By Bryan Baier
After finding our choice for lunch shuttered and seemingly closed forever, we hurriedly searched on my phone for another option. There was another vegetarian café just a few minutes away.
We drove a little farther into the countryside, up a winding road in the hills, rice paddies and thick foliage bordering the drive. Bright green shoots poked out of the water and the sound of cicadas was thick in the air. Arriving at the café, a hand-lettered sign beckoned in from the road.
Upon discovering the name of the place, Minori Shokudo, I felt it might be a good omen - Minori was my grandma's name, and it's not especially common nowadays. I wasn't wrong.
Open for lunch, Minori Shokudo is set in a country-style cabin with low polished slabs of wood for tables and colorful cushions on the shoes-off floor. A pretty shop in the corner sells handmade soap, a few baskets, some rustic jewelry with semi precious stones, beautiful handmade wooden kaleidoscopes, and other handicrafts.
There were three lunch options: my friend ordered a vegetable curry plate, ours with eggplant, potatoes, beans, etc. I ordered a rice pilaf studded with cashews, chickpeas, carrots, kidney beans, and herbs. There was also an onigiri-based plate lunch. Our lunches came with an organic green salad decorated with garden tomatoes and miso soup. My plate also came with a hijiki, carrot, and pepper salad.
Everything was extremely fresh. The proprietor, Minori, grows her own organic brown rice in a nearby tanbo, and other organic vegetables like tomatoes and shiso are grown in the garden adjacent to the café.
The longish drink menu has about ten each of hot and cold beverages including organic coffee and herbal teas. I had a stunning ume (Japanese plum) soda and also sampled a tasty iced café latte. They also have Heartland beer.
The sweets menu and specials change according to what's in season, but when we went there was a banana soy milk custard tart, a strawberry smoothie, a banana coffee smoothie, and a chocolate chip scone on offer.
Opened in March 2013, the owner/chef used to work at the now closed Nanpu Shokudo down the road. Dogs are allowed outside on the terrace, where there is one four person table (on the Saturday we went, three dogs visited the place in the time we were there). The southern and western parts of Izu are not well-served by trains so access is by car - or a hearty hike. There are a few Tokai buses that come close but run very sporadically so to really appreciate this region, it's best to rent a car or be prepared for a true walking tour.
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