To paraphrase the great Bill Withers, "ain't no sunshine" in the forecast for this weekend, "only darkness every day." So I suggest braving the rain and gloom to get your good cheer elsewhere: namely at Sunshine's Health Food Store and Vegetarian Deli.
This family-owned institution has been serving the Third Ward for three decades, run by Bahamas-born Vergis “Sunshine” Bourgeois and his daughter, Arga, who's the chef and a committed vegetarian herself. Sunshine's shows its age a bit in the jumbled store shelves and slightly rag-tag dining room, but there's also a sense of community and comfort here—at times, it can even feel like you're horning in on a giant family reunion.
Line up at the register and place your order; while you wait, I suggest browsing the store shelves, as you never quite know what you'll find. Sunshine's stocks everything from Dr. Bronner's soaps and Bragg's vinegars to curious pamphlets and pills of possibly dubious provenance. These are the health food stores I remember going to as a child with my mother: health food stores before they were bright and organized and categorized and manned by chipper employees in green aprons, health food stores when there was still an air of mystery and magic in the obscure homeopathic remedies my mother would toss in her basket.
The food doesn't come out quickly here, but that's because it's all made from scratch and made to order. If it's your first time, I suggest getting Sunshine's two best—and most popular—items: a black bean burger and a side of garlic kale. Befitting Arga's Bahamian background, both dishes are highly flavored and wonderfully spicy.
The peppery black bean patty is actually thick with black beans; there's no weird texture or pasty mouthfeel. It's the main attraction, along with a generous amount of equally spicy chipotle Vegenaise on the whole wheat bun. Some lettuce rounds it all out with a nice crunch. The real crunch, however, comes from that side dish—garlic kale—taking the place of french fries in your burger combo.
Raw kale is marinated in a creamy garlic sauce that's so thick with the allium it makes my sinuses burn in the same bright way as wasabi or horseradish does. The first few bites are surprising, like a sharp slap in the face, but you'll quickly find the kale addictive. It shouldn't surprise you to see many customers ordering an extra pint of the stuff to go at the counter—in fact, most of Sunshine's side dishes and soups are sold in big to-go containers, deli-style.
You'll also notice most customers getting another item to-go: bean pie. Along with Third Ward coffee shop Conscious Cafe, Sunshine's is one of only two places in town to sell this traditional Nation of Islam dessert, in which sweet potatoes—banned under the religion's strict dietary code—are replaced with navy beans for a pie that tastes strikingly like the old Southern favorite.
I recommend grabbing a pie or two when you're there; one to indulge in yourself, and one to try and fool the family with at Thanksgiving. They'll never guess the "sweet potato pie" you're serving is made with beans.
Sunshine's Deli, 4915 MLK Blvd., 713-643-2884, sunshineckls.com