Super Bowls for Health
"It's function meets nutrition meets aesthetic," says Jennifer Masley, owner of West Nashville's newcomer EiO & The HIVE. "It's in fashion right now. There really are no rules, or, if there are any, feel free to break them."
She's referring to food bowls—the bottomless trend that's barreled its way onto menus of Music City. And though slurping a steamy bowl of noodles in Pho or jabbing chopsticks into a sizzling pot of rice in Bibimbap aren't new to Nashville, bowls with untraditional ingredients and flavors have definitely become a thing on menus all over town.
Meals in a bowl aren’t new, of course. Noodle bowls have been a comfort and convenience across the continent of Asia for centuries, being sold in food stalls from early morning to late at night. More locally, Japanese ramen, served in a scalding stock that's been simmered for hours and layered with flavors that deliver a glutamate-laden (read umami) delight, has been served at Two Ten Jack and Otaku for several years now.
But mixing it up with new ingredients, notably grains, "is a trend on the rise," says Sarah Gavigan, owner of Otaku Ramen and Little Octopus, both notable for their beloved bowls. "That healthy, on-the-go lifestyle is really starting to happen here, and I'm excited to provide something that's both healthy and hearty."
Little Octopus, Germantown's Lulu, and Charlotte Pike's EiO & The Hive are just three eateries praised for their nourishing grain bowls that utilize fresh, vibrant flavors as well as creative combinations. Influences from the eastern Mediterranean, western Asia, and the Caribbean are all found in the Farro Bowl on the lunch menu at Little Octopus.
"You're experiencing many flavors in a one-dish meal," Sarah adds. That's what's great about it for me—blending multiple cultures in a single bowl. I love that style of eating. It can be new and different every day."
Emphasizing health, today’s bowls move meat from the center of the plate, making it a supporting member—sometimes as a seasoning in a lip-smacking stock, or as an extra that can be added. What’s center stage? Whole grains, beans, and vegetables. Melanie Bhagat Cochran, owner of Wild Cow and Graze, has perfected the hearty food bowl with meat not being a player at all. "At Wild Cow, our Lentil Bowl, the Beans & Greens, and the Veggie Quinoa Bowl are all a great way to get a balanced, complete meal in one dish. Doesn't matter if you're vegetarian or vegan—everyone enjoys them because they are flavorful, filling and delicious." Filling no doubt from the base of lentil, kale, beans and quinoa—all high in fiber and super nutritious.
While Lulu and EiO & The Hive are not vegetarian, their bowls are based on brown rice, edamame, sweet potatoes, or chickpeas with bacon, chicken, salmon or fried eggs available as add-ons. Juice bars have gotten in on the action as well, featuring fresh vegetables and grains with healthy dressings.
Additionally, bowls are super convenient, frequently as easy as foraging for ingredients from your fridge. "Bowls are just how I eat," admits restaurateur Miranda Whitcomb Pontes, owner of Burger Up and the recently opened Lulu. "I just throw random veggies, grains, some protein, and whatever I may have in my refrigerator together and—shazam—a simple, delicious, and healthy meal."
Here are our favorite bowls around town:
Nomzilla, East Nashville
The classic Hawaiian-style Poke Bowl and the Japanese-influenced Chirashi bowl heaped with a 10-piece chef-selected variety of sashimi. Seize thy chopsticks and get to shoveling.
Sunflower Café, Berry Hill
Thai Ginger Bowl—roasted tofu, carrots, tahini ginger sauce, and sesame kale.
Wild Cow, East Nashville
Far Eastland Bowl—garlicky kale, grilled tofu, carrot daikon slaw, peanut sauce over brown rice.
The Urban Juicer, locations around town
The Urban Bowl—spinach, wild rice, chicken or tofu.
AVO, Charlotte Pike
Squash Bowl—squash, quinoa, kale, marinated shitakes, pomegranate, lemon tahini
Little Octopus, 12th Ave South
Lentils—mushrooms, Jamaican sauce, kale Caesar and roasted carrots
Farro—jerk grilled chicken, pickled carrot, coconut and labneh
Pico Bowl—fried rice, sweet potato, and cilantro.
EiO & the Hive, Sylvan Park
Curry Bowl—sweet potatoes, bok choy, cauliflower, raisins, pecan, and coconut curry
I Love Juice Bar, numerous locations
Kale Quinoa Bowl—kale, spinach, black beans, and sunflower seeds.
Nori Bowl—quinoa, carrots, cucumbers, avocado, nori
Otaku Ramen, The Gulch
Shiitake Maz & Cheese—soy-braised mushrooms, pickled mustard greens, parmesan, and garlic confit.