This is another one of my VERY favorite restaurants in all of Los Angeles. When something takes me out to the deep Valley, I'm always secretly excited that I can justify a trip to Follow Your Heart "because I'm going to be out there ANYWAY..."
Follow Your Heart, in case you don't know, invented Vegenaise, and the physical location in Canoga Park incorporates a cafe, a gift shop, and a small health-food grocery store. As this place has been around since 1970, I am certain this where the idea for Whole Foods came from. There's a little parking lot right next to it (check it out on Google Street View), but there's also plenty of street parking if that's full.
So go in the front door (even though you'll see the outdoor dining area out on the sidewalk), walk through the grocery part till you get to the back left corner, and suddenly you'll see a full restaurant. Check in at the host stand--you can sit inside or outside, but I ALWAYS sit outside because it's usually pretty well climate-controlled and it's just such a pleasant experience.
The host will lead you through the restaurant towards the front of the store; you'll pass through the produce section and the gift shop (I know this sounds insane but trust me), and then you'll be out on the patio. I generally try to pick a table along the sidewalk if possible--when they have the plastic windows rolled up you can watch the passersby.
Now you get to try to figure out what to order! From the website: "the menu is lacto-vegetarian, meaning that we include some dairy products, but use no meat, poultry, fish or eggs. Most items are available for vegans (made without any animal products including honey) and we use seasonal and organic ingredients whenever possible. We also offer an exclusively gluten-free menu upon request." And seriously everything is so good.
I'm no vegan, but as someone with an allergy to eggs, this place is HEAVEN. They don't even mind when you request fake eggs but real cheese. My go-to order here is the spanakopita--it's "a rich spinach pie filled with seasoned spinach and our blend of cheeses (or tofu) baked in a flaky whole wheat filo pastry" and "served with organic basmati rice and greek-style salad" (the salad is basically cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, feta, and olives). As an entrée, it's served with soup or salad (in addition to the "greek-style salad); they have AMAZING soups (and now offer a cookbook of their soup recipes!), but I always get the salad because I get to order it with the Lemon Herb Vinaigrette WHICH IS MINDBLOWING.
On this particular trip, however, I made it in time for breakfast, which is served Monday-Friday 8am-11:30am and Saturday-Sunday 8am-3pm. Again, as someone with an egg allergy, there are several breakfast dishes I've never had--omelettes and French toast among them. So it was time for me to go big or go home and order two egg-free breakfasts, all for myself.
I selected "The Om Lette," an "omelette-shaped tofu pancake with your choice of three fillings and dairy or vegan cheese" and "served with hash browned potatoes and fresh fruit." I picked mushrooms, spinach, and onion, and the dairy cheese. I also ordered French toast--"thick sliced whole wheat bread dipped in our own special egg-free non-dairy batter." It comes topped with pecans, but I'm also allergic to tree nuts (I am THE MOST FUN dinner date), so I didn't get those.
Perhaps omelettes are a bit of an acquired taste, but I didn't LOVE it. I really liked it? But it needed salt and pepper I think, and by the time I figured that out, I realized I had no shakers and there was no waitress to be found. But it was good--hearty, and gooey, and warm. The French toast was a completely different experience, obviously--sweet and fluffy. However, I found myself thinking that, for the calories, I'd probably prefer a cinnamon roll.
I obviously had plenty to take home for leftovers; warmed up, the omelette REALLY did not do it for me, but I really enjoyed the French toast. So the next time I go back, if it's breakfast-time, I'll try something different. If it's lunch-time, I'll definitely be getting the spanakopita!
When you're done eating, the waitress will give you your check. You actually take it to the cashier in the grocery store to pay it, so just slip it in your wallet for now (the cashier will ask you if you'd like to add a tip on for your server)--because no trip to Follow Your Heart is complete without at least a cursory run through the market and gift shop .
I always buy a couple of the baked-on-site muffins they have at the restaurant hostess stand--the coconut ones are THE BEST. I also stock up on Vegenaise (because they have every variety) and the Follow Your Heart-brand salad dressings, like Lemon Herb Vinaigrette. If you have allergies or gluten issues, the baking aisle is quite a sight to see--I think they carry everything Bob's Red Mill makes, as well as more gluten-free baking mixes than I've ever seen in one place.
In addition to the regular grocery store offerings (fresh produce, frozen foods, cookies & crackers, etc.), there's also an entire section dedicated to health products (which is why I'm convinced Whole Foods ripped them off). Any natural supplement you're looking for can be found here, as well as beauty and hygiene products like deodorant and shampoo.
The gift shop is always a fun place to wander for awhile, even if you don't need to buy any gifts. The sheer variety of incense and wind-chimes available will blow your mind. There's also a really great kids' section, which I imagine is really wonderful for parents who are sick of buying their kids video games and iTunes gift cards. There are plenty of cards, journals, and even some really cozy-looking mittens, scarves, and beanies.
And of course, there are crystals, if you're into that sort of thing. They even have some (like Lucky Pink!) that aren't for sale. Because they're, you know, busy working on the store.
Some of Follow Your Heart's aesthetic is a bit out-there for me, but you've got to love the earnestness with which it's presented. And I, for one, REALLY love the food.