WHAT’S FOR LUNCH? GUILT-FREE SWEETNESS

A “Stupid Cupid” from Playa Bowls. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

From the day it opened last month, Playa Bowls in Red Bank has drawn long lines of teens and tweens waiting to get inside, and the after-school and weekend mania hasn’t let up. This might give the impressions that one, it’s a place for kids, and two, that it’s a fad.

Time will tell if the craze lasts, but on the coldest day of the year so far, What’s For Lunch paid its first visit to the West Front Street business and found a full house of mixed-age customers at midday. Manager Robin Krieger tells us that many are employees of Riverview Medical Center, just two blocks east.

 

Jenna Rappel, Hannah Black and Alexa Mangarelli enjoy acai bowls for lunch. Below, restaurant staff at work.  (Photo above by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

Much like the old fashioned malt shops of yesterday, the restaurant offers kids teenagers the right mix of ambience to go with palate-pleasing food. Relaxing shades of aqua and pops of brighter colors give the multiple-communal-table-filled-space a beachy vibe. Surf-themed videos play on a central screen and seascapes monopolize wall space.

“They come in on weekends and meet up here after school,” Krieger said. “They’ll hang for an hour or so. We created a nice atmosphere and they appreciate it.”

A turquoise-walled back room that houses a coffee bar with a window view of the Navesink River offers a quieter atmosphere.

The menu can be a bit daunting at first. Tropical acai bowls, pitaya bowls, coconut bowls, chia pudding bowls, oatmeal bowls and green bowls blended with kale dominate. Smoothies and juices round out the choices.

A list of specials caught our eye, and we went for the $10 “Stupid Cupid,” if only to be able to say it out loud. Strawberries, banana and a coconut milk base are whirred in a blender and put into a bowl that gets topped with sliced strawberries, granola, unsweetened coconut flakes, raw cacao, and a thick, warm, drizzle of nutella.

Forget hot fudge sundaes: this is our new craving. It is at once warm and cold, mushy and crunchy. Varied flavors and textures deliver a happy celebration of all things sweet, but not overly so.

We shared one of the communal tables with three local ladies out for lunch and who have all been here before. Alexa Mangarelli, Hannah Black and Jenna Rappel want us to know that not only are the bowls delicious, but that this is filling, guilt-free food that Weight Watchers would approve.

Playa Bowls is also eco-friendly, Krieger says, adding that it will soon be serving in bowls that customers can take with them and bring back for re-use.

Playa Bowls, at 14 West Front Street, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Though the Belmar-based brand is rapidly expanding, this store is the only one with independent ownership, according to owner Robert Eliseo.

SUSAN-ERICSON

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