The wild-caught blackened salmon is coated with Cajun seasoning. Photo by Velton Hayworth.

The Garden Market & Bistro, 1280 Woodhaven Blvd, FW. 817-457-4040. 11am-3pm Sun, closed Mon, 11am-8pm Tue-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.

Eating healthy can be a challenge, especially when you live in a food desert. With a dearth of grocery stores selling fresh produce and whole foods, disadvantaged neighborhoods are often associated with low-income urban areas. An estimated 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts today, including parts of east Fort Worth.

That’s right where you’ll find The Garden Market & Bistro, a casual café that shares its space with a small fruit and vegetable market. It’s at an out-of-the-way location in Woodhaven, but that’s kind of the point. The restaurant is the brainchild of Robert Sonnen, who opened the eatery earlier this year as both a business and as a service to the community. It’s a place where locals can enjoy a healthy meal and pick up some in-season fruits and vegetables to go.

Purple Pop-up Shop- Rectangle

Garden Market & Bistro is also a Blue Zones Project Approved Restaurant. Blue Zones are regions of the globe where people often live to be 100 years old, and spreading their healthier lifestyles is the aim of the Blue Zones Project. To be approved, restaurants must follow certain guidelines: Plates must be 10 inches or smaller in diameter, desserts must include fruit options, and no saltshakers on the table.

In addition to the Blue Zones standards, Garden Market & Bistro hits all the healthy eating buzzwords: organic, sustainable, wildcrafted, whole, seasonal, Texas-grown, nutrient-dense, and non-GMO. Everything is made from scratch, from the organic ketchup to the salad dressings. The restaurant hires employees from the nearby community and keeps a garden growing out front with seeds planted by local Montessori students. Sonnen has also just confirmed a deal with a nearby school to use their gardening space as well.

The owner himself welcomed my guests and me when we arrived for a quiet weekend lunch. As he explained the restaurant’s mission, I could feel the passion in his voice. So much passion, in fact, that he convinced me to try an apple cider vinegar drink. The punch impressed me with its flavor, just a small pucker of vinegar enrobed by the fresh fruit juices.

Every ingredient we encountered tasted incredibly fresh, with a plucked-from-the-garden vibrancy that made it easy to eat and healthy. Simple but perky, the organic café salad featured chopped tomato, bell pepper, and cucumber over spring mix. A tiny container of tart balsamic dressing accompanied the salad –– we’re eating healthy, remember? But the cannellini bean hummus made up for it, richly drizzled with olive oil and served with five warm triangles of fluffy pita bread. 

They could have used a bit of that olive oil in the tabouli salad, which just seemed bland. 

Pita bread also paired with the chunky vegetable soup, chock full of big-bite summer squash, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms. It needed salt, just like everything else I tried that day. (I’m not the healthiest eater. My palate is used to queso and fried chicken, sometimes together.) Our waiter brought the saltshaker out of banishment to the tabletop with no problem.

The seasonal menu highlighted jackfruit as the star player, and I was stoked to try the tropical fruit in street tacos. Vegans profess that jackfruit tastes just like pulled pork. Only someone who hadn’t eaten pulled pork in a very long time would make that claim, but the jackfruit did look a bit like meat as it nestled inside steamed corn tortillas. Topped with chopped cilantro, onions, and purple cabbage, the jackfruit tacos were delicious, even if the hot chipotle crema set my mouth on fire.

My wild-caught blackened salmon felt less intense, a subtle (and sustainable) fillet coated with Cajun seasoning. The café’s grass-fed beef shone on the classic burger, which arrived with soft-baked potato wedges and zingy pickles. Sadly, the house-made organic ketchup fell short of expectations.

Apple cobbler and sweet potato pie both showcased their namesake produce with panache, even if it was a bit early in the year for fall desserts. By far my favorite sweets were the Fredericksburg peaches I picked up at the market, the best I’ve eaten all year. Tempting treasures filled the market side, including raw honey, chunky salsa, organic blueberries, shiny watermelons, and pretty green okra. For the residents of east Fort Worth, The Garden Market & Bistro isn’t just a good place to eat but a way to raise their quality of life.

The Garden Market & Bistro

Organic cafe salad $7

Tabouli salad and hummus $8

Soup of the day $8

Blackened wild-caught salmon $17

Classic burger $12

Jackfruit street tacos $14

Sweet potato pie $4 Apple cider vinegar drink $4