I had heard of Hillside Cafe & Juice Bar a while back, when Noelle of Wanderlust Drifted (and Brown Belly Swimwear. And Flow Retreats.) shared that she was putting up a juice bar with her cousin Alessandra of Life After Breakfast (and Pino Restobar. And Pipino Vegetarian. And BRGR: The Burger Project. And Breakfast & Pi. Whew!). I had always wanted to go and pay the place a visit, if only to support two female creativepreneurs I highly respected, but life had been keeping me in the south for most of this year, working on a few new projects, and picking up a few clients in the process, so just the thought of crawling through at least two hours of traffic for a smoothie just wasn’t worth it.
Until I discovered that the cafe was INSIDE a garden center.
Just a bit of back story on why this little fact would get me giddy: I’ve been working really hard on starting a rooftop garden (one of the things on my to do list this year), and the Cedarhills Garden Center had partnered with the East-West Seed Philippines, who sell vegetable seedlings like tomatoes, eggplants, and various types of peppers for customers looking for something other than herbs and ornamental plants. So yeah, the geeky gardener in me was more than excited, and the foodie in me was giddy to get to finally go out there and try the food!
So after spending over three hours crawling through the bowels of C5 early on a Saturday to get to Mother Ignacia before 11 o’clock, I finally pulled up at the cafe at a half past 12 – and holy crap, after that long ride I was so famished I could eat a horse! But that wasn’t supposed to be the case, since I promised to go vegetarian for the day. And I don’t think they’d have horse. And eating a horse would be terrible.
But, I digress.
The cafe itself is small, but thoughtfully decorated with white walls to let more light in, and fun-looking wallpaper on corners (probably handmade by Alessa), with a small library of books with topics that range from vegetarian cooking, to guide books, to comic strips, which just makes you want to while the time away in this little corner of the city.
To beat the dizzying heat, a Mango Beet Smoothie (Php 195) was in order. Sweet mango and bananas with a citrusy aftertaste of orange is what one tastes in this cold glass of deliciousness, also effectively hiding the taste of hemp protein, with the sweet beets creating a happy orange tone to the predominantly yellow drink, topped with slices of mango and banana, and a pinch of flax seeds.
For an earthier, heavier drink, Hillside Cafe’s Matcha Green Tea Smoothie (Php 185) is a good option, thickened with banana, it’s a blend of almond milk, matcha green tea, and coco sugar garnished with rolled oats and sweet beets, making it a drink you can chew as well as sip.
Now, I’ve been trying to make better meal choices this year, and since the cafe is owned by two vegetarians, i figured I’d try to embrace that for the day (at least for lunch). The Beancurd Chicharon (Php 185) was an interesting choice on the menu, and since I love the stuff slathered with oyster sauce at the Chinese restaurants, I figured I’d like this, too! After taking a few bites of the appetizer, I have mixed feelings. The beancurd is crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, as expected, but the smell of the spiced vinegar it was served with was a little off-putting, like dipping into a smelly sock.
A particularly enjoyable dish that afternoon was their Haianese Chicken Slaw Salad (Php 265). Although the chicken looked like it came out of a can, the ginger almond dressing mixed with creamy peanut butter added that familiar Thai zing to the shredded red cabbage, lettuce, carrots, onions, with a smattering of Thai basil and a sprinkling of roasted peanuts. It really was a pretty good salad and everything was oh-so-fresh!
Tofu Teriyaki (Php 235) is my usual go to meal at places like Conti’s when I’m looking for a meatless alternative to what would be an otherwise very porky meal. Hillside Cafe uses non-GMO tofu slices with their housemade teriyaki sauce, served with ginger brown rice and shredded fresh cabbage. This wasn’t as thick as I had expected it to be, albeit a bit dry even, but I could appreciate the simplicity of my meal, sitting by the window watching the people and cars go by.
So did this exercise in semi-vegetarianism make me want to explore the lifestyle more? You could say it’s piqued my interest. My #MeatlessMondays may just include Wednesdays and Fridays, too, as more and more of my friends share their transformations once they switched to taking meat off their menus, both inside and out, when they made the switch. But gawd, a juicy steak is so hard to pass over!
I usually indulge in dessert at the end of a meal, but after sipping through two big glasses of smoothies (and a couple of trips to the loo), what I really needed to do was take a long walk around the garden center and look for my vegetable seedlings and maybe more herbs to add to my growing collection.
You will definitely see me back at Hillside Cafe, either enjoying another vegetarian meal (I have yet to try their zucchini pastas) or using the cafe as a co-working space – it’s a fantastic spot to get those creative juices flowing while enjoying the view of the greenery outside, sipping on a freshly-made smoothie.