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With so many health-conscious consumers — many of whom have traveled the globe — it’s no surprise that foodservice operators from fast-casual eateries to Ivy League universities to lavish hotel restaurants have embraced grain bowls offering big, bold flavor profiles.
Grain bowls are gaining fans across the restaurant spectrum who love the delicious blend of wholesome, flavorful ingredients meshed together in a dazzling array.
Grain bowls are almost always customizable, which fits perfectly in today’s ‘I want it the way I want it,’ world. If one person wants to turn up the heat, they can always add sriracha while their spouse might opt for the grain bowl with a protein add-on.
The following grain bowl examples are but a few of the unique and flavorful combinations that have made their way onto U.S. menus — and all are reportedly selling briskly.
Southern flavors + nutritious ingredients
Chefs Club Counter is the latest project from Chefs Club, a restaurant group with locations in Aspen, Colorado, and New York that features a curated menu of dishes from great chefs around the world. Chefs Club Counter follows this same model but in a fast-casual, counter-service setting and at more modest price points.
The Southern Roots Grain Bowl was created by chef Linton Hopkins who is based in Atlanta. It features a blend of red quinoa, farro, buckwheat, wheat berries, toasted farro, kale, pickled beets, kimchi, crispy shallots and mushrooms, spiced pecans and benne seeds. The mixture is arranged on top of squash compote, and the bowl is topped with an herb cashew mayo. “It’s an incredibly satisfying, totally vegan option and has been a crowd favorite of vegetarians and meat eaters alike,” says Hopkins.
Comfort + organic, seasonal
M Street Kitchen in Santa Monica, California, is a testament to comfort food with an emphasis on organic and seasonal ingredients. Under the direction of chef-partner Jeff Mahin, one of M street's comfort foods is its Quinoa & Forbidden Black Rice Bowl, which started out as a dish Mahin made for himself. “As a chef, I love eating things in bowls. There is something comforting about putting all of the ingredients into one container and holding it while eating — typically with chopsticks,” says Mahin.
To prepare the bowl, which sells for $20, Mahin mixes house-made curry and fresh coconut milk to order, and allows it to simmer and reduce. Separately, he sautés Fresno chili, ginger, cilantro, black rice and quinoa. He then adds a variety of raw seasonal vegetables. Once the vegetables are cooked, the curry is poured into the bowl; the rice mix is placed on top and garnished with black lime, Korean chili flakes, a lime wedge, cilantro, Thai basil, mint, chives and olive oil. Guests can add various proteins and customize the dish.
Plenty of greens, grains + optional protein
At 5 Napkin Burger, which is located in New York and Boston, the Greens and Grains Bowl also can be customized in a variety of ways. Executive chef Andy D’Amico’s dish sells for $17 and includes brown rice, wheatberry, arugula, peas, shaved Brussels sprouts, avocado, pecorino, scallions and citrus vinaigrette. It can be topped with a variety of proteins including a beef burger, Italian spiced turkey burger, Merguez lamb burger, veggie burger, tuna tataki steak, teriyaki salmon fillet and grilled chicken breast.
“We love the way our burgers eat over a salad, and, in this case, the Greens and Grains Bowl, which is our second most popular salad on the menu,” explains D’Amico. He says the dish is popular with millennials, women and health-conscious guests of all ages.
Ethnic flavors + grain customization
It’s not surprising that Yale University would offer grain bowls, given its health-conscious student population. The New Haven, Connecticut-based campus offers chilled bowls, or Boola Bowls, named in honor of the school’s traditional fight song. The bowls come in a variety of ethnic flavor profiles including Central American, Indian, Greek, Korean, North African and Middle Eastern. In a self-serve format guests can choose among a variety of grains including quinoa, couscous, sorghum and also lentils, soba noodles or rice noodles. Other ingredients include a variety of legumes, greens, raw veggies, cooked veggies, protein, dressing, garnishes and condiments.
“Grain bowls have eye appeal, great variety and they taste fantastic,” says Ron DeSantis, director of culinary excellence at Yale Hospitality. “The bowls also take advantage of on-trend ingredients and flavors. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”
One offering, the Mezzaluna, combines olive oil tossed farro, marinated garbanzo beans, arugula, basil, carrots, roasted beets, flaked tuna, egg, roasted tomato dressing and sunflower seeds.
Breakfast + superfood starters
Guests at Ai Fiori, the Michelin-starred restaurant located at Langham Place hotel in New York, can wake up to a Breakfast Grain Bowl. Created by sous chef Nelson Gonzalez, the breakfast bowl features poached egg, farro, rainbow Swiss chard, onions, lemon juice, olive oil, fried quinoa and sunflower seeds. It is priced at $20 on the breakfast à la carte menu and has quickly become a favorite of regulars.
Gonzalez says the bowl is well suited to a variety of guests. “I saw the potential to add a dish that could be vegetarian, wholesome and dairy free, and also lighter than our other breakfast options, for those seeking an alternative to richer dishes in the morning.
“From a nutritional and culinary standpoint, I don’t think it is unusual to use grains for breakfast,” he says. “Many of us already eat them; we just don’t see the grains in their original state.”
Healthy brunch + nourishing flavors
Another New York restaurant making a splash with a healthy and unique take on a grain bowl is Bedford & Co., an American bistro in the Renwick Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Executive chef Justin Neubeck wanted to create a healthier brunch option that had a lot of flavor and so he came up with the California bowl.
The dish combines sautéed farro, black barley, puffed wild rice, herbs, almonds, and roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds seasoned with fennel pollen, dried orange zest and smoked dried chili. The mixture sits atop smashed avocado and is topped with a poached egg and sliced avocado. The brunch item sells for $16.
The dish is popular, especially with women. “It’s right up there with Eggs Benedict,” says Neubeck.