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At the Table: At CoreLife in Clifton Park, delicious options — and bill — pile up quickly

At the Table: At CoreLife in Clifton Park, delicious options — and bill — pile up quickly

The restaurant offers simple foods, cooked and assembled right in front of you
At the Table: At CoreLife in Clifton Park, delicious options — and bill — pile up quickly
CoreLife Eatery in Clifton Park; inset, a spicy chicken rice bowl with roasted beets.
Photographer: caroline lee/for the daily gazette

Processed food, I think we can agree, is bad for you. It’s best to cook your own food at home from ingredients you buy yourself. That way you know what you’re eating.

Eating out is tricky if you’re trying to choose healthy foods. CoreLife Eatery offers simple foods, cooked and assembled right in front of you, and offers lots of good options for a tasty meal.

The first location opened in Clifton Park last year. A Latham store opened this summer, with one in Guilderland ready to roll in a few weeks.

Lisa and I showed up at the Clifton Park location for lunch and found the bright, open dining room mostly empty. That’s because everyone was standing in line.

“There are two things I don’t like,” Lisa commented. The first is the line. It moves as fast as you can reasonably expect in a place where your meal is assembled in front of you.

If it’s your first time at CoreLife, know that it takes some time to order. That slows things down. And there are so many variables, each one can slow the line a bit more. It adds up.

The counter is across the back; grab a newsprint menu, with helpful photos (but no prices) and get in line. When you get to the counter, the server makes up a ticket with your name, and you follow that through several stations until you come to the register.

Let me tell you what you can eat. First of all, you can put together any combination of fresh ingredients any way you want. If it’s your first time, it’s easier to choose something curated, as we did.

The menu is bowl-based. You can get a green bowl, built on salads; a grain bowl, made with rice and/or quinoa, which can be hot or cold; or a broth bowl, with protein and additions in house-made broth. Think Vietnamese pho: lots of stuff piled in a bowl of broth. Then there’s protein-based plates, which are entree-style meals.

Hallelujah, everything’s got a calorie count. Makes choosing your meal that much easier. Also, the bowls come in different sizes.

There are homemade soups, thickened with cauliflower and full of fresh stuff like basil and good stuff like cheddar cheese. But heads up — here’s the other thing Lisa didn’t like: The soups were meal-sized, and -priced, and quikcly ran up the bill.

CoreLife gets points for the children’s menu, of adult-type food in kid sizes, with actual healthy, good-looking stuff for them to eat.

We joined the line. In case you didn’t bring a menu, helpful wall-sized photos of food help you choose. It took a while to get to the counter.

Once there, a nice person put my name on a white ticket. I gave my order — spicy chicken rice bowl ($10.95) — and she started to put it together.

Glad I hadn’t decided to build my own — there were way too many choices. First, a scoop or two of purple rice (more on that later) and some quinoa. Then, down the assembly line for some pickled onions, sprouts, baby spinach and falafel. I watched as chicken breast, still hot from the grill, was sliced and added. I chose roasted beets for a side, then — and this is genius — they poured a big scoop of hot chicken broth over all.

Lisa was right behind, watching her sriracha ginger roasted tofu bowl ($7.95 for small) being made. It’s mostly greens, with chunks of browned tofu, broccoli, carrots, sprouts, basil and sriracha sauce with real ginger grated on top. Then the ingredients were dressed and tossed, and emptied into a fresh bowl.

We each had soup added to our trays, but at $6.45 for a small roasted tomato and basil and $6.95 for small broccoli ginger, got more than we bargained for: They were large enough to serve as a meal, we thought, and priced as such.

So when we arrived at the register and added two drinks ($2.95 each), even Bill the cashier raised his eyebrows. “It came to a lot for lunch,” he said, checking again. “That doesn’t seem right,” he concluded. That’s when we found out how expensive the soups were. “But they’re fresh made here,” Bill said, and we agreed he had a point. But Bill wasn’t happy, and said, “I’ll give you my discount,” and re-rang the order, which came to $20.44, half the original price.

The Gazette appreciates the discount, but you the diner should be ready, as the bill can add up fast. There are tempting and delicious-looking additions you can pile into your bowl; at $1.25 each, they’ll add up quickly, too.

We are used to ordering a small soup and getting a coffee-cup-sized serving for a buck or two. At CoreLife, think of soup as an entree.

I would have gladly paid the full bill, but clearly this person wanted to present his store in the best light. Good choice.

So you know what we got, but let me tell you how it was: delicious, healthy and satisfying. Both soups were hearty, full of fresh flavors and thick. Mine came with a fried Parmesan crisp that was out of this world. “That’s enough soup,” Lisa said, pushing away the unfinished bowl. It’s a big small bowl.

About the purple rice: It’s a type of Asian wild rice that’s black before cooking and turns purple after, chewier than white rice with a nutty flavor. It’s similar in flavor and taste to brown rice, I thought, testing the components of my bowl. The chicken was chargrilled and tender, with a bit of hot seasoning. Quite good. I liked the pickled onion — more about pickle than onion — the sprouts and especially the roasted beets. There’s a lot going on in a bowl here. The genius about the broth is that the rice soaks it up, it picks up color from the beets and somehow it ties everything together.

That’s asking a lot of broth, but CoreLife makes its own bone broth (I’d call it stock) right there in the store from chicken and beef bones, and it’s rich and real-tasting and very good.

My bowl came with two pieces of house-made falafel. I’m not a fan of falafel and these didn’t convert me.

Lisa really enjoyed the roasted tofu bowl. “This is excellent,” she said. “There’s a ginger sriracha dressing that has some heat to it.” We agreed the small bowl made a perfect-sized lunch.

For the price of a drink, you get a cup and choose from any of the freshly made colorful beverages — mostly lemonades and iced teas. A fashionably dressed young woman wasn’t taking any chances: She tasted a little bit of each before choosing to fill her cup. “The beet lemonade is surprisingly good,” she offered. I liked the regular lemonade a lot. Lisa said the honey-ginger lemonade really grew on her.

Lisa spotted a stack of plastic bowls by the register and got one so I could pack my leftovers. We cleaned our table, deposited the trays, plastic and garbage in their designated pails, and went on our way.

The cost came to $20.44 with the discount courtesy of manager Bill. Think of what it would be, though, doubled. As he admitted, “That’s a lot for lunch.”

Overall, the experience was very good: our food was delicious, healthy and satisfying. In that order.


CoreLife Eatery 

WHERE: 11 Clifton Country Road, Village Plaza (Hannaford shopping center), Clifton Park; 518-836-5651; corelifeeatery.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
HOW MUCH: $38.20 before tax, $20.44 after discount
MORE INFO: ADA compliant. Children’s menu. Plenty of parking. Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Diner’s Club.

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