 for residents and $66 for non-residents. Register online at

Intern Alycia Kiley compiled this week’s Strokes and Plugs. Send items for consideration to [email protected].

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