Review: Smokin’ Bowls packs in high-grade, fresh fare

Longmont's fast-casual dining spot may over-season a bit, but its brownie sundae is killer

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Driving down the Diagonal, I had to tamp down my friends’ expectations when I told them we were headed to Longmont’s Smokin’ Bowls. While the name is likely to evoke a Pavlovian response to connoisseurs of cannabis, the reality is that this destination is a locally owned fast-casual dining spot that specializes in bowls of a reasonably healthy nature — more likely to be consumed with a fork or spoon as opposed to an ornate smoking apparatus.

While recovering from the inevitable disappointment of the decided lack of mind-altering flora at this Main Street eatery, we took in the bright and cheerful ambiance of the airy space. Like most places of this sort, ordering takes place at the counter, although the staff does bring food to the table, clears plates and refills soft drinks as needed. It’s also worth noting that the serving staff was exceptionally friendly and engaged.

There are many choices here; the diner selects a bowl, typically following a culinary theme, as well as a base and protein. For example, the gluten-free Greek Bowl comes loaded with hummus, tapenade, cauliflower, cucumber, carrot and fried chickpeas and is garnished with a tzatziki sauce. Diners then can choose from a foundation that includes such choices as rice prepared in vegetable broth, cauliflower rice and organic red quinoa. Both the cauliflower rice and quinoa incur a $1 upcharge. Lastly, the diner can choose a protein option, like sushi-grade ahi tuna, grilled tofu, steak, chicken or pork.

There’s plenty of vegan and gluten-free choices at Smokin’ Bowls, as well as a $5 kids menu featuring such items as spaghetti and a chicken and rice bowl. For those disinclined to assess all the available choices, there’s also a handful of bowls that require very little in the way of decision-making on the part of the diner. Examples include a mac-and-cheese bowl and Italian sausage spaghetti Bolognese.

Our group started the meal with one of the predetermined selections, albeit it was more of a side than an entrée, the $7 Bowl o’ Cheese Fries. Not quite a poutine, this course consisted of chunky twice-fried gold potatoes that boasted fine flavor, but could have used a touch more crisping. A white cheddar sauce was luxuriously rich, perhaps too decadent for some, but the creamy tones were nicely tempered by a sprinkling of togarashi, the beloved Japanese pepper mix.

Among the four bowls sampled by our group, one of the most noteworthy was the $13.50 Hawaiian Bowl, loaded with ahi tuna and rice. This base bowl was visually appealing with its freight of seaweed salad, edamame, tobiko fish roe and cucumber, among other elements. Each ingredient was unquestionably fresh, and the addition of high-quality fish gave it all the trappings of a classic poke bowl. One issue, however, was that the tamari ginger sauce was overly salty, which detracted from the enjoyment of the bowl and the tasty fish.

As we were in Longmont, I felt compelled to order the Longmont Bowl, which cost $13.50 with quinoa and steak. The house-made condiment, Bangin’ sauce, basically a creamy dressing with hints of what tasted like vibrant sriracha, was compelling and not too salty. Unfortunately, the beef did suffer from surplus sodium, which was too bad, as the other ingredients, like terrific heirloom cherry tomatoes, luxurious ripe avocado and roasted green chile left little to be desired.

Last, but certainly not least, was our group’s consensus favorite, the $9 Brownie Sundae Bowl, certainly suitable for sharing. This dessert featured plump scoops of top-notch vanilla ice cream, garnished with fresh strawberries and appealing house-made caramel and fudge sauces. When it first arrived at the table, we failed to noticed that it had arrived without brownies, and we greatly enjoyed this choice as a straight-up sundae. Our server quickly remedied the brownie deficit and gave us extra by way of compensation, and these warm chocolate bits rocketed this sweet to the top-tier of desserts.

The Smokin’ Bowls’ menu’s concept is a sound one, particularly when coupled with an impressive array of  fresh and local ingredients. The one thing holding back this eatery is a common theme of over-seasoning, and once this issue is addressed, Smokin’ Bowls will likely become a shining example of a locally owned fast casual spot done right.


Smokin’ Bowls

Food 3/4 stars

Service 3.5/4 stars

Ambiance 3/4 stars

Price: $$

Address: 449 Main St., Longmont

Contact: 720-815-2875, smokinbowlsrestaurant.com

Hours: 11 a.m.–9 p.m.  Monday-Sunday

Fare: True to its name, most of the options are served in bowls with plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free choices. Many of the selections are inspired by world cuisines, and these include Thai, Italian and Greek-themed bowls.

Noise Level: Moderate, and it was easier to listen to one another talking inside such a modern monochromatic setting with a fair amount of hard surfaces.

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