Stefanie Bridges is a rebel with a cause: to supply Whitefish with a healthy lunch option.
Bridges is celebrating a year of running her “health food restaurant” known as Rebel Roots Kitchen out of the Palace Bar in Whitefish.
“Eat clean!” her sidewalk sign declares, inviting daytime passersby into the popular local watering hole for dairy- and gluten-free bowls, tacos and soups.
Bridges recognizes The Palace seems like a surprising spot to find pork tacos and vegan quinoa bowls. “It’s different,” she acknowledged. “It’s like a walking contradiction.”
But for the longtime bartender with a passion for “clean eating,” she thinks it’s the perfect fit. When Rebel Roots first started dishing out curry and quinoa last Sept., Bridges wanted a familiar and low-key environment for her first foray into running a kitchen.
“I wanted to try it out,” she explained, without committing to the full restaurant experience straight out of the gate. “I want people in Whitefish to have healthy food,” she explained, even if that meant preparing the food herself.
She said the Hawaiian Rice Bowl—made with cauliflower rice—and the Hawaiian Kalua Pork Tacos have quickly become local favorites. These popular dishes combine pulled pork, purple cabbage, smoky sriracha sauce and a mango salsa topping.
Rebel Roots’ menu also features a Spicy Thai Coconut Soup, Korean Tofu Tacos and the vegetable-heavy Rebel Rice Bowl, among other unique concoctions.
“I do pay attention to where I get my food,” she pointed out. For instance, she chose pork as Rebel Roots’ meat offering because it was the only meat “I could get consistently local.”
Locally sourced ingredients are “important to me,” she said, and she is “hoping to support more local farmers” by adding in produce from nearby farmers in future seasons.
In Rebel Roots’ first year, the kitchen has expanded to a small food truck that frequents the Whitefish Farmers Market and other local events, but Bridges has no desire to leave her unique spot in The Palace. “I don’t think I’d ever want to give that spot up,” she stated, emphasizing how appreciative she is to everyone at The Palace for the opportunity to debut her business there.
Despite the unconventional location, Bridges said Rebel Roots has been busy with a mix of Palace Bar patrons and “the yogi crowd.” Since opening last fall, the kitchen has gained a following with a number of local lunchtime regulars, although Bridges said a lot of “tourists open the door, look around and say ‘nope.’”
The kitchen is only open for weekday lunch hours currently, but Bridges said, “On busy days, I’ll run out of food before four.” Customers often ask her to extend her hours until dinnertime, and Bridges said she is interested in the idea if she can find the right people to keep it going.
While she’s had help throughout the year from friends and other members of the Whitefish business community, she said right now, “all the prep, all the cooking is me.”
Along with the possibility of extending her hours, Bridges is entertaining the addition of to-go options, selling bottles of her sauces and offering fish tacos. After living in Hawaii for 13 years, Bridges said, “I come from the land of fish tacos, and I haven’t had a good one here.”
But before she decides on any possible changes to her business, she wants to take a few weeks off to “re-evaluate” how things are going after the first year. The first-time restaurateur wants to make sure she “know[s] the direction I want to go” with any future developments.
Rebel Roots can be found inside The Palace Bar at 125 Central Ave. in Whitefish. The kitchen is open from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.
Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-4459.