The Frugal Forager: Chain takes plunge into bowl trend

A tuna bowl from Subway.

A tuna bowl from Subway.

I rarely write reviews of chain restaurants because there are no surprises. We already know the menu and the prices of the items, the layout of the venue, the location of the restrooms — even the faces of the customers. So why bother to tell folks what they already know?

Food bowls are a recent addition to many restaurants, despite the fact that preparing and serving food in a curved dish must be as old as human existence. Many cultures, especially those in Asia, continue to serve food in bowls. Names like “Buddah Bowl” have surfaced.

While we often associate the pairing of bowls and benign spoons with children, around 2016 food bowls began to gain popularity with adults in restaurants. While soups and rice dishes were already on tables, high-end venues began to serve entrees cut in small pieces in bowls. Benefits were clear: Ingredients are fresh and can be easily added (or eliminated) according to the customer’s palate; bowls are easy to carry; and there’s no need to choose which plate to use.

I have already reviewed two venues that specialize in bowls. This third review arises from a source I rarely explore — chain restaurants. As with many reviews, finding the location is often a serendipitous event.

I was starving after a very positive medical appointment. As we drove past a ubiquitous (there are 50 in the Capital Region area) but innocuous Subway store, No. 1 Friend asked if I knew that the franchise now served bowls. I was not aware of that recent development. We turned quickly into the Union Street Subway’s small parking area.

As nearly as I could tell there were no takeout menus. But the website showed photos of the three major categories of food — bowls, subs and wraps — offered by Subways in our area.

I ordered a tuna bowl ($8.29): a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce topped with thin slices of tomatoes and cucumber arranged in two concentric circles. The bowl was completed with four small scoops of tuna salad, which was salty and slightly sour. I was concerned that the tuna might have gone past its expiration date but there were no other signs of spoilage. Although the salad lacked celery or other additions, it was adequate though not exciting. At my request, Italian salad dressing was poured on top of the salad, which made the small mounds of tuna glisten, but not in an attractive way. A small package of flavored croutons was enclosed to add interest and flavor. A small black plastic fork enclosed in cellophane and a few brown generic napkins were included in the double-handled bag.

Guest ordered the 12-inch Veggie Delite [sic!] Sub ($7.09), also available as a wrap. Shredded iceberg, sliced red onion and thinly sliced cucumbers, provolone and tomatoes were tucked into a fresh sub and moistened with mayonnaise. My guest commented on the freshness of the ingredients and described it as a salad in a (soft) sub roll. He was also pleased with Subway’s standard practice of inviting customers to choose their sandwich or bowl ingredients.

There were no desserts to purchase and we forgot to add a beverage to our meal. We noted that for an additional $2 one can order extra protein (such as meat or cheese) as an add-on to any meal.

Although one might describe the restaurant space as lackluster, it was super clean and the staff had obviously worked hard to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. Tables were lined along the counter to separate staff from customers, everyone wore a mask and the website includes a great deal of material on food safety in general and COVID-19 guidelines in particular.

In these precarious days, most of us “of a certain age” are choosing to dine at home, and restaurants large and small are suffering. Fortunately, we can enjoy the benefits of a restaurant in absentia via pickup or delivery. I encourage Gazette readers to do the same — and remember to include a generous tip.

NAPKIN NOTES

For an informative article on the evolution of food bowls, go to www.wsj.com/articles/the-rise-of-bowl-food-1531498359?reflink=share_mobilewebshare

Categories: Food

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