Posted Online: March 18, 2013, 11:51 am

Simply delicious: Local, organic, vegan meals at Trumpet Blossom Cafe

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By Mary Blackwood

Red wine-marinated shitake mushrooms, grilled polenta wedges and a basil pesto-dressed salad of cucumber, radish, pickled cabbage and microgreens--all locally grown--and served as a dish at the Trumpet Blossom Cafe in Iowa City.
Simple. It could be a synonym for organic. While the rules for getting certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "organic" aren't simple, the concept certainly is. Nothing added. Nothing taken away. No chemicals, hormones, pesticides, fertilizers or genetic modifications as part of the growing process. The seed goes in the ground and nature provides the nurture — soil, sunshine and rain.

"I want to have as much food in my food as possible," is how Katy Meyer puts it. She's the chef and owner of the Trumpet Blossom Café, a vegan restaurant located at 310 E. Prentiss St. in Iowa City. Her most important goal is to use as much organic food as possible in every meal. Even the stevia in packets for sweetening the house espresso is organic. She uses as much local produce as possible, building relationships with Iowa farmers.

The Trumpet Blossom Café is named for the flowering trumpet vines that once festooned the patio of the Red Avocado, another popular Iowa City eatery, where Katy began her culinary career nearly a decade ago, first as an employee and then as a co-owner and chef. The closing of Red Avocado last year saddened many to whom the birth of the Trumpet Blossom Café in April 2012 was welcome news.

The cafe not only is for vegan diners. Everyone can find something to his or her taste. Meyer's goal is to create comfort food in new combinations that incorporate vegan choices while enticing non-vegans to take a chance. Her recipes embrace texture, color and taste, and everything comes out of the kitchen arranged with modest elegance. In addition to the meals served at the Trumpet Blossom Café, a full bar is available with cocktails, carefully chosen wines and several Iowa-made brews.

At the Trumpet Blossom Café, things are simple but never plain. The menu changes seasonally, but highlights have included a Florentine breakfast with dill potatoes; buckwheat corncakes; black-bean falafels on a bed of kale; sautéed vegetables with ginger peanut sauce; salads with orange-rosemary dressing; and a chipotle quesadilla. There's also freshly squeezed juice — a blend of orange, pear and carrot — that is wonderful, and hand-made ice cream, dark chocolate, with a hint of mint as fresh as if it had just been picked from the garden.

The food isn't the only comforting thing about the Trumpet Blossom Café. The space itself is both wide-open and intimate. A few steps from the heart of downtown Iowa City, the restaurant is open six days a week, serving lunch, brunch and dinner, as well as offering take-away and catering. Once warmer weather arrives, the outdoor seating area will reopen. Until then, the indoor space is large and sunlit during the day, cozy and welcoming at night.

The building itself, with its big, open dining area and high ceiling, was previously a tractor showroom. The evolution from displaying farm implements to serving food from the local farms feels appropriate to Meyer. "I like the idea that a tractor used to sit right here," she said as she stood in the center of her restaurant.

Turning the space into the Trumpet Blossom Cafe was the work of many people. The logo was designed by a friend. A vintage dining table came from the home of Meyer's grandmother, who also sewed the cloth napkins. An uncle's paintings adorn the walls. Tchotchkes from Meyer's childhood embellish the window embrasures, revealing her love of things with the patina of age. The massive antique bar mirror and the deep maroon wall color were left by the previous tenant. A small stage is used for music and readings.

Customers are developing their own ideas of how to make use of the space. A group of retirees regularly comes for lunch and stay to play bridge. Others read while sitting on the comfortable couch near a window. A local book club holds meetings at the restaurant. Home Ec, the craft boutique, is sponsoring Knit Nite. The space can even be rented for parties, wedding receptions and other events.

Back in the kitchen, Meyer and her staff pickle and preserve as much local produce as possible so that regional food can be used year-round. Specials are available daily since Meyer loves to experiment with recipes, using sweet and savory ingredients in new and unexpected ways.

For more information, including daily specials, visit