Maybe it’s just California, but the açaí bowl concepts appear to be multiplying, especially around Hillcrest. I stumbled upon one with the achingly San Diego appropriate name, Roots Bowls; it serves açaí bowls, smoothies, pressed juices, and sandwiches just a couple doors down from another shop that does much of the same.
1225 University Ave., Hillcrest
But Roots Bowls takes the concept to its logical conclusion, putting a near fanatical emphasis on the superfood bowl, which builds on a frozen purée of açaí by topping it with a bundle of other sweet and/or crunchy ingredients to — and I’m only paraphrasing from a decade’s worth of idle pop nutrition reading here — detoxify your nutritional health by boosting antioxidants and eliminating free radicals. The active lifestyle is only implied.
The bowls are put together behind an ice cream shop-like counter, where toppings are laid out in bins. All the greatest hits are here: goji berries, flax seeds, cacao nibs, and bee pollen. Any ingredient that’s been even loosely associated with the word superfood in the past 20 years shows up in one açaí bowl or another.
And not exclusively açaí. The shop’s top seller is its signature Roots Bowl, which starts with a layer of acai, then adds frozen pitaya puree, and third frozen base made with activated charcoal and coconut. This combination gets topped by blueberries, strawberries, banana (I like to think of them as the OG superfoods), and a bit of granola (I went with the flow and opted for hemp seed granola). That would probably suffice from a flavor standpoint, but the nutritionally purposed bowl also factors in almond butter, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, and shreds of organic coconut. Like most bowls here , it’s $8 for a 12-ounce serving, with 16- and 24-ounce options ranging up to $14.
Assembled with strawberry slices fanned out like flower petals, the bowl is pleasing to behold, if a bit jumbled. Because most of its ingredients have sweetness in common, it’s pleasing to eat; the assorted nuts and nibs provide crunch within the mélange of pureed and actual fruit. It seems crazy and overloaded, but it works. Considering you can easily create a custom bowl from scratch, I would bet a few crazier bowls have passed across this counter since the place opened last year.
Not trusting myself to rein it in, I stuck with another pre-conceived construction: the North Park bowl. This one’s a bit of a departure, as the friendly staff considerately pointed out to me: “Just so we’re clear, you realize that bowl doesn’t have acai in it, right?”
It does not. Instead, the açaí-free builds on a frozen base made with the green tea powder, matcha, and stacks it with chia pudding. In the spirit of covering all possible nutritional bases I opted here for the charcoal activated chia pudding. I chose cacao granola to go with cacao nibs, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, more matcha powder, and organic honey. This all dressed up blueberries, bananas, and a flower of apple slices, with a little peanut butter drizzled over the top. Also good, but could have used more peanut butter.
I’m not a hundred percent sure what to do with these bowls. They remind me of ice cream, but play too healthy to be relegated to dessert status. They remind me of yogurt parfaits, but seem too sweet to be an everyday breakfast. Roots Bowls is open all day long, so I suppose it’s for whenever you feel less than super, and want to eat healthy without resorting to vegetables.