As more and more souls climb aboard the health(ier) train, the opportunities to eat well while eating out are becoming more frequent and less far between. Thankfully, the days of eating out with kids only to have them relegated to greasy, questionable servings of chicken nuggets, trans-fat laden fries, and white bread-grilled cheese or wondering how to stomach another blah serving of pasta primavera if you are vegetarian are fast departing. Enter, The Granola Bar, aka TGB.
Having established a loyal and vibrant following in Westport over the past 3 years, the duo of Julie Mountain and Dana Noorily decided to branch out to Greenwich just four short months ago. Judging from the speed at which the dining area filled up on the day I visited, the enthusiasm is running at full-speed boogie. From making their own granola a few years ago to now running two thriving restaurants, its been a wild ride but not so wild that they have forgotten where the brakes are located; TGB only serves breakfast and lunch, along with copious amounts of snacks. No dinner. That is precisely so that these two women can make it home to their own families for dinner. Hello, balance. It’s nice to see you again.
That’s what TGB taps into: balance. Have the enjoyment of eating out or grabbing a snack and actually feel good about what you are consuming. Hey, there’s a concept! Now add this: everything here is baked in an oven or cooked on a heated flattop. This is one big way they are going about boosting the health factor of their foods. There are no fryers (adios nuggets and fries), no saute pans (au revoir butter) and no stoves (what?). Yes, no stoves. Creativity just shot through the roof.
Another area of balance that they excel at is that they can and will accommodate everyone: vegan, vegetarian, carnivores, picky kids. They call it a “no-veto” zone-no one in your family can veto heading to TGB because they cater to all. They’ve got you! As a sidenote, Dana was just about bubbling over as she mentioned to me “bring your kids here-we will turn them into avocado lovers!”. Game on, my friend. Dana and Julie love experimenting, changing the menus, and looking for new inspiration around every corner. They honor the “happy accidents” in life, too. Going from making granola to owning two thriving cafes was one of them.
There is one important thing to note about this establishment and I would be remiss if I did not mention it: you have to be willing to experiment with new textures and flavors. These owners hope you will. I, for one, had no issues, but my palate is used to the ingredients they utilize and honestly enjoys them. Be prepared for sandy, nutty grains like quinoa, paleo cookies that have a very different texture than grandma’s cookies ever did (theirs are more a mix between cake, raw cookie dough, and a granola bar), muffins that are definitely on the moist side (a little too much so for me, although the flavor was good) due to the addition of bananas as a substitute for oil and butter and a more crumbly texture due to the inclusion of almond flour as opposed to your standard bleached white. Honestly, though, don’t let this scare you off. It’s good food that tastes good and is good for you. Buck up and try it, Mikey. You’ll like it.
Julie and Dana were gracious to fill the table with their favorites the day that I visited. As someone who is into both cooking and health, this was a fun visit for me and I was excited by the colors and presentation of the dishes that rolled out of the kitchen. The item that they are really known for is their Avocado Toast. It came served as diagonal slices-a sort of puzzle that’s separated-mounded high with verdant green avocado, and sprinkled with black sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, and a crumbling of feta cheese. Like I said, good colors going on with this one. You can also opt to have it piled with a fried egg, house-cured salmon and even add cream cheese and sliced tomato, but I was trying it pure and simple. The avocado, of which they use one whole one per order, was perfectly velvety and ripe. You know when a food is at its peak, you just about swoon? Yup. This was that. I thought the feta added a nice bit of saltiness without overpowering the avocado, and the red pepper flakes gave a nice zing here and there. The grainy, hearty toast and sesame seed toppers contributed by adding a nice crunch. I could seriously eat this every day.
Another vegetarian item that I tried was the Buddha Bowl: a large dive-into-it bowl filled with quinoa, dark green sauteed kale, bright tomatoes, grilled portobello mushrooms, an egg, and Green Goddess dressing. It was certainly hearty and would be utterly satisfying for a lunch. The dressing was delicious and full of creamy, herby flavor and I have to say that the name just makes me giggle whenever I hear it. Say it five times fast. Buddha Bowl...Buddha Bowl...
Next appeared a tray of vegan muffins and cookies-Maple Crunch Paleo, Blueberry Chia and three different kinds of cookies, which contained variations of chocolate chunk, coconut and double-chocolate. All looked beautiful and truly handmade. As I had mentioned above, I found the flavors of the muffins good but the texture was a little too moist for me-sorry I have to use the word that everyone hates. The chocolate/chocolate chip cookie was my favorite, as you could really taste a rich cocoa, but the others were a little bland.
That said, as I mentioned earlier, if vegan or vegetarian is not your bag, they will and can accommodate any palate. Bring the whole family. Bring the carnivores who won’t go near a vegan cookie. There is salmon and meat to be found! The Blackened Salmon wrap that I sampled was ample in size and rolled to the brim with quinoa, balsamic onions, avocado and a tasty cilantro yogurt sauce. So good! It came with a pile of their baked Sweet Potato Chips, and I must admit that those really didn’t ring my bell. I found them to be overly dry and too thin to really capture the moist, starchy, sweet notes of this veggie. They also offered a try of The Bubby-a toasted bagel with scallion cream cheese and house-cured salmon, served with red onions, capers and tomatoes. The salmon was flavorful and tender and worth the balancing act when everything was mounded on top.
One item that I found very interesting was their Cashew Yogurt. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible. I’ve heard of cashew cream but this was far and beyond that. Cashews at TGB have become stand-in stars for dairy products, because if you soak, whip them into oblivion and then mix them with bananas and vanilla, they morph into a yogurt-ish treat. Who knew? Theirs was topped with mandarin oranges (I would have preferred fresh fruits instead, this was a little too 70s-retro for me), sliced almonds and chia seeds for texture and crunch. All-in-all, it was super-rich but rather good. A decent substitute for a decadent, sugary dessert. And a surprise, to boot.
Overall, the owners, the space, the food, and the vibe are all positive ones. The space itself is a blend of earthy and industrial chic, with a veritable moss carpet on one wall, wooden and metal accents, a coffee bar area and copious bi-level seating. Dana and Julie obviously love what they do and love sharing their food explorations with others. The food leaves you feeling happy (Challahback! The Crunch Elvis!) and fed like mama would want you fed-nutritiously. Enjoy their breakfast all day, sandwiches and wraps, coffees and smoothies, soups and salads.
You’ll be happy you walked into this Bar.
Neither CTbites nor the author were compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.