After treating my body like a human trash compactor for the better part of the weekend, Monday marked an opportunity to do better. Two friends reached out last week asking for healthy restaurant recommendations, so the franchised chain Grabbagreen was top of mind.
Not normally one to buy into any sort of health-food craze, diet plan or eco-cult, trying to eat healthy at a restaurant for me usually looks like heading to somewhere like Jerusalem Market or Iron Hen. I ordered a damn good salad at Mac’s Speed Shop recently, often hit up the hot bar at Deep Roots and went out of my way to pick up my beloved twisted-chicken salad from Fishbones last week. But after attending a wedding, hosting a brunch and partaking in some Final Four gluttony, I thought I should go a step further.
So I followed a dude in running gear into the Greensboro Grabbagreen, the health-food chain with four North Carolina locations with “Eat clean” decals on its windows and vibrant green walls.
What’s notable about this restaurant is that it aligns with and represents a national trend that finds firm footing here in the Triad. Its acai cups and fresh-pressed juices are of a piece with relatively new local businesses such as Village Juice and Organix Juice Bar. Yes, decadent desserts including overly loaded milkshakes are popular here and nationally right now. But there’s a strong countercurrent represented by GrabbaGreen, a company whose website lists more than a dozen forthcoming locations and that puts franchising materials right by the register.
I might’ve been feeling like the pendulum should swing the other way after my indulgent weekend, but I wasn’t about to drink my lunch. When it comes to solid food, the restaurant offers two main tracks — greens and grains — both served in takeout boxes the size of the small containers at Deep Roots’ salad bar. It’d be easy to go gluten-free or vegan either way, but several of the menu items do offer meat, be it shrimp, chicken or even beef.
The grain options — featuring brown rice, black beans or quinoa noodles — sounded more filling, and I picked the So Cal. Besides the name that seemed undeniably appropriate for the fare, it comes with avocado, chicken, cucumber, flax, mint, red pepper, spinach and feta atop elbow-shaped quinoa noodles.
The Southwest with its avocado, black beans, chicken and cheddar jack is apparently the most popular, and almost drew me in. And I almost opted for the “green” dish called Gulf of Mexico, with avocado, cayenne, cucumber, egg, green onion, parsley, red onion, spinach and shrimp. If I had — I learned later while reviewing the menu online — I would’ve been consuming 440 or 294 calories respectively. Instead, I’d unwittingly selected the highest caloric value meal in the green or grain section here, coming in at 700.
The only thing higher is the mango bowl with banana, brown rice, chia seeds, coconut, mango, pineapple, quinoa, almond milk and granola.
Whatever. Counting calories is for suckers, and this surely did me a lot better than the three late-night roast beef sliders I knocked back to even out the beers I drank on my friends’ recent wedding night.
There’s no feeling guilty when you’re at Grabbagreen though — it’s all “healthy” food, and I topped my meal off with a so-called Boost drink featuring cucumber, lemon, ginger and mint. The label said it reduces swelling, enhances your mood, fights infection and works as an anti-coagulant. I picked it off the shelf because these are the flavors I’d most like to find in a cocktail.
There’s a low kids table with crayons on it, some outdoor seating in front and a tablet hooked up to the back wall near the bathrooms inviting customer feedback. In some regards, the restaurant’s attitude reminded me of sitting in a pricy-yet-casual vegetarian restaurant I tried several years ago in San Francisco.
Grabbagreen’s vibe is dangerously close to feeling like some kind of health club, aided by a display table just inside the front door, a donation jar for the business’ foundation and a rewards program. The kind of music you’d hear in an ad for spinning played, and my cashier glowed with the sort of friendliness you might expect from the person welcoming you to a yoga retreat. He actually said goodbye to a couple customers by name when they left, apparently committing it to memory after they provided it with their orders.
When the playlist switched over to Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter,” I felt much more at ease. If run clubs and yoga classes can feel at home in breweries, a guy like me who has thus far avoided a gym membership could make Grabbagreen work, too.
The thing is, the So Cal was pretty good, and I could totally see myself going back. It likely won’t be soon, but that has more to do with its location in the shopping center at the corner of Pisgah Church and North Elm Street several miles from the center city.
If you’re the type who doesn’t just eat healthy when you’re feeling guilty, you might appreciate one of the collard wraps on the breakfast menu or the savory quinoa cake with hemp, spinach, tomato, feta, and Mediterranean pomegranate sauce. Or maybe the Red Phoenix smoothie with banana, honey, strawberry and almond milk is more your style.
If green drinks seem normal to you and you’re looking for an easy post-workout snack, Grabbagreen is for you. The “Love” juice with apple, beet and lemon is a little too much for me, but I appreciate the restaurant’s efforts to source organic ingredients and list the farms it partners with. If, like me, you’re not a health nut but you just want to do better, Grabbagreen is worth a shot.
Visit Grabbagreen at 431 Pisgah Church Road (GSO) or at grabbagreen.com.