Inside Mountain, Brooklyn’s First Acupuncture Cafe

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Brooklyn is a place that’s been recently friendly to fusion enterprises, but even in this borough, where a coffee shop can also be a knitting store and an Urban Outfitters doubles as a bar, the idea of a combination acupuncture practice and restaurant is an odd one. “At first, people we talked to on the money end of things thought we were nuts,” said chef and acupuncturist Tom McCauley. “But we had a dream to incorporate all the things we loved into one business.” So in September, McCauley and his wife, Justine Lynch, opened Mountain, a healthy living center that includes not only a cafe focusing on healthful, locally grown, seasonal cuisine, but also a space for acupuncture, yoga, reflexology, reiki, massage, zero balancing, and Chinese herbal consultation. Mountain also serves as a micro-gallery, classroom, and community center, hosting events as well as monthly free clinics with a naturopathic physician.

It’s a lot to pack into once space, but Mountain doesn’t seem crowded. Instead, it feels like a one-stop boutique for nourishment of all kinds. The decoration is clean and spare with wooden tables up front for the cafe portion and the acupuncture practice housed behind a beaded curtain in the back. The yoga studio and event space in back is large and quiet, decorated by an enormous painting curated as part of their micro-gallery effort.

Lynch and McCauley are both acupuncturists, but from different backgrounds. Lynch came to New York as a professional dancer, and got into acupuncture thanks to a mentor. McCauley began what he calls “my accidental 25 year career as a chef” after dropping out of a Columbia Ph.D. program in literature. He cooked for twelve years at the West Village’s Miracle Grill, a now-shuttered but highly-regarded Southwestern restaurant. where Bobby Flay got his start. Years in the kitchen exacerbated his bad back, so he began exploring alternative medicine to alleviate the pain. “It absolutely changed my life,” he said. He followed Lynch to acupuncture school, and began to integrate principles of Chinese herbology into his cooking. “It sounds like a cliche, but chicken soup actually does have healing properties,” McCauley said. “The herbs you cook with are there for a reason.”

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The little restaurants offerings are simple but flavorful. A chickpea curry had a pleasant earthiness and spice to it, and lamb meatballs with pine nuts were tangy and filling. The watermelon juice, which includes a hint of lavender, was particularly refreshing on an unexpectedly humid day.”We don’t have any food dogma,” McCauley said. “We have vegetarian and vegan dishes, but we also cook meat. It’s more important to us to have things grown as locally as possible.”

At Mountain, McCauley helms the food operations, but also practices acupuncture. “I feel like Clark Kent sometimes,” he laughs. “I’m always having to scramble to put on a different costume.” Lynch, pouring glasses of beet-apple-ginseng juice from behind the counter (“It’s energizing, but definitely gives you a case of Dracula mouth,” she joked) begged to differ. “It’s more like when Mr. Rogers takes off his sweater.”

The spot that Lynch and McCauley chose, a former Chinese restaurant a couple blocks down from the bustling corridor of Franklin Avenue that includes a newly minted Starbucks, is just on the edge of the Crown Heights gentrification boom. But they’re hoping that their community center will provide a place for both newcomers and longtime Crown Heights residents to mingle. “Immediately the community was welcoming,” Lynch said. “And we want to be a place that serves the neighborhood. We are specific and boutique, we believe in the quality of service, but at the same time, we don’t want to limit anyone from coming here because of their income bracket.” To that end, there are free events and sliding-scale yoga, as well as a program in the works to provide acupuncture to lower-income patients. “I don’t want to turn anyone away,” McCauley said.

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Though the space has only been open a month, during the course of my visit, several regulars stopped by for lunch and an appointment, who Lynch would introduce by name. Lynch and McCauley have lived in Prospect-Lefferts Garden for eight years, and are now raising twin daughters. They keep a roof garden and a small apiary on the roof of their building, which they eventually plan to move to Mountain. The name of the cafe, Lynch said, came from a moment of indecision about leaving New York for another place.

“A couple years ago, we were thinking about moving. We love nature, we love surfing, and we were looking for that perfect spot, where there was both culture and the outdoors and arts, but we couldn’t find it,” she said. “So the idea is that we brought the mountain to Brooklyn. We have everything we need here, and we were able to do everything that we love. It turns out that we were needed here.”

Mountain is at 903 Franklin Avenue.

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