The first time I ordered an acai bowl on GrubHub, I was startled and mildly confused when it arrived. I was starving, and I was staring down at what looked like a frozen smoothie in a Styrofoam bowl that definitely did not feel like $15 worth of sustenance.
What was I expecting? I had no idea, but at the time I was working with a trainer who recommended them, and I can promise you I was not expecting this. For me, meals are not meals unless they’ve got a solid protein in them, and this felt like, at best, a snack you consumed out of hunger and desperation on a hot day when if it’s the only thing around.
So, when I was invited to check out Playa Bowls, a major hit down at the Jersey Shore that was opening its first NYC location, I thought, okay, why not, I’ll bring one of my vegetarian friends and give it another go.
After my previous experience, I figured I’d order four bowls (thankfully, there was a Nutella option to top each bowl), which I hoped might be sufficient for us.
What I was served wasn’t a tiny frozen smoothie in a small bowl. It was kind of a masterpiece of colors and textures artfully placed inside of a decent-sized container.
Playa Bowls started as a “hot dog cart on the side of the road” in Belmar, New Jersey, as co-founder Abby Taylor describes it. She and her co-founder, Rob, cut a deal with the owner of the pizza shop they lived above to sell bowls on their patio. After numerous explanations of what an Acai bowl was and stories of their surfing expeditions, they began to draw a small crowd, armed with only a fridge, two blenders, and a patio umbrella, until, one day, the line snaked around the corner. Now, there are 25 locations in operation, with the most recent outpost landing in the West Village’s MacDougal Street.
“Acai bowls are as healthy or unhealthy as you make them,” Taylor says, referring to the option to add Nutella. “But in itself, [acai] is a superfruit with a ton of health benefits and packed with magnesium, fiber and antioxidants designed to serve as a meal replacement that gives you a ton of energy throughout the day.”
The Pitaya (dragonfruit), chia, and coconut bowls have similar properties.
Of course, in the age of Instagram, visual appeal is key, which is why Taylor tells her employees never to hand off a bowl that they wouldn’t personally Instagram.
So what’s on the menu? Here’s a taste: the Pura Vida bowl is acai topped with granola, strawberries, blueberries, and honey; while the Electric Mermaid Pitaya bowl is topped with coconut flakes, honey, kiwi, mango, pineapple, and granola. The toppings tend to be similar, fruits, granola, healthy grains, and a little sweetness.
As for how it will hold up when temperatures cool and people may be looking for warm and hearty to eat indoors rather than refreshingly cool to eat in the nearby Washington Square Park, Taylor says that she’s confident the bowls will endure throughout the season.
“We have a Jack O Lantern Bowl, a Candy Apple Bowl and a Harvest Bowl, and offer steel cut organic Oat Bowls that are super filling and are working on organic soups.”
Sounds like they’re prepared to stay in it for the long haul. Once you’ve gotten your acai fill, try another superfruit.