Sym*Bowl: Pick Your Path to Assembling a Healthy Diet, One Bowl at a Time

 In Food

My kids like kale. They like it more than I do (which doesn’t take a lot). And they love broccoli even more—I learned years ago that ordering them fries instead of those little green trees would lead to a public meltdown. So it was refreshing to find a fast-casual restaurant where no one raised an eyebrow at their veggie choices.

Photo courtesy of Sym*Bowl

Photo courtesy of Sym*Bowl

But my kids really aren’t into sauces. This is when the eyebrows went up and the staff explained that the noodles needed some kind of a liquid for their dishes to work. The kids finally settled on yaki (sweet citrus and soy) as the most basic option they could get—no poblano pesto or spicy miso or lemon mango curry for them. With only the bare minimum in the bowl, please, and the rest on the side.

If this quirkiness sounds like your kids—or spouse or coworkers or in-laws or friends—then the newly opened Sym*Bowl in Chesterfield is going to be a good bet. The kitchen specializes in special diets like paleo, gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian, but they will also cheerfully accommodate fussy.

Turns out the kids loved their bowls so much they wanted to come straight back for more the next day.

Healthy and lifestyle eats
The huge wall posters, beautifully branded by The Design Commonwealth, offer six diet keywords that Sym*Bowl is designed to address. Since one of my kids has been a vegetarian since age 3, that one was easy. But most of our mealtime conversation centered on the others: paleo, gluten-free, clean, vegan and auto-immune. It turns out they knew of someone within each of the dietary categories.

Creating a fast-casual menu that addresses all six is pretty remarkable, so kudos to chef Robert McClellan (formerly of Gringo). Even more important, from my perspective, is how things tasted.

Top marks go to the tender, tasty pulled beef for enhancing so many combinations. Like the other “start” items, it’s intended to be the protein kick atop the veggies and starches and sauces rather than the basis for the dish. This helps with another diet category not on the list: calorie counters. The thinly sliced pork has the Cantonese flavors it should, but the fattiness of some slices—and the difficulty of using chopsticks to remove it gracefully—made it less appealing. Tail-on shrimp were so deliciously satisfying, even without much sauce, that my son started to ponder eating the shells too.

At steps three and four in the ordering process, the meal goes one of two routes: heated with a sauce or chilled with a dressing. Turn toward the noodles, quinoa, rice, sautéed sweet potatoes or zucchini ribbons, and the entrée will start to feel like comfort food. Turn toward the salads or grain-free wraps, and it feels more grab-and-go. Either way, portion sizes are huge—expect leftovers that are still flavorful and fresh the next day.

Ordering fresh fruit smoothies and juices can be a little complicated too. There are lists of catchy names for some of the “cocktails” like Chuck Norris (banana, strawberry, chocolate smoothie) or Dreamsicle (juice of ginger, pineapple, carrot and coconut cream). There are juice shots with herbal supplements for everything from sinus problems to stress relief. Or if all that’s too over-the-top, there are big jugs of flavored iced teas, plus bottled Ski and Lucky sodas.

Next steps

Sym*Bowl lays the foundation for a neighborhood favorite in Kirkwood, The Hot Pot, to expand into a chain. The menu items are mostly the same, but Sym*Bowl refines them to be shipshape for the highly competitive fast-casual market.

The atmosphere between the two is different also—and it helps explain why the owners are keeping The Hot Pot’s name, with its connotations of craft beers and tightly squeezed tables and breastfeeding support groups. Sym*Bowl, by contrast, feels more polished even in its pre-grand opening chaos, with sodas still to be stocked in coolers and various signs still to be hung prior to the May 14 celebration.

Both locations attract health-conscious families, but Sym*Bowl is also drawing in teens fresh from sports practice, midlife athletes in training and anyone with dietary restrictions who’s looking for a supportive place to dine.

Inside dish
Tips for a top-notch experience at Sym*Bowl

Top dish: Shredded beef with veggies, rice noodles and bone broth
Popular pour: Cucumber lemonade
Best place to perch: Repurposed church pews
Insider tip: From “paleo” to “udon” to “spirulina” to “zuknoodles,” my kids wanted to know what every word meant before they committed to their orders. The staff was super helpful—but we were also there just ahead of the dinner rush so there was plenty of time to explain.

 Where to go
137 Chesterfield Town Centre
Entrees $9.95-$12.95
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 10:30am-8pm, Sat. 10:30am-3pm

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