Grain & Berry Café
Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) is a Brazilian-grown grapelike tropical fruit from a palm tree, with loads of fiber and other purported health benefits. It is often served as a frozen puree, not a whole fruit. On top of this pureed base you choose to heap berries, seeds, nuts, granola, oatmeal, nut butters and goofy chocolate things (unnecessary). A pitaya bowl is basically the same, but its base is a puree of neon-pink dragonfruit, more like kiwi in flavor and texture. This newish chain does smoothies with pretty much real food (not the frozen fruit chunks in sugar syrup that passes for “health food” at some juice bars), as well as stunning acai and pitaya bowls (also kale, oatmeal and yogurt bowls).
Decor is lovely, like a great coffee house with long wood tables, a wood-paneled order counter and a series of punny signs (“I like big bowls and I cannot lie,” “Oh, kale no!”). Half the customers seem to be getting some work done in a desultory fashion, the other half are taking selfies with their acai bowls. Top offerings include Relax, Eat, Repeat (acai, granola, banana, strawberries, honey, peanut butter, Nutella, crushed nuts) and a Dragon Berry (pitaya, granola, banana, blueberries, strawberries, peanut butter, Nutella, coconut flake), both beautifully composed, and with complementary flavors. Carrollwood and South Tampa are coming soon. grainandberry.com
Palm Harbor: 33840 U.S 19 N, Palm Harbor, (727) 771-7795
White subway tile, a wall of yellow and pink plastic bananas, picnic tables with strings of little white lights on the covered patio — this is an adorable "superfood bar" brought to you by the Ciccio Restaurant Group, set in what once was a carwash in SoHo. Managing partner Taylor Winter is super connected with the local high school crowd, which keeps this place hopping. It fits with CRG’s fitness-healthy food mission (they have Camp Tampa fitness studio nearby and bowls-concept Fresh Kitchen up the street), but this one is all sweetness, with acai bowls, smoothies, soft serve and such. The anchor here is a build-your-bowl system: Pick a base (dragonfruit blend, overnight oats, protein chia pudding, etc.), then choose three sweets (berries and other fruit, cookie crumbles), two toppings (goji berries, hemp seed) and a drizzle or dusting (almond butter, electric pink dragonfruit powder). It can take a bit of time to get in and out of here, but the staff seems deadly serious about getting your vegan coconut whipped cream just right.
Address: 1101 S Howard Ave., Tampa
Phone: (813) 575-7100
I’ve been following Jason Cline’s career for a while. I’m pretty sure I ate his food when he was executive chef at Ondine in Sausalito, Calif., in the mid-aughts, then I was a big fan of his work at Bin 27 Bistro in South Tampa and then again when he (and his dad) were at the Birchwood in St. Petersburg. He peeled off to start his own thing, an attractive poke stand in the Hall on Franklin, which he runs with his cousin, Daniel Cline.
He has since opened a second location in Largo, a funky little storefront with an order counter and a wall of fish, both two- and three-dimensional, a school of guitars swimming ahead of them. Eat in with pretty black lacquer bowls, take out in clear plastic. At either location, one of the best dishes is the signature Poke Rose, warm jasmine rice nearly obscured by rosy tuna cubes, scallion, radish, edamame, hijiki (a cool, bouncy brown sea vegetable that is mostly texture), radish, avo, sesame seeds, spicy ginger, spicy aioli and a sprinkling of chia seed. You can take your bowl in a raw direction or flip it a bit upscale with sweet-spicy tamarind-curry crab. pokerose.com
Tampa: Hall on Franklin, 1701 N Franklin St., Tampa, (813) 405-4008
Largo: 13100 Seminole Blvd., Suite 103, Largo, (727) 475-8860
The 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg has had a dazzling makeover the past couple of years, one of the upbeat newcomers this mostly grab-and-go bowls spot with loads of gleaming white tile and royal blue accents. The tagline is “roll it or bowl it,” which is a helpful if brief user’s manual - sushi rice, fishy things and veggie things in a sushi burrito or a bowl, either available as a build-your-own or one of their “counter creations.”
The brainchild of Tanner Loebel, Eric Bialik and Chitt “Tock” Noythanongsay, Pacific Counter’s strong game is punchy sauces and a great lineup of dispenser beverages (pineapple mint aloe limeade, coconut matcha limeade, sparkling pineapple ginger lemonade, frostee Kirin). I was less wowed by it in the beginning - there was a frenetic quality and I felt the ingredients were rammed too tightly into the bowls to be easily eaten. But I’ve since zipped over for lunch and they seem to be in a groove. Walk down the line, point and pick a base, then two proteins, five veggies, fruit or other toppers, then a sauce. That’s $12, ample for lunch, very wholesome. pacificcounter.com
Address: 660 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
Phone: (727) 440-7008
Price: $, Bowls, Takeout