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Into Shelley’s Belly: Origin Natural Food

A good cappuccino (left); succulent (right) photos by Matthew Shelley
A good cappuccino (left); succulent (right) photos by Matthew Shelley

As I was leaving my favorite salon yesterday, I noticed a new coffee shop called Origin Natural Food across the street. I was intrigued by its window displaying terms like “healthy, preservative-free, chef-prepared, and hand crafted coffee.” I thought we would be getting another genuine, craft coffee shop with handmade goodies to go with. But then I saw some dreaded terms that I despise: gluten-free and natural. Natural is one of the most cheaply, sold out terms that’s confusing and dismantling the health food community today. It has no real meaning. It has no regulatory oversight whatsoever and can be plastered across virtually any product with impunity. Also, as Nancy mentioned the other day, gluten-free is only useful for those people whose bodies cannot tolerate it. It has no health effects – good or bad – for anyone else. Ever since fat-free products starting making us the most obese nation in the world, any new supposed healthy “term” gets pasted across products from cereal to soda, claiming its promise of making you a better human with a smaller waist. Ok, ok, I will chill out and get off my home-grown, herbal garden stool. Fortunately, I consulted with my dear friend, Raya, and she calmed me down (a little); however, this is not going to end well.

Welcome to the machine (left); Jess Special (right)
Welcome to the machine (left); Jess Special (right)

Origin Natural Food has some things going for it. It’s in a great location, and the coffee is good, but that’s all. I parked the scooter, locked up my helmet, and moved inside with a morning fogginess that I soon hoped to dispel with some good coffee and clean eating. The place has a post-modernist, college café feel with lots of clean, empty space and monotone textures. The concrete minimalism is consistent throughout, with a large square coffee bar in the center. There is plenty of seating, a butcher paper menu, and a “prepare your own” salad bar. It’s hit several décor trends all pieced together in sterile fashion. There are tiny succulents, hand written menus, mason jars for water, and black and white photos of Dallas (which were actually pretty nice). The food is all prepared by a Chef Jeff Smith’s hands and stored away in compostable containers inside the refrigerators in the back. It can stay there for up to three days. I was immediately turned off by the hospital-style selection, for it didn’t seem like fitting food for craft coffee, but Raya again reminded me of its purpose. Much like My Fit Foods, it’s a convenient, healthy take-out style establishment for the Uptown Fitness Brigade on-the-go. If only it were just that. You can also dine in, but I don’t recommend it.

The effing microwaves
The effing microwaves

I looked over the stacked dishes in the cooler and found the breakfast section. I decided on the apple cinnamon pancakes made with fuji apples, cinnamon, vital farms eggs, Madagascar vanilla, honey, sea salt, coconut oil, coconut milk, and maple syrup. I also tried my hand at the Jess Special, which is a gruel-type blend of egg whites, almond butter, nutmeg and some other indiscernible ingredients I don’t care to remember. On the surface, they seem exciting, healthy and clean, but then you realize that if you want to eat them with your coffee, you have to put them in a effin’ microwave. No matter how chef-inspired, gluten-free, grain-free, organic, local, farm raised, and cage-free the dishes are, as soon as you put it in the microwave, the flavor and substance of the food dies a fast, radiation-induced death. Using a microwave to cook food is about as unnatural as it gets. The pancakes became lumps of sweaty dough that turned to mush. The flavors quickly deteriorated and no amount of their thin maple syrup could resuscitate it. The Jess Special felt wrong in my mouth as well and remained flat on flavor. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good steel cut oat, almond, pumpkin seed honey sweetened breakfast, but this slop was just unpleasant, and I couldn’t finish either dish. I also completely disagree with using egg whites only. They should have included the yolks, which are full of nutrients and good cholesterol (my opinion).

Apple cinnamon pancakes (left); paper menu (right)
Apple cinnamon pancakes (left); paper menu (right)
The interior
The interior

Fortunately, my cappuccino was well-balanced and smooth. I very much enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I will not be going back. Origin’s motto reads: “Taking the hard out of healthy.” No. Stop pandering to laziness and respect the fact that healthy is not easy. It takes patience and effort. It’s like McDonald’s offering a healthy breakfast option. It just isn’t possible. I can understand the efforts of Origin to accommodate its audience of the yoga-pants-everywhere/protein shake-diet soda-energy drink-skim milk-egg white crowd, but that just perpetuates the unreasonable idea that healthy can be easy. Perhaps its lunch and dinner options reheat well, but I’ll just have to hope on that one. I would love to try Mr. Smith’s food directly out of the kitchen, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that day to come.

  • Michael R

    So if I’m reading correctly, you’re claiming that a) putting something in a microwave automatically makes it lose its nutritional and taste properties, b) radiation is an “unnatural” means of cooking, c) eating healthfully is necessarily difficult.

    I don’t have anything against you, I like SideDish, and I think this place looks pretty miserable… but you sound just as insufferable as any member of the “yoga-pants-everywhere/protein shake-diet soda-energy drink-skim milk-egg white crowd” when you make statements like that, dude.

    Also, grilling and roasting are both cooking by radiation, in case you weren’t aware.

  • mateoshelley

    Good points, Michael. I will reply as best as I can.
    a. I very much dislike the microwave. After seeing that such beautiful ingredients as those in their pancakes get completely obliterated by it, I say yes, it definitely kills the flavor. Have you ever reheated pizza in the microwave and had it come out the same as in the oven or on the grill?
    b. There are many types of radiation. Grilling and roasting comes from a specific heating element producing heat that works from the outside in (much like a fire would), while microwaving does not. Again, I admit that I am no scientist, nor am I a health food expert. I just think microwaving robs the integrity of fine food. How many seasoned chefs use microwaves in their restaurants?
    c. I don’t think it has to be difficult. I do believe it requires attention and awareness though. The idea of making healthy easy is what makes people think they can get a healthy meal at Subway, or not pay attention to what’s in the ingredients of their food as long as the label says happy healthy things are inside. Being close to your food and what goes into your body takes time and education, which anyone can acquire with some considerable effort. I think we’ve allowed convenience to rule our eating habits, and that is detrimental to healthy eating.

    Lastly, I am insufferable when it comes to food and drink. I annoy my family and friends quite often. I am working on keeping my mouth shut, except on Sidedish of course.

  • Michael R

    Thanks for the response.

    I agree that microwaving would be a bad choice to reheat pizza…but so would steaming. That’s just a wrong-tool-for-the-job issue. A quick blast in the microwave with a damp paper towel is a pretty great, simple way to cook (or par-cook) asparagus, for example.

    It’s weird for me to think of a cooking method as robbing food of its integrity, as it’s just a process, but I guess that’s just an opinion. I don’t use a microwave often, and I think there’s usually a much better option, but I’ve never understood HATING them. All cooking affects the nutrients in food. Sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. Microwaving is no exception.

    And the only thing that immediately comes to mind in terms of chef microwave cookery is Adria’s sponge cake, but this just popped up while I was looking for that recipe:

    I sort of agree with your last point…just a place where you thinking it requires considerable effort happens to line up with my thinking it’s pretty simple haha.
    I can clearly empathize with being a pain when it comes to food. I just have a big issue with people attacking restaurants or businesses with opinions, particularly ones disguised as fact, that are based on preexisting biases. I don’t doubt the stuff sucked, but it’s not fair to say that they are making food without flavor or nutrition because they put it in a microwave.

    Again, nothing personal, just felt like it was worth commenting on. Thanks again for the good response.

  • Sam Fife

    Man, I love this place.

    Quality Food, Quality People, Quality Coffee, Quality Atmosphere.

    First, Origin is a great coffee shop. I believe they are serving Cultivar coffee (, which D Magazine ranked as the #2 coffee in Dallas 18 months ago. Ask barista Jake about the specialty iced lattes and teas they are working on for the fast approaching Dallas summer.

    Second, Origin is a convenient place to grab a high quality meal if you care about what you eat and don’t have time to cook a meal every night. I believe ‘Natural’ refers to way the animals were raised for their various offerings. Origin can tell you exactly where the food you are eating came from (e.g. chicken from Windy Meadows farm in North Texas where Bolsa & FT33 source their chicken) and how it was raised. Would it be better if it was prepared and consumed on site? Ya, DUH, but that’s not what Origin is. Here are some of the other excellent dishes that the author failed to mention:
    Pulled-pork Scramble, Burger Bowl (sweet potato hash, ground beef, 2 eggs), Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Potato Salad, Braised Heirloom Carrots, and the menu continues to evolve. BTW, these all reheat just fine. In addition, this week they began offering freshly prepared (on-site) salads a la Eat Zi’s. Also, the owners are planning special monthly events where food will be prepared and served on-site for weekend brunch or dinner.

    Thirdly, gluten-free pancakes taste gluten-free. Doesn’t matter where you are. If you don’t care about gluten and want pancakes, go for the real deal somewhere else. If you care to know why many people are choosing to avoid grains (gluten), here is a good read:

    It sounds like the author of this post went in with his mind made up. If you choose what to eat because of how fancy it looks, or because you saw someone eating it on TV, or because a food blog wrote about it, this probably isn’t the place for you to get food. Origin is not a full service restaurant, there is no on-site kitchen, so don’t expect that when you come in. But that is not all that Origin is. If it’s in your neighborhood, the coffee alone is worth a stop. If you want a convenient healthy naturally-raised locally sourced lunch to bring to work, this is a great place to check out and decide for yourself.

    P.S. They also have Topo Chico.

    DISCLAIMER: I’m ALSO not a nutritionist.

  • Mark

    I’ll agree the food is not good (the muffins disintegrate in your mouth and have the worst mealy texture), but you need to give them more credit for the best coffee in Dallas.

    The espresso is always perfectly pulled and served with a glass of Topo Chico. It is the best in Dallas. All of the drip style coffees are made to order and never burnt and the staff is knowledgeable if you want to learn about what to try and taste.

    Also – give L.A.R.C. Salon a shout out man!

  • mateoshelley

    L.A.R.C. is the spot, and it’s pretty awesome. Also, I definitely enjoyed the coffee, as I mentioned. They certainly know what they’re doing on that end.

  • mateoshelley

    Sam, I absolutely agree with you on their responsibly sourced ingredients. It’s nice to see people caring for local food and incorporating it into the Dallas food scene. Also, thanks for sharing the article. Lastly, I am just not a fan of prepared foods, but I can understand how a busy lifestyle can suffer without proper nutrition. This is where Origin fits in. It just hurts me to see such carefully prepared foods with good ingredients being cooked, chilled, and then reheated. But, if that’s what works for you, then go nuts. Oh, and I really did enjoy the coffee.

  • ThomasA

    Mateo Shelley -“Using a microwave to cook food is about as unnatural as it gets.” The food was already cooked. All it needs is to be warmed up. If the use of a microwave oven is to drop an A bomb on Nagasaki then you will get those results. Warm, test; warm, test; enjoy.