Bird of Paradise: Paradise Found
Emily Rankin’s East End Market space offers healthy goodness with a tropical flair, from citrusy ceviche to various bowls accented by greens or rice.
Food pioneer Emily Rankin and I have crossed within the same spaces for years, but our encounter at her East End Market restaurant, Bird of Paradise, was our first sit-down conversation.
Her first words were “Can I feed you?”
Rankin is a culinary chameleon. Her business face, and East End Market space, has morphed from Local Roots Farm Store, to Florida & Co., and now to Bird of Paradise. It’s been a patient and educational evolution.
In a tropics-meets-Florida atmosphere, punctuated by its hand-hewn wooden bar and pastel mural (painted by Rankin), food and beverages are served that reflect what she refers to as a healthy, clean way of eating. There’s style and brightness to the food, with its use of coconut nectar sweetener and seasonal roasted vegetables. Every main ingredient is vegan, prepared gluten and dairy free, and without refined sugars or honey. Those who desire meat can add seafood, chicken or pork.
Ceviche ($15) bathes wild Florida fish (red snapper when available) in a spicy, citrusy marinade reminiscent of Peruvian leche de tigre, served with a brunoise of peppers and onion upon local greens. Several bowls shine, including the popular Florida bowl ($15), a charming arrangement of greens and pickled vegetables on Jupiter brown rice from Congaree & Penn in Jacksonville, accented with a choice of Florida wild shrimp, roasted pork or tempeh.
I also tried a sesame ginger bowl (also $15), Asian sauce coating purple cabbage, carrots and kale, served with shrimp, pork or tempeh. The organic, non GMO tempeh from Gainesville’s Tempeh Shop has an extraordinary texture and flavor, and it’s a pleasure to have discovered it.
Rankin started life surrounded by fine dining: her mother was a server at Park Plaza Gardens and at Royal Orleans, owned by restaurateur Robert Earl. Her stepdad was Royal Orleans’ manager. “I was folding napkins at 4,” she says. “I was saying ‘presentation is everything’ in second grade.”
Bird of Paradise
Growing up, she wanted to be an architect or a fashion designer. Then, at a green-building conference, she listened to speakers who said that “if you support the local food system, vast changes can be made. And it clicked for me,” Rankin says. “I can take food and transform community. This is my gift.”
After a journey to farms in Nicaragua, she decided to come home. “I felt like I needed to do community development in the community I was raised in.” In 2008 she started the still-thriving, local vendors-only Audubon Park Community Market. “I saw it as a point of leverage … if you do one little thing, it will incubate all these other ideas.” She also developed the nonprofit Progressive Local Alliance for Community Enrichment, the Ourlando Local First campaign with activist Julie Wilder, and the makings of the Audubon Park Garden District initiative. A food distribution company followed; then a conversation with John Rife led to her participation in Harvest Festival and a space in his East End Market project.
“I named the eatery Bird of Paradise,” Rankin says, “the message [being] for people to live a better life by eating healthy. It all ties into physical, mental and spiritual health—to have the opportunity to live in paradise.”
Drinks of Paradise
Rankin’s passion extends to beverages as well. You’ll find Florida beers and ciders on tap, small producer wines like Ken Wright pinot noir from Oregon, and local shrubs and kombucha from Smiling Goat and Humble Bumble, along with wine cocktails like the Hibiscus Rose (hibiscus tea, coconut rose syrup, coconut milk, ginger, lemon and rose wine), mimosas and “mocktails.”