Originally published in Courier Post
With brilliant colors that pop and fresh flavors that satisfy, açaí bowls are as visually appealing as they are delectable.
Overflowing with a variety of sliced fruit and a multitude of sweet and crunchy toppings, these brightly-hued (and Instagram-friendly) bowls feature a base of frozen açaí and are showing up throughout New Jersey cafés and restaurant menus.
But what exactly is an açaí bowl? The açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) berry is small and dark purple, resembling a blueberry and considered a “superfood.” It is grown in Brazil and other areas of the Southern hemisphere and contains an array of healthful ingredients, such as anti-oxidants, fiber and vitamins, including calcium, irons and vitamins A and C.
Taking New Jersey by storm is a company called Frutta Bowls that features a wide variety of customized açaí bowls and other healthy options including oatmeal bowls and smoothies. Headquartered in Northern New Jersey, the company is growing nationwide – with two locations in Southern New Jersey – Cinnaminson and Marlton.
Matthew Daniel is the owner of the Frutta Bowls location in Cinnaminson that opened in March. Committed to being health-conscious, Daniel is a former personal trainer and nutritionist. In 2017, he was seeking a new career opportunity when the stars aligned in his hometown of Marlboro, where he was born and raised. He stepped inside a Frutta Bowls shop and instantly knew that the business was an ideal match for him.
Daniel’s Cinnaminson location makes and sells more than 150 açaí bowls each day, and feature an organic açaí, guarana and banana base. They are fully-customizable with a wide selection of fresh fruit, including strawberries, blueberries and apples along with nuts, granola, honey, chocolate and other toppings.
“We offer unlimited choices,” Daniel says. “We have a number of set templates on our menu and customers have the opportunity to build their own bowls or smoothies — so they can make it any way they like.”
A few of their best-selling açaí bowls include: the Frutta bowl, which contains strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, Nutella, peanut butter, honey and coconut flakes topped with granola. Another fan favorite is the Muscle Up Bowl, with chocolate whey protein as a base and mixed with granola, banana and peanut butter. The PB&J Bowl contains blueberries, peanut butter and topped with granola.
In addition to the açaí bowls, the store also offers smoothies, oatmeal bowls and kale bowls.
Frutta Bowl also creates pitaya bowls that feature a base of organic fuschia-colored pitaya (also known as dragon fruit), banana, pineapple and almond milk. Two popular pitaya bowls include: the Belize bowl with vanilla whey protein, and granola, banana, pineapple and peanut butter toppings; and the Jamaica bowl with granola, blueberries, mango, kiwi, honey and coconut flakes. As a benefit to those with allergies, Frutta Bowls keeps many ingredients in the kitchen — separate from nuts and other allergens.
“I think a lot of people are trying to be health-oriented and there are not a lot of very healthy choices for fast food – especially in the morning,” Daniel says. “We get a lot of customers early in the day who want a nutritious, quick breakfast and love our açaí bowls and oatmeal bowls, too.”
According to Daniel, the Frutta Bowl company is expanding. He is opening another location on Temple University’s campus.
From West to East
Before arriving on the east coast scene, the açaí bowl trend in the United States had become incredibly popular in Hawaii and California.
On the island of Oahu, the Kahala Hotel and Resort currently features an açaí bowl that has become a long-time favorite. Wayne Hirabayashi, executive chef at the resort, says they had featured the açaí bowl in the breakfast buffet menu for over five years, but had to remove it recently because the demand was too high for the kitchen staff. Currently, the resort still offers açaí bowls — served al la carte, through room service and at the outdoor pool restaurant that overlooks the ocean.
Hirabayashi, who was born and raised on Oahu, has been with the resort nearly 20 years and has made, sampled and tasted a wide variety of açaí bowls over the years. Although he’s tried and tasted a wide variety of combinations, including some made with the distinctively tropical taro root (poi), he claims he’s “old school” when it comes to flavors and fruit blends.
“I eat an açaí bowl myself for breakfast every day – with just blueberries, apple-banana, granola and local honey,” Hirabayashi says. “Sometimes, too many flavors are too much. Everyone has their own idea of the best mixes … For me, ‘fusion’ sometimes leads to ‘confusion’ when you try to blend too many things together in an açaí bowl. I keep it simple.”
The resort’s signature bowl features several ingredients atop the açaí base, including: banana, seasonal berries, frozen blueberries, strawberries, soy milk, orange juice — and it’s topped with gluten-free granola. For a taste of the islands, pineapple or mango can be added if requested.
“I’m true believer in the many health benefits of the açaí berry.” Hirabayashi added. “It’s a much healthier and refreshing snack than a bowl of ice cream or piece of pie – and tastes just as wonderful. I’m glad this delicious trend has reached the east coast.”
New in town
A new kid on the block in South Jersey, the Acaí Café just opened its doors on Aug.11 on Haddon Avenue in Westmont. This business is owned by the Rodriguez family and has an extensive menu of over 25 items, including acaí bowls, smoothies, oatmeal bowls, homemade iced teas and more.
Assistant manager Ashley Cruz says business has been booming since the moment they opened their doors. “Our cafe is doing amazingly well,” she says. “We had the feeling it was going to be popular, but we are blown away by how many customers we have on a daily basis. We’ve been getting so much love, it’s been incredible.”
Cruz pointed out that they are seeing customers coming in throughout the day … and ordering acai bowls for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their best sellers include the Fruity Tooti bowl (with granola, banana, strawberries, blueberries, coconut and honey); the Chunky Monkey bowl (with graham crackers, peanut butter and honey mixed with banana) and the Midnight Bowl, featuring an abundance of berries and coconut shavings).
According to Cruz, the café will stay open all year, the menu will change on a regular basis, and they will be offering new items in the fall.
Keep it fresh
In Philadelphia, Rocco Cima, owner at the fast-casual restaurant, Fuel, added an açaí bowl to his newly-relaunched menu in February, as he wanted to offer customers a nutritious, quick food option for any time of day.
Fuel’s menu features a variety of salads, rice bowls, wraps, juices and smoothies – all made with fresh ingredients, and a selection of protein choices. Fuel has three locations in Philadelphia (South Philly, Center City and 32nd and Chestnut) and plans are in the works to open a store in South Jersey.
Cima found the bowl was an immediate hit with customers. It features açaí blended with banana and topped with sliced strawberries, granola, sliced bananas and coconut. Cima says, “Our açaí bowl is the modern-day parfait – it’s something that you can order quickly and it’s a healthy choice.”
“I was familiar with the açaí bowl concept while visiting Los Angeles and New York over the past few years,” he says, “and wanted to bring it to Philadelphia. All of our menu items are made with speed and great taste in mind. We created the acaí bowl as a substantial option for our guests who may be rushing to work or have a limited lunch break.”
At the shore in Ocean City, Yoasis has two locations — one on Asbury Avenue and another on the Boardwalk, appropriately called Beach Bowls, which features seven different açaí bowls featuring fruit and other ingredients.
According to manager Jade McGinnis, the bowls have turned into a popular beach treat, attracting more fans each summer — with the Original açaí bowls as the long-time favorite. It’s made with pure açaí, banana, honey, almond milk — topped with granola and fruit slices.
“We are the original people on the island to offer açaí bowls. We’ve had them on the menu for about five years now. At first, customers weren’t sure what they were, but after tasting them, they realize how delicious they are. It’s really the perfect cool and refreshing snack for the summer.”
For more information
Frutta Bowls: 195 Route 127, Cinnaminson, and 500 Route 73, Marlton: Visit www.fruttabowls.com
Fuel: 1917 E. Passyunk; 1225 Walnut St., and 3200 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. Visit www.fuelrechargeyourself.com
Açaí Cafe: 148 Haddon Ave, Westmont. acaicafe.business.site/
Kahala Hotel and Resort: Oahu, Hawaii. Visit www.kahalaresort.com
Yoasis: 838 Asbury Ave., and 1244 Boardwalk, Ocean City. Visit www.Yogurt-oasis.com