This Vegetarian Restaurant In Brooklyn Serves Only One Item. Is It Any Good?
In 2001, Tali Ovadia rolled out a tiny food cart in Portland, Oregon, with a single item on the menu, a “whole bowl” of rice, beans, avocado, a couple of other things, and an addictive lemon and garlic sauce. People loved it. So much so that, even though it’s been almost twenty years, and Ovadia now owns and operates 12 different Whole Bowls — that latest has now opened in Williamsburg — she still only sells that one item. It seems like an efficient but unusual way to run a restaurant, but obviously Tali gets enough love in Portland to make it work.
Yesterday was opening day at the Brooklyn Whole Bowl, which is located on Metropolitan Avenue near Kellogg’s Diner, so I went to try this apparently magical dish. First, let me say that Whole Bowl does technically sell a few other little items—there are some bulk tortilla chips for people who “want a little crunch,” vegan cookies and brownies from THINK, and beverages like a $4.50 kombucha and $3.50 cans of Spindrift. But the Whole Bowl is, in fact, your only choice for a meal.
Here’s what you get, layered in a “certified compostable” container that’s really more silo than bowl: lots of brown rice (I’d say almost two-thirds of this dish is grains), house-boiled red and black beans, lots of Tali’s secret sauce, some red salsa, a generous glob of sour cream, a few token shreds of cheddar, canned black olives, avocado slices that don’t have much an of impact, and a mess of cilantro. The latter garnish, combined with the container’s vertical orientation, means that your Whole Bowl is not terribly photogenic, so I dumped my 24-oz “Insatiabowl” (the large size) onto a tray for all to see.
No question, the Whole Bowl tastes good, thanks in large measure to the kicky, bright yellow Tali sauce. And it’s certainly a pleasurable dining experience in that comfort-food sort of way. If you’re a vegetarian, it’s a nice way to get some protein with a kick of flavor, even if at times it can feel like you’re eating a seven-layer dip.
This is the largest Whole Bowl location in Ovadia’s empire, though it’s still a pretty modest space, with seating for just 17 at a row of tables made of wood “from already fallen trees,” and at stools by the front window and near the ordering counter in the back. The decor is bright and cheery, with whitewashed brick, lots of plants, a cheesy slogan (“It’s Like Eating a Hug”) in neon, and family portraits from across Whole Bowl’s history. The soundtrack was bouncy hip hop on my visit mid-afternoon, and the counter workers friendly and enthusiastic. It’ll be interesting to see if a one-dish restaurant can find as much success here in NYC as it did in Oregon.
The Whole Bowl is located at 488 Metropolitan Avenue, between Rodney Street and Union Avenue, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (347-599-1717; thewholebowl.com)