There is a sense of well being that washes over you the moment you step inside Feel Food. Everything in the popular West Village café and juice bar - from the white washed walls to bustling counter serving out teas, wraps, and salads to the product packed cases and shelves - seems to vibrate. The energy comes in no small part from chef and co-owner Fernando Aciar. While Feel Food offers the usual slate of healthy juices and cleanses, Aciar is first and foremost a chef who wants everything to taste as wonderful as it is meant to make you feel.
Originally from Argentina, Aciar owned and operated a café in Rio’s Corocovado neighborhood for seven years before moving to New York. Responding to the lack of Brazilian coffee culture in the city, Aciar opened O Cafe in 2011. It was soon after that he started developing the idea of a juice bar that would feature well selected products largely from Latin America. Partnering with his friend Gaeleen Quinn, who had previously founded the Bogotá Wine & Food Festival, they opened Feel Food last fall.
Staples like heirloom grains and legumes are stacked next to the organic cocoa powder and nibs from Bahia that line the shelves. Packaged yuca puffs and hibiscus crackers can be quickly added to one of their freshly made salads or wraps. Beyond the usual nut milks like almond and matcha cardamon, there is black sesame rose and cashew turmeric ginger milk. Batidos like the Very Rojo (pitaya, strawberries, blueberries, orange juice) and Quinoa Manjar (sprouted quinoa and amaranth, raisins, honey, coconut flakes, and almonds) are made to order while cold-pressed juices and alkaline waters stand at the ready. There is dessert too and their arroz con leche is made with brown rice, orange peel, clove, vanilla, and coconut sugar.
While they source locally if possible, they also work with organic farms and food purveyors wherever they happen to find them. “We bring [ingredients] from people that we know,” says Aciar. “Even living here, I’ve met Brazilians who process exotic super foods in the Amazon: cashews, mangos, açai, acerola, and any kind of food you can imagine.”
Rather than mask the long list of healthy foods they work into their recipes, they highlight them. “When you’re bringing flavors to life, you’re not covering it with sugar,” says Aciar. “When you work with good products, they’re always good for you because they’re unprocessed.” Their Cold Buster - a steaming blend of lemon, bee pollen, honey, ginger, cayenne, and ground cinnamon - got many New Yorkers through a harsh winter but it was also delicious.
While Feel Food offers an incredible selection of raw and gluten-free options, Aciar advises moderation and balance. “There is a way that you can go beyond the same dishes that everyone is doing,” says Anciar. “I’m not looking for people to be raw, I’m looking for people to have the great experience of healthy food and taste.”