Say organic food and some might envision earthy-crunchy concoctions that are high on health and low on flavor.
But at Hughson’s new Don’t Panic It’s Organic, good for you and good tasting collide in a pleasant package. The family-run eatery offers organic cafe food — like sandwiches and salads, chili bowls and smoothies. They also offer a full juice bar, smoothies, coffee and tea.
Owner Katherine Bertolotti and her family began eating organic close to two years ago. The Modesto native now lives in Hughson, as do her mother, sister and brother in the heart of the community’s farming land. But then, her now 7-year-old son began to develop severe allergies — including rashes and asthma attacks. She worried that the pesticides on their food and used in their surrounding orchards might be part of the problem.
So she switched her family to organic foods at home and stopped using pesticides on their trees, and then convinced the rest of her family to do the same. But eating out was still a challenge, as few restaurants offer solely organic fare.
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“I was cooking and preparing food at home all the time. And I thought, ‘Man, this is a lot of work. If only I could get someone to do it for me,’” she said.
But instead of that, she decided to do it for other people. Bertolotti and her brother David Mingham opened the eatery Don’t Panic It’s Organic in late October. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and light dinner options as well as specialty fresh juice, coffee, tea and smoothie drinks. And to prove organic food isn’t all wholesome, they also offer wine and grape-liquor based cocktails like bloody marys and margaritas. Heck, they even have kombucha (a fermented tea) on draft, along with a handful of beers.
Mingham serves as the restaurant manager, and his sister Sarah and mother Lisa also work behind the counter. They source many of their products locally, from small organic farms like Burroughs Family Farms and We the People Farms from Denair. The vast majority of the products they use are organic, while others are gluten-free and some of their meat and poultry are free-range or grass-fed.
The restaurant doesn’t have a full kitchen, so its fare is on the lighter side. But you can still get a heaping plate of grass-fed beef chili nachos ($12) or a large organic salami sandwich on roll from Berkeley’s Acme Bread ($9).
Another attraction is the fresh juice bar. You can order a Healthy Heartbeat made from apple, beet, celery, lemon and ginger or the Immunity Booster with celery, spinach, kale, lemon, ginger and garlic. Juices run $7.49 each. Power up any drink with a wheat grass shot for $3 or a “gut shot” of ginger beet, golden turmeric and smoked jalapeno for $1. Smoothies, which also run $7.49 each, range from superfood favorites and fruit-based options to a peanut butter and banana sweet treat and classic strawberry and banana.
Bertolotti said she initially thought about opening possibly in Modesto or elsewhere, but decided on Hughson because it was so close to home. While she worried that the small farming community might not be receptive, she said, people have generally been pleased when they’ve come in. Though there have been a lot of questions.
“People say, ‘Oh, you’re organic. So this is vegan.’ And we’re like, no, we eat meat. It’s just grass-fed and healthier,” she said.
The restaurant has options for people looking for organic meals, gluten-free or probiotic options, paleo menus and more. And it joins a small spate of eateries in and coming to Hughson which have made the small town a mini-foodie destination. They include the new joint Slick Fork BBQ and upcoming Callahan’s Brewing Company. Don’t Panic It’s Organic is also in the same shopping center as the popular Agave Azul Kitchen & Tequila Bar.
As for that great name, well, it came from her father, who used to reassure her when her kids came over and he fed them.
“My dad would say, ‘Don’t panic, it’s organic.’ And I’d say, ‘Sure, let me read the label,’” she said. “We really just want to cook and feed people good food.”
Don’t Panic It’s Organic, at 6724 E. Whitmore Ave. in Hughson, is open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and 6 a.m. to about 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 209-883-7227 or visit www.facebook.com/dont.panic.its.organic.hughson.