Health geek cafe

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Chef science: In 2016, Joey Woolston said he fell 30 feet from a tower at Burning Man and “destroyed” his back. Laid up in a body brace for the better part of a year, the son of Sacramento restaurateurs Matt and Yvette Woolston needed something that he could do in bed. So he decided to plan his family’s next business, the aptly named Backbone Cafe (729 J Street) that’s decorated with splendid murals and offers vegan, paleo and gluten-free health food with an attention to detail.

“There’s so much extra stuff being done to the food that people coming in don’t know about,” Woolston said about his meticulous cooking. “All they know is it tastes good.”

Before the grand opening “sometime” in February, he said he’d like to decorate the walls with infographics featuring bits of cooking-geek knowledge: how dehydrating nuts gives them a “cooked” flavor without damaging any delicate oils and how cooling his boiled potatoes fully before cooking with them increases their resistant starch that’s critical for a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.

After being raised in his parents’ restaurants—Matteo’s Pizza & Bistro in Carmichael (5132 Arden Way) and the Crocker Cafe by Supper Club in the Crocker Art Museum (216 O Street)—Woolston said he and his younger brother Tomas want to establish Backbone as a healthful brand and possibly expand in the future.

But only diehards will eat nutritious food if it doesn’t taste good. And that’s where Woolston’s finicky food preparation comes in: He cures his zucchini noodles ($13) in salt overnight to remove the dreaded watery nature of the dish. Then he dresses it in basil-avocado pesto and tops it with oregano, chilis and sauteed mushrooms and onions—to give it a “pizza-y” taste, he said.

Woolston makes vegan carnitas with oyster mushrooms braised for hours in avocado oil with peppers and onions. Then, he adds a dollop of mashed potatoes; the starch makes the fungus stick together in a satisfying facsimile of the real deal.

And Backbone isn’t just serving veggies. The restaurant offers grass-fed beef bone marrow with bacon jam and toasted sourdough ($11.00) and True Fat Fries ($6.00) cooked in pork lard and beef tallow that’s rendered in-house. Woolston said he also aims to open a bone broth bar that people can customize with options like rice noodles, curried coconut milk and fresh herbs from a soon-to-be implemented apothecary.

And—wait a second—Burning Man, health food, an apothecary. Hmm. If California ever loosens its regulations, would Backbone Cafe be open to offering the state’s recently recreationalized medicinal plant?

“Oh,” Woolston said. “Definitely.”