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Four Seasons is Saratoga Springs' go-to restaurant for vegetarian and vegan food

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Four Seasons is Saratoga Springs' go-to restaurant for vegetarian and vegan food

One of only a handful of such restaurants in Capital Region
Four Seasons is Saratoga Springs' go-to restaurant for vegetarian and vegan food
Owner Richard Frank, of Saratoga, at Four Seasons Natural Foods Cafe on Phila Street in Saratoga Springs, April 11, 2019.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

Four Seasons Natural Foods Cafe

Address: 33 Phila St., Saratoga Springs
Year established: 1990
Owners: Richard Frank and Katie Capelli
Chef: Katie Porter
Chef's quote: “Salt is used to enhance the flavor of the food and not to be tasted.”
Restaurant type: Vegetarian and vegan restaurant.  Hot and cold entrees, soups, baked goods, juice and smoothies, craft beer and bottled beverages.  Take-out and outside seating.
Quote about restaurant's origins: “When we started, we hoped anyone would be able to appreciate and benefit from our healthful offerings. Just as you don't have to be from Italy to appreciate Italian food, from Mexico for Mexican, or Japan for Japanese, you don't have to be vegan to enjoy delicious plant-based eating.”

 

At Four Seasons Natural Foods Café, customers aren’t shy about telling the chef what they like to eat.

They love the Tofu/Vegetable Lasagna, Lentil Shepherd’s Pie, Southwestern Tempeh and the Sweet and Sour Seitan. For their soup cravings, they request steaming pots of Carrot Ginger, Tuscan Bean, Mushroom Barley and Curry Vegetable.

“That happens a lot now. People will ask for certain dishes,” says Chef Katie Porter.

For 29 years, Four Seasons has been Saratoga Springs' go-to restaurant for vegetarian and vegan food. Yet, even in the 21st century, as the veggie lifestyle blossomed, it’s only one of a handful of such restaurants in the Capital Region.

“It’s almost 100 percent vegan,” says owner Richard Frank. “Once in a while, we’ll do pizza with dairy or we’ll do an egg thing on a Sunday.”

In Saratoga Springs, there are restaurants with vegetarian menus. “But they also serve meat,” he says.

Diners and take-out customers help themselves to a sumptuous buffet of hot entrees and soups that change each day. Six entrees and two kinds of soup are scooped and ladled on one end of the bar, and on the other end, there are 12 to 14 cold foods, like nori rolls, hummus, kale, potato salad, seaweed, tempeh, tofu and colorful combos of beans and vegetables. Muffins, cookies and other baked goods are available too, and like all the edibles, they are made in-house, from scratch.

Frank isn’t into trends and fads. His motto is “keep it simple,” and he describes the menu as “old school natural foods.”

Famous diners: In 1990, when David Bowie was at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, he stopped in for a fresh juice drink. After he left, a café employee grabbed his cup. “He had left like a tiny bit. She drank the rest of his juice. She was so excited,” Rich Frank says. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers were at SPAC in 2000, bass guitarist Flea came in for some food. Actor Richard Thomas, from “The Waltons” TV show, was a customer. “His kid was at Skidmore,” Frank says. “He was super nice. I have a mole on my face. People used to tell me I look like John-Boy on ‘The Waltons’.” Actress Meryl Streep also had a bite when one of her daughters was checking out Skidmore College.
Contact information: (518) 584-4670, fourseasonsnaturalfoods.com

“I still believe in a whole foods diet,” Frank says. “I know there are tons of variants on that, but I think it’s a good, healthy choice. There’s so much different research now on what’s right, and it doesn’t all agree. But when you ask experts, everybody says vegetables. No one is anti-vegetable. For us, that makes sense.”

The café is also known for its fresh juice bar, where green drinks, smoothies and shakes are blended to order while you wait.

“It’s 100 percent organic. It makes a huge difference when you are concentrating the fruits,” Frank says.

When Four Seasons opened in 1988, it was a natural foods store run by Bob and Isabel Landes, and it was located on Broadway in the space now occupied by Wheatfields Restaurant & Bar.

In 1989, the store moved to Caroline Street, and a café was added. Frank joined the business a year later, when it moved to Phila Street. And in 1991, he bought the business from the couple.

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Back then, vegetarianism was strange to most people, Frank says. “There was almost no overlap between what we sold and what the supermarkets sold.”

That has really changed, he says. “The counter culture aspect is gone. And there have been so many improvements. There are more foods with better taste, but a lot of it has gotten commercial.”

For 24 years, the café and store shared the Phila Street storefront.
Then, five years ago, Frank and Kate Capelli, his wife and co-owner, separated the retail business from the restaurant by opening Four Seasons Natural Foods store on Henry Street.

“Now there’s more breathing room,” Frank says of the café. “We’re not a coffee house but some people come and hang out here.”

Today, the café serves more ethnic foods and more grilled items.

“The menu has changed over time. But a lot of it has to do with the chefs. The recipes are a blend of everyone who has worked here,” he says.

“Vegetables are sourced locally, some are organic, some are not organic. Over the years, more and more has been local. We’ve switched things to organic for the ones where the pesticides are pretty nasty.”

Head chef Katie, a Saratoga Springs native, studied cooking at the Kushi Institute and trained on the job in the café kitchen.

“When planning the menu, I think of color, texture, shape, and most of all, keeping the food vibrant and interesting,” she says.

More from Dine 2019: Saratoga County

 

 

Porter has dozens of recipes for entrees and changes the hot foods menu frequently, but many of the cold foods remain the same because customers get upset if they don’t see their familiar choices.

More than 70 percent of the baked goods are gluten-free.

As with the entrees and the soups, customers request their favorites, like the tahini carob sandwich cookie.

“It has a cult following. The people who like it are vocal,” says Frank.

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