Restaurant Goal: Great Flavors From Healthy Food
The Purple Elephant expands customers’ dietary experiences by serving up new twists.
Originally printed in the July 2021 issue of Produce Business.
The Purple Elephant is on a mission. It spotlights the virtues of vegan and vegetarian food not just for philosophical reasons, but to familiarize more folks with the great flavors that emerge from clean, quality and delicious fruits and vegetables.
Restaurateur Sam Li says his main motivation is introducing customers to new experiences in healthy, flavorful food, expanding their understanding, and encouraging them to embrace a greater range of dietary possibility.
His goal is to serve the community by promoting physical and spiritual health that can be had from clean, flavorful food.
“We try to make it interesting,” he says. “We give them a lot of choice.”
Located in Northport, on the north shore of Long Island, NY, the Purple Element mixes things it finds delicious.
The restaurant emerged from an earlier organic market, and organic foods are still a key element in the fare offered. Owned by David and Erin Intonato, the original store offered not only commodity food presentations, but takeout items such as juices and wraps. It also leaned heavily on the cuisine of Costa Rica, a country the owners loved and frequently visited. When the couple relocated to Costa Rica, Li, an experienced chef, purchased the store and, in 2017, began to convert it to a restaurant.
Today, the restaurant draws from multiple food traditions.The Costa Rican flavor continues to have a strong presence on the menu, but, says manager Grace Brennan, the diverse staff contributes to the development of the fare, drawing from their own international traditions.
However, health and wellness are a driving consideration for Li. For example, the Purple Elephant takes food allergies into consideration as it develops or adapts dishes. So, rather than a breaded crust, the restaurant’s roasted cauliflower is dredged through almond milk then quickly roasted so people who are gluten free still can enjoy it. The Purple Elephant even uses multiple fryers for different foods to serve people who are concerned with food allergies and related issues.
Li wants consumers to understand the value of healthy foods, but with an emphasis on how various approaches to food can produce flavorful dishes. The lunch menu, for example, features vegan items, including Erin’s Most Excellent Eggplant, with breaded eggplant, organic baby arugula, cherry peppers, and basil aioli on toasted ciabatta. And its non-vegan offerings, such as the Grass Fed Buffalo Burger, features organic baby greens, tomato, red onion and avocado on toasted ciabatta or gluten-free bread.
Even when meat and seafood are the center of attention, Li says side dishes are important to how The Purple Elephant approaches dishes. Something as simple as the fries that accompany a burger can introduce customers to yucca. With dinner entrees, he likes to incorporate multiple vegetables not only to introduce customers to new produce items, but also to spotlight methods of cooking used in the restaurant that can bring out new flavors.
As with the emphasis on vegan and vegetarian, Li features items such as organic greens to emphasize the quality and taste they can deliver. He maintains a high standard even as he offers them new dining possibilities.
“Our quality is our promise to our customers,” he emphasizes.
Sides for purchase include roasted Brussels sprouts; sauteed vegetables; and an organic baby greens salad. Desserts include Dark Chocolate Avocado Fudge Mousse with vegan coconut whipped cream.
Li sources in a variety of ways, using Restaurant Depot organic items, distributor Ace Natural of Mount Vernon, NY, and KK The Farm, a biodynamic grower in Southold, NY, on Long Island’s North Fork.
Brennan says the Purple Elephant restaurant began operating with an advantage, as it could convert many of the customers who shopped the organic market, and who were already fond of the Latin-inspired, healthy cuisine. As such, Li built off the store approach, introducing more extensive dishes with a vegetarian and vegan emphasis.
“I feel the range of people we’re able to serve now is so much more diverse,” Brennan says. “We make pretty much everything in-house, even the avocado mousse.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant served the community with take-out food.