The cannabis dining craze has taken the world by storm. Need proof? Food Network themselves have (finally!) listed it as a food trend to watch out for in 2022. Cannabis infused food is the future of restaurant menus.
Before COVID hit, cannabis infused dining looked extremely promising, especially in California where a select few brands were able to obtain licenses allowing on-site consumption in lounge, cafe or restaurant style spaces. Unfortunately the most notable of these consumption lounges, The Cannabis Cafe (originally called Lowell Cafe), shut its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the world adjusts to life with COVID, cannabis entrepreneurs are eagerly waiting to launch a new wave of consumption lounges complete with infused dining options. The Cannabis Cafe, for instance, has announced they’ll be re-opening their doors soon, with several other similar businesses poised to quickly follow suit. But there are few other places in the United States where you can try cannabis infused food.
Cannabis still remains federally illegal, a fact which complicates infused dining options considerably. And even though recreational cannabis laws vary from state to state, juggernauts like California are still forbidden from serving up THC-laced foods to diners in public venues. The penalty for not observing these laws can be stiff: restaurants in Washington, D.C. warned for serving cannabis-infused foods were reminded that the DC Health Department, “treats marijuana edibles as adulterated food and will issue fines up to $1,000 per violation in addition to suspending a business’s license, embargoing or destroying the food, and referring them to the Office of the Attorney General for further penalties.”
Many of the infused dining options that currently exist work around these restrictions by only offering CBD-infused items. CBD, or Cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive cannabis compound derived from hemp plants known for its relaxing properties. It’s non-intoxicating, making it an easy, safe option for restaurants to add to menus looking to cater to canna-loving guests. Some chefs also opt to feature terpenes, the aromatic compounds found in cannabis, instead of oil-based CBD extractions. These concoctions are typically presented as terpene rich cocktails or mocktails.
Other restaurants, such as Los Angeles’ newly opened Gusto Green, are decidedly more in favor of upscale cannabis food options. Since on-site THC consumption is still banned, Gusto Green works around this by hosting private, infused sit down meals. The private dining model appears to be one of the only ways restaurants can serve THC infused foods to patrons at this time.
Another exciting new development in the world of cannabis infused dining options is the introduction of Delta 8 THC into the mix. Delta 8 is THC, but since it’s extracted from legal hemp plants it, too, is currently legal in a select few states such as Illinois. Enterprising businesses are opening venues that serve up Delta 8 infused food and drink, allowing patrons to get high without needing a medical card.
The cannabis infused food dining experience represents a new wave of possibilities for both recreational consumers and chefs alike who are interested in consuming marijuana in new ways. Many of these new establishments are upscale, well-funded and aesthetically pleasing—introducing a new type of luxury experience tailored to cannabis consumers that’s as far from buying cannabis in a basement as you can get.
Excited by the prospect? Check out these 7 cafes, bars, and restaurants across America that are currently serving up cannabis infused food and beverages.
Located in pot-lovin’ Portland, Oregon, Hemp Bar is the brainchild of East Fork Cultivars, a craft cannabis and hemp farm based in Ashland. It’s no surprise East Fork are the brains behind this operation: After all, these cultivators were one of the first USDA Organic Certified hemp farms in the country.
Inside you’ll find an Art Deco inspired space that’s brightly lit and airy, with a long counter for bar seating and a few tables for dining. Enjoy CBD mocktails made with East Fork’s water soluble CBD drops and a curated selection of vegan sweet and savory grab-and-go foods, all of which are vegan or plant based. Guests can also smoke hemp pre-rolls at the designated seating area and tables outside for the perfect people-watching experience.
What to try: Ease your mind with a Purple Llama, a specialty CBD mocktail made with lemon, lavender, champagne and 20 mg of East Fork’s water soluble hemp drops.
Where: 6258 SE Foster Rd, Portland, OR 97206
Helmed by Chef Chris Sayegh (also known as the “the Herbal Chef”), Santa Monica’s hip new eatery Nostalgia is a brand new addition to the cannabis dining scene. The new venture is a novel idea: one part is a devoted bar/lounge while the other half functions as an event space.
While adding THC to drinks is still a no-no in California, Sayegh aims to utilize other parts of the cannabis plant such as aromatic terpenes into alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to simulate a more holistic cannabis experience. Meanwhile the event space hosts private infused dinners by the Herbal Chef, but they’ll set you back a pretty penny: Diners require pre-approval, a $1,000 yearly annual fee and $295 per dinner.
What to try: Sayegh’s series of adult based beverages that replicate childhood favorites is sure to induce a delightful sense of nostalgia. Get your hands on a “End of the Otter Pop” cocktail made with vodka, blueberry, raspberry and a Raspberry Lemonade Terpene.
Where: 1326 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405
The friendly neighborhood bar Donnie Vegas’ motto is simple: beer, cocktails, patio. Nestled into a corner of Portland, Oregon Alberta Arts District, guests can lie back, people watch and enjoy a cool drink complete with hot dogs and snacks on the patio anytime.
What to try: Fight off heat waves by sipping on a Frozen CBD Margarita. Made with tequila, prickly pear, lime and salt, each margarita contains 5 mg of hemp derived CBD per serving.
Where: 1203 NE Alberta, Portland, OR, 97211
One way select restaurants are circumventing THC consumption laws is by employing use of Delta 8 THC, a type of THC derived from legal hemp. Chicago’s Wake-N-Bakery opened its doors in January of 2020, and the cafe and bakery has been serving up freshly baked pastries and beverages infused with full spectrum, hemp-derived Delta 8 THC ever since, allowing patrons to consume THC in Chicago legally, without a medical card.
What to try: The vegan mini bundt cake served up with a hot, fresh coffee.
Where: Two locations, LAKEVIEW LOCATION: 3508 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657 WICKER PARK LOCATION: 1659 W Division St 60622
Buds & Brews
Buds & Brews isn’t open just yet—but the anticipation for its opening is at an all-time high. Slated to open in Spring of 2022, and located in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee, the 21 and over space will allow customers to consume foods that are actually infused with legal, hemp-derived THC as infused condiments alongside upscale bar food. Interested parties can sign up for updates on the Buds & Brews site here.
What to try: ALL of the condiments, naturally.
Where: Germantown, Nashville, TN
Monarch and The Milkweed
Head to downtown Burlington, Vermont to find Monarch and the Milkweed, a cocktail bar and chocolate shop. A collaboration between chef and owner Andrew “Little Sweets” LeStourgeon, Rob Downey (CEO of Third Place and Zero Gravity Craft Brewery) and American Flatbread Burlington Hearth, the space focuses on pastries but serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails along with CBD confections. The Milkweed treats are made with locally-sourced organic Vermont CBD and include sweets like truffles, marshmallows and gumdrops.
What to try: You don’t want to miss out on these CBD chocolates.
Where: 111 St Paul St, Burlington, VT 05401
Another ambitious canna-eatery, Gusto Green, opened its doors in downtown Los Angeles last December. This is not your average consumption lounge: “The mastermind behind Gusto Green is female restaurateur Janet Zuccarini,” the company wrote to me in an email. The restaurant works in tandem with the only federally approved hemp grower for food, Ziese Farms, to bring diners a largely plant-based menu that utilizes hemp in a number of different ways.
What to try: A toss up between the Milk & Hemp Cookies (served with cinnamon cardamom horchata), or the bold “Uptown Girl” cocktail made with dry rum, lime, oleo saccharum, Pineapple Express terpenes and absinthe.
Where: 718 S Hill Street, Los Angeles, California 90014