UPDATE: Since this story was written, Under One Sun has closed.
I had been wondering for a while what Under One Sun at Central Market had to offer.
I'm not a vegetarian or seriously into organic food, but as a frequent market-goer, the stand's free-spirit aura always called to me.
Tie-dye and flowers paint the area, and a starry tapestry hangs on a wall. Pamphlets and fliers about organic eating, sustainability and other green efforts are kept on a table. A homey counter stands before a small open kitchen that looks like something you'd find inside a friend's home. The service, conversation and overall experience shared that same vibe.
When the stand's worker greeted me, I felt a certain calmness while perusing the menu. He wasn't in a rush, and now neither was I.
I ordered a cup of robust tomato soup and the apple a day sandwich. He carefully prepared my order, as café owner Jolene Kohr explained the benefits of coconut oil, which was used for grilling my sandwich. After mentioning a few health perks, such as improving digestion and preventing high blood pressure, Kohr handed me a paper with more than 50 reasons why I should use coconut oil.
My meal was served on china, and the silverware was wrapped in a blue-and-green checkered cloth napkin. The soup came out quickly and was heated to the perfect temperature. Kohr, 28, said they use a secret spice not commonly paired with tomatoes, which gives the soup its earthy flavor. The sandwich was made with baby spinach, apples and cheddar cheese on whole-grain bread. That was the first time I ate fruit on a sandwich, and now I'll probably make my own at home.
The combination of ingredients in many of the menu items piqued my interest. Kohr said she likes to experiment with foods and spices, and observe how her customers react.
For Kohr, it's how she expresses her creativity. She has no formal culinary training, but she has worked in restaurants since she was 15. She said she learned a lot from her grandmother and gained much of her skill from other cooks. She said she looks to magazines and books to create her recipes.
Under One Sun has been a stand in the market for about three years. The business started as a local and fair-trade arts stand, and evolved into a full eatery about one year ago. As Kohr focused more on food, the retail side declined.
Spend a few minutes at the café, and you'll quickly realize that part of Kohr's goal is to educate her clientele. She doesn't do it in an overbearing manner. She shares what she knows and how it might help improve a customer's quality of life. It was like getting snippets of a PBS special sprinkled into a 30-minute lunch.
Kohr said she buys about 75 percent of the food she serves from other market vendors as part of the stand's sustainability effort. She said it makes her profit margin a lot smaller, but that's not why she's in the business. She does it to spread the idea of healthy living and living sustainably, and to provide the market with that option.
Before I left, I noticed a pumpkin-shaped watering can sitting on the counter. "Daily inspiration," it read. I pulled out a card printed with the words: "There are people who take the heart out of you, and there are people who put it back."
Under One Sun served me more than lunch that day. The café exhibits a concern uncommon in today's food culture, which warrants trust and appreciation from its customers. I left knowing the food I ate was healthy and fresh. Most importantly, it was made by someone who cares.
Cheap Eats is a biweekly column on local restaurants' meals for less than $10. Suggestions are welcome. Reach Leigh Zaleski at 771-2101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
LOCATION: Under One Sun, Central Market, 34 W. Philadelphia St.
CUISINE: Organic and vegetarian
LEIGH'S PICK: Robust tomato soup ($3.50); apple a day sandwich ($5.50)
PARKING: Meter; free 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in Philadelphia and Beaver Street Garage
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
PRICE RANGE: $2 to $8
KID'S MENU: No