October 8, 2023 | OPINION | By Sam Treat
One would think that my Seattle heritage would have exposed me to every health food trend under the sun. And while I have had my fair share of beet brownies, tempeh steaks, and other crimes against nutrition, I have thus far avoided one of the most popular dishes: the açai bowl. At the prompting of my managing editor and fellow Seattleite, Posy Vogt ’25, I set out to change that at Ola Juice Bar.
Upon doing a little web sleuthing, I came to understand that Ola was named after the Hawaiian word that symbolizes life, health and livelihood. The mission statement of the business is to serve food that can “promote movement” and help customers be as healthy as possible. Hmmmmmm.
The first thing that struck me as I walked into Ola, located in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs, was not the vibrant pillows that rested against the lacquered wood walls, nor was it the fake ivy that crept down from the ceiling – it was the smell.
Having never been to one of these establishments, I was – perhaps naively – expecting a tropical aroma of, I don’t know, fruit? Açai? No. Instead, my nostrils were assaulted by the stench of vinegar, a smell so strong other customers were visibly covering their noses (weirdly, the bathroom actually smelled like fruit – it was the only part of the restaurant that did). The sensory overload was complicated further by the sound system blasting a surprisingly good music selection (shoutout Steely Dan).
Perplexed already, I engaged the menu. To be completely transparent, it angered me. I felt more conservative than I have in a long time. I mean, we started as hunter-gatherers, and we end up with this?
I digress. I had little attraction to any particular item, so I asked the kind storefront employee what she might recommend. Helpfully, she told me “most men” order the Chocolate PB Surge (complete with maca root, sea salt and almond milk). I added the Açai Oasis (their most popular açai bowl) and the Banana Nut Bread Overnight Oats (which, to me, felt like an artificial intelligence-generated amalgamation of different food words).
In no world should anyone attempt to equate health food with fast food, as I quickly (actually, rather slowly) found out. Smoothies can be a tricky thing. Sometimes they are closer to juice, and other times they are closer to ice cream. At times, an under-blended smoothie can cause an overexertion of mouth upon straw, but thankfully, this was not the case. I was overjoyed to discover that the smoothie flowed easily, with a perfectly balanced texture.
Unfortunately, the taste did not hold up to the same scrutiny. While peanut butter and chocolate is a tried-and-true combination in many forms, it may have finally met its end. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I do declare that Ola Juice Bar has ended the reign of deliciousness that vaulted Butterfinger, Reese’s and more to commercial success.
The culprit of the undoing of efficaciousness must be the maca root, the lone mystery ingredient. Whatever it was, the typically infallible combination did not shine through in this smoothie, and I was left disappointed.
The actual reason for my visit, the Açai Oasis bowl, came next. The purple base was laden with banana and strawberry slices, peanut butter and chocolate chips. Beautifully laid out, it was not hard to understand why these creations are popular with the health influencer industry. While I did not find anything about the bowl to be particularly offensive, it just did not impress me.
The end result reminded me of a mushed up peanut butter and jelly, with a few chocolate chips thrown in the mix. I genuinely cannot understand the açai craze. It was essentially a worse and less efficient method of consuming a decent (but not great) smoothie. What am I missing?
On to the Banana Nut Bread Overnight Oats. I am an unabashed lover of banana bread, which was the thinking behind this order. I regretted it immediately.
Instead of anything reminiscent of banana bread, I found myself face-to-cup with a less-than-pint-size serving of wet oats, entire walnuts and banana slices. I guess if you deconstructed banana bread and took out the sugar, baking process and ability to eat it in a dignified manner, I could see how this dish got its name. In the end, I found myself trying to scoop up massive pieces of walnuts onto the same spoon as a slice of banana and feeling like an idiot.
While the visit to Ola Juice Bar gave me the opportunity to dive into Vogt’s childhood trauma and resulting implications on her psyche, I was unable to find much more value on this expedition. I am not impressed by the cheugy, vaguely Peloton-inspired branding. Nor did the mush that belonged in a blender rather than a bowl do much for me. The actual product of the blender failed to deliver, too. All of this health food feels like a scam. For my $10, I would rather have four McChickens than one Açai Bowl. Sorry ‘bout it.