Fine, acai bowls, you win
All photos by Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES
I never did jump onto the acai bandwagon when it came around a few years ago, pushing smoothies, juices and even candy at the health-conscious consumer with claims of antioxidants that justified steep prices. Yet amid all the sales pitches, everyone failed to highlight the most important fact — acai is just plain delicious. I probably would have forked over my bank account’s contents to my local smoothie shop years ago if I hadn’t dismissed it as a mere fad.
ACAI BOWLS LIVE UP TO THE HYPE
Nekter Juice Bar’s acai bowls make this crucial point apparent with every bite. I am ashamed to admit to having scoffed at radio announcers when they talked up the mysterious acai bowl served up not far from my home at Nekter’s La Jolla, Calif. location. Nothing could be that special about a smoothie poured over fruit and granola, I foolishly thought.
Eventually the hype fizzled, and acai bowls ceased to cross my path, until a friend’s roommate gushed about a smoothie bowl place in Brea. It sounded vaguely familiar, but the wondrous combination of fruit, granola, coconut and smoothie she described didn’t resonate as the elusive acai bowl. Curiosity and a love of fresh fruit led me to Nekter and, though I was briefly sidetracked by the aroma of barbecue wafting out of a neighboring restaurant, I found myself staring face-to-menu with the long-neglected acai bowl.
For a moment, I did not even recognize the bowl I had put in the corner in years past, but as I pondered whether to order the Acai Tropical, Greenie Bowl, Acai PB — short for peanut butter of course — Pitaya Bowl or Acai Banana Berry, it dawned on me that I had missed out on sheer genius for a long time.
FRESH FRUIT SMOOTHIES AND JUICES
To start, all of the smoothies are made with raw vanilla bean cashew nut milk or coconut water instead of yogurt or another dairy product, eliminating any chance of a post-meal food coma. Add hemp seed granola or gluten-free oat granola if you so choose, berries, banana and raw coconut flakes and a masterpiece is born. Layered with the fruit and granola, the ingredients in the acai smoothie vary depending on the bowl you choose. Regardless of your selection, it is simultaneously creamy and refreshing.
For those who crave the benefits of green, leafy vegetables without actually having to chew on a pile of kale, the Greenie Bowl accommodates by blending spinach and kale with acai, banana and berries. Mom always said to eat your vegetables — thankfully Nekter provides a tasty way to follow her sage advice.
As I am a diehard fan of coconut and pineapple, the tropical is an obvious contender for my favorite. The raw coconut flakes add a different type of crunchy texture alongside the granola while building on the flavor of the coconut butter in the smoothie. Pineapple complements the coconut well, while the banana and acai prevent it from tasting like a virgin piña colada imitation.
Banana Berry is a strong second to the tropical bowl, with strawberries and blueberries kicking the coconut out so they can have a turn with the acai and banana. The lack of coconut butter makes the smoothie slightly less smooth than the tropical, but the nut milk and banana mostly make up for it.
JUICE BAR PROMOTES HEALTY LIFESTYLE
Aside from the acai bowls, Nekter offers a wide selection of juices and smoothies. Additionally, the juice bar bottles juices and sells them individually or in packages as a longer-term juice cleanse. While one day of cleansing costs about $60 — equal to the amount I spend on food for myself in a week — the individual bottles are more reasonably priced for a midday nutrient boost.
The acai bowls fall into the $7 - $8 range, making them an affordable and nutritious meal option. As there are no animal products on the menu and ample options for the gluten-free folk, Nekter is ideal for vegetarians, vegans and those with gluten allergies, as well as anyone who just happens to enjoy fruit and granola. How ironic that I grew up into a fruit-and-granola-eating California girl after all.
Nekter Juice Bar
Rating: ★ ★ ★☆
Food/drink: Smoothies, juices, acai bowls; raw snacks; granola
Prices: $7 - $10
2435 East Imperial Hwy, Suite B
Brea, CA 92821
Hours: Monday - Friday: 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Saturday - Sunday: 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.