At Princeton, sometimes it feels as though carbs are ubiquitous. Sometimes it’s difficult to bring to mind the last time we ingested a fruit or vegetable that wasn’t in the form of ice cream or dried into a chip. This is exactly what made the introduction of açaí bowls to campus so exhilarating. They were a means of ingesting the nutrients our bodies had been craving for so long. Sweet, yet not overly so, and a trend sweeping across the United States for being both refreshing and malleable, the açaí bowl enchanted Allegra and me. So, the two of us set out to try every açaí bowl in the Princeton vicinity. This meant that we would trek to Tico’s, Frutta Bowls, Café Viv and Forbes to see which açaí bowl reigned supreme. Sadly, we had to separate for Café Viv and Forbes, but nonetheless, our insights about açaí exponentially developed. Our journey is detailed below, come learn with us!
Allegra: When it comes to açaí bowls as well as fruity beverages more generally in Princeton, Tico’s is the pioneer. As a townie, I remember back in high school, before the açaí trend, when I would go to Tico’s post Gratitude Yoga Gemma session and pick up a smoothie before walking home. It’s also worth mentioning that Tico’s has delicious quesadillas. Since then, Tico’s has expanded its repertoire of menu items to include açaí bowls, the main point of discussion for this article. I’m not sure of the exact moment, but I know that they were the first to do so in the greater Princeton area. While I’d been to Tico’s before, my order on this particular occasion was the classic “Pura Vida Bowl” but with added Nutella. Though I enjoyed my warm banter with Alex, the Tico’s açaí bowl was, as always, too icy for me, leading to the typical slight Tico’s brain-freeze. Tico’s açaí bowl, however, does have great flavor that isn’t too sweet, and the staff does a beautiful job of cutting up and presenting their fruit on top. They also give their customers real bowls which they reuse when customers choose to eat in. Even so, I tend to prefer Tico’s smoothies to their açaí bowls.
Alex: This was the first bowl that I tried in Princeton. I had high expectations; Tico’s is a long-established community staple, nearly ubiquitous on Princeton’s campus. Allegra and I went before class, before any caffeine had entered my bloodstream. It was clear that Tico’s is the mainstay for people who live in the township of Princeton. Nestled in the center of town, Tico’s is inviting and the walk into town is a welcome one. We ate our bowls over the chatter of Princeton middle-schoolers who were enthralled by pubescent gossip. I really want to say I like Tico’s açaí bowl, but that would be a lie. The toppings are great and numerous, but the base is just too icy. It lacks all the creaminess of Frutta Bowls, and there is a certain sandy quality to the base that is just overwhelming. What redeems Tico’s are its smoothies and juices. The mango pineapple juice is my favorite pick-me-up on a rainy day or perhaps before not handing in that pset that I didn’t even attempt to do.
Allegra: In a way, Tico’s paved the way for a place like Frutta Bowls to even exist in Princeton. As a result, one might say there is now a kind of rivalry between the two: Tico’s, the well supported local business which has capitalized on local popularity with yoga students, and Frutta Bowls, the “evil” incoming chain, as one may have noticed from a few of the recent, and quite defensive, Tico’s Instagram captions. Despite my love of small businesses, I have since the opening been to Frutta Bowls twice, ordering açaí bowls each time. For purposes of comparison, on my first visit I ordered the “Frutta Bowl” in order to compare the namesakes of each location. While the texture of the base was miles ahead of Tico’s, I could barely finish due to the overwhelming sweetness of the açaí and toppings overall. Furthermore, the amount of granola was overwhelming, taking up almost a third of what I ordered, even though I had specifically asked for less granola. What also has bothered me on both occasions at Frutta Bowls is that, whether you eat in or order to-go, you are given a plastic utensil and disposable containers. But I will give them bonus points for the Einstein mural on the wall.
Alex: The biggest revelation of my first year was not spurred by academic success or social undertakings; it was a flash of frozen berries and sprinkled granola. I was walking to my politics precept when I was struck by a flurry of neon colors and the pounding of a drill. Overtaken by my inquisitive nature, I asked what was being built. What I learned fulfilled my wildest dreams. In one month this hollow shell of retail would house a wonderland of fruity assortments. It was an açaí bowl chain that had multiple locations around New Jersey. Immediately, I was let down by those two words, New Jersey. Anything in New York would surely be better.
One month later, I realized I was wrong. Frutta Bowls is defined by its creaminess, wholly reminiscent of the KozyShack pudding you probably ate as a child. Having become accustomed to the gravely ice of Tico’s, I was pleasantly surprised. An orchestra of satiated “mhm”s and “Oh this is good”s crescendoed from my friends and me. Every bite was packed with a variety of flavors, from the sugar of the Nutella to the tart pineapple. I just cannot avoid sounding pretentious, but the ambiance truly enhanced the taste. Frutta Bowls is an amalgamation of tropical decor and black plush couches. It is the epitome of a boujee Princeton establishment attempting to cater to people they believe are “hip.” I ashamedly fell in love with Frutta Bowls. It has become my go to meal apart from the dining halls, eclipsing even Olives. Just one bite and I fall into a tart heaven and fly among the sweet strands of pitaya. I recommend Frutta Bowls to anyone with a comprehensive flavor palate, anyone who enjoys the delicacies of life, anyone at all.
Café Viv (Frist)
Alex: Right in the heart of Frist lies a special gem. Café Viv provides a tranquil respite from the bustle of Frist. The smell of grease emanates from hot calzones and lies heavily in the air. Earlier this year, quite unexpectedly, açaí bowls and smoothies were added to Café Viv’s menu. When I was handed my bowl, I was surprised by how visually stunning they were. The symmetry between the bananas and strawberries mimicked a cubist painting. After the first bite, it became clear that the base was from Tico’s. Thus, it was icy, and I found my teeth flinching at the seething cold. I should have just gotten a calzone.
Alex: I love Forbes brunch like everyone else. I relish the warmth of the blanketing hangover and the speckled sun on the golf course. I usually get an omelet, bacon, potatoes, chicken, sausage, and a salad for balance. Recently Forbes brunch acquired açaí bowls as well. As always, it is a rather healthy and hearty substitute for the breakfast I usually eat. The pièce de résistance of the Forbes brunch açaí bowl is that you get to put on your own toppings: you can ration granola and fruit to your liking. While this is truly special, the açaí bowl itself is lacking. It has a soup-like texture that is too thin to constitute an açaí bowl. It falls right off the spoon and does not keep its shape. And while it tastes just fine, I couldn’t get over the liquidity of the base. I gave the rest of my açaí bowl to a friend and relinquished my stomach to a breakfast of fried potatoes and waffles.
In conclusion, no açaí bowl is perfect, at least in Princeton. Flaws are inescapable, and the açaí bowls of the Princeton township are not exempt from this rule. But, our expedition was enlightening and in the end, Allegra and I did not come to the same conclusion. She is a Tico’s girl, I a Frutta Bowl boy. It is discord that cannot be repaired. So now, we part ways and eat açaí in content isolation, perhaps venturing outside Princeton to continue on the quest for the perfect açaí bowl.