Berried Treasure

Berried Treasure

With a berry from South America and a bowl from California by way of Hawaii, Nutmeggers Jonathan Bone and Justin McLaughlin have built their business, Life Bowls, by wedding healthy ingredients in flavorful combinations. Their logo is a simple bowl and spoon, but what’s in Life Bowls’ bowls may surprise you.

The main attraction is the acai berry. It grows on palm trees in Central and South America, and now that its antioxidants have been recognized, consumption has jumped. The berry by itself carries something “like the bitterness of a dark chocolate,” Bone says. “It has a flavor to it, but… wouldn’t be something sweet you’d think of if you think of a berry or a fruit.”

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In acai bowls, however, the berry is blended with other fruits and topped with sweet and savory garnishes to create a super-healthy concoction that tastes as delicious as a decadent dessert. According to Bone, every acai bowl restaurant offers its own twist. Life Bowls is going for a “really thick consistency, where you’re digging into it with a spoon and kind of give you that sensation of ice cream or yogurt, but there’s no dairy in there.” The base of the Nutty Acai Bowl ($9), for example, is a frozen blend of acai, strawberries, blueberries, banana and almond milk like a thick smoothie. A ring of banana slices surrounds a swirl of peanut butter, dark cacao nibs, wide shavings of sweet coconut, granola and a touch of honey. Unlike Bone or McLaughlin, I wasn’t headed off for a day of rock climbing or surfing after my acai bowl, but I was energized without being full. The bowl was a meal.

In addition to a selection of seven Acai Bowls ($9-$9.50), Life Bowls plays with another tropical fruit: the pitaya, otherwise known as dragon fruit, which grows on cacti in the Americas. Its Pitaya Bowls ($9-$9.50) operate on the same principle: a frozen fruit base with a variety of toppings. Customers can also mix and match their own toppings, with extras for $1 each (or CBD Oil for $3).

The acai berry also stars in some of the Smoothies ($6-$6.50 for 16 oz., $8-$8.50 for 24 oz.), but I opted to try the simple, traditional Strawberry Peel’d, a combination of strawberries, banana and almond milk blended into a smooth, refreshing drink. The tangy strawberry and the starchy-sweet banana didn’t need any sweetening—though the Life Bowls menu suggests a boost of honey. The consistency was thick and uniform, and I sipped it through a biodegradable straw made from avocado pit.

Among three available Salad Bowls ($9.50), I tried a Buddha Bowl: a deep well of quinoa topped with big, crunchy spinach and kale leaves and dressed with a spoonful of chickpeas, a pretty fan of avocado slices and some julienned carrots. The accompanying sesame-ginger dressing was light, flavorful and clearly house-made. Every ingredient was fresh, and their simple combination added up to more than the sum of their parts.

The menu also offers open-faced Toasts ($6-$8), oatmeal-style Oat Bowls ($5) and Soups ($6). In addition to choosing your own toppings, you can also customize your order with Boosts ($.50 each) including not only honey but also goji berries, bee pollen, maple syrup, four kinds of seeds and more.

Life Bowls originated as a food truck run by Bone and McLaughlin, who went to high school together in Madison and reconnected after college when both landed in Southern California. When they coincidentally returned home to Connecticut at the same time, they decided to jump on the food trucks trend, and acai bowls, which hadn’t caught on yet in the northeast, seemed like a good bet, Bone says. When the truck did well, they opened a storefront in Madison, then expanded to New Haven last spring. Longtime employee Andrew Whitney, who runs the New Haven shop, says downtown offices are finally reopening, and traffic is picking up.

Nearly everything on the Life Bowls menu is vegan or very easily veganized, with gluten-free options. The idea is to be plant-based but not “hit people over the head with it,” Bone says, who wants Life Bowls to be “approachable for pretty much anybody out there.”

I, for one, look forward to my next approach.

Life Bowls
97 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Sat 8am-4pm
(203) 891-6430

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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