Kelly Barnhart is new to the restaurant game and new to entrepreneurship. The Houston native was an assistant curator at the Museum of Fine Arts last year before pivoting careers to open a highly conceptual cafe in Montrose this summer. Vibrant, the aforementioned cafe, is Barnhart’s passion project and brain child. Along with her team of hand-picked, highly skilled professionals, Barnhart found a way to realize a project that incorporates aspects of her own lifestyle, parenting values, and artistic vision.
The idea for Vibrant is rooted in a desire to not only feed, but nurture. Barnhart, also the creative director, explained how the same values she applies to parenting her daughter are what drive her mission as a restauranteur. Vibrant is about nurturing her community through food and drink. Self-care and holistic health are key aspects of the experience she is attempting to curate. Part and parcel to that point is the belief that healthy food must bring joy in order to genuinely improve health.
To that end, the rookie restaurateur teamed up with an all-star cast of creatives, chefs, and wellness experts in the pursuit of her perfect restaurant. Vibrant’s menu is designed by successful wellness and health food blogger Alison Wu. The kitchen is run by Houston-based chef and consultant Omar Pereney. And the outstanding coffee program is designed by Miami-based chef and ceramic artist Fernando Aciar (also responsible for the restaurant’s one of a kind ceramics).
The space, originally a 1960’s dry cleaner, was completely gutted and renovated to house the aesthetics-focused cafe. The mid-century brick building was outfitted with wide windows that traverse the length of the dining room. Natural light flows into the open layout bringing warmth and life into the building. Still a curator at heart, Barnhart filled her restaurant with art and minimalist design, bringing a gallery like feel to the room.
The Vibrant menu features no dairy, no gluten, no GMOs, and no refined sugars. It does feature animal products, but like their produce, coffee, and wines, the meat and eggs at Vibrant are ethically raised and meticulously sourced. Though everyone may not feel as compelled to utilize those sources, all are encouraged to taste the food.
Whether or not patrons agree with the methods, most can agree that the results are undeniably delicious. The star of the breakfast menu is undoubtedly the Breakfast Socca. The socca, a flat seasoned pancake made of chickpea flour, is smeared with an arugula-hemp seed pesto, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes, shaved watermelon radish, avocado, and two fried eggs cooked to runny perfection. The dish is a revelation of rich greens and savory egg yolk, all pairing perfectly with the flourless flatbread that holds it together. The Vibrant lunch menu is anchored by the salads and bowls that have made the place so famous on social media. While ridiculously photogenic, the dishes are also incredibly tasty. The Seasonal Kale Salad with added shredded chicken is an intense medley of super greens with a tart tahini-lemon dressing that accentuates without overpowering.
As important as the food menu is, Vibrant’s beverage program may be even more critical to the mission of wellness and self-care of which Barnhart speaks so passionately. A separate menu is available for customers to browse the cafe’s selection of coffees, teas, potions, and elixirs. Yes, you read that correctly, potions and elixirs. Do not worry, no black magic here, only health-focused beverages designed to make you feel physically and mentally amazing. Vibrant’s potions, like the particularly delicious hot Matcha Potion, are made with healing herbs, spices, and other ingredients found to boost different aspects of your overall health and well-being.
Barnhart and her team are in the process of developing and introducing their natural wine program that will feature a wide selection of reds, whites, and sparkling bottles. Every wine sold at Vibrant will be produced through natural methods, with as little intervention as possible to create the most unobstructed natural wine possible. For those unfamiliar with the natural and organic wine craze, natural wines are fermented and filtered using few, if any, modern chemical interventions, allowing the wine to maintain its light color, earthy flavor, and naturally occurring health benefits. The process also avoids the addition of harmful sulfites and other chemical additives that cause adverse physical reactions after drinking traditional wines (to the point, hangovers).
They are also developing the Vibrant dinner menu. The lunch and breakfast cafe will soon expand to offer a full dinner service, complete with more hearty dishes and table service instead of counter. The dinner menu will roll out later this fall in conjunction with the long-awaited wine program.