Location: 169 City Ave., Bala Cynwyd
Contact: (610) 667-2573, honeygrow.com.
Cuisine: Salads, Asian.
Cost: Entrées $8-$15.
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Atmosphere: Classy cafeteria style.
There’s an adage that good ideas are a dime a dozen and it’s the execution that matters. Justin Rosenberg had two pretty good ideas. The first struck shortly after he graduated from Temple University’s MBA program in 2009. “I was working in assets and management, and I was already tired of being in a cubicle,” he says. “I wanted to pursue something that would make me happy.”
Rosenberg began researching how he could start his own business—but what would that business be? “I was passionate about local, organic food,” he says. “And I realized, ‘This is it.’”
And thus far, his execution has been spot-on. Honeygrow is Rosenberg’s sleek, modern, healthy take on fast food, switching out hamburgers and fries for locally sourced, high-quality ingredients tossed into fully customized salads and stir-fries. The concept takes full advantage of busy lifestyles and eco-conscious trends. Get what you want, when you want it—and feel good about it, too.
Honeygrow has two locations in Center City and Bala Cynwyd. Step inside Honeygrow’s bright, airy Bala space, and you’ll find plenty of college students, along with business types and recovering shoppers. Hand-delivered to Rosenberg, the City Avenue locale was too good to pass up. “It made sense in terms of synergy—people who know Honeygrow from working in the city drive past it on their way home to the burbs. The location is like a billboard,” he says. “It’s been jokingly referred to as the new St. Joe’s cafeteria.”
Simple wooden tables, white walls and a backlit company logo dominate the room. A bar with hefty stools makes an ideal location for single diners, and the row of outlets beneath makes it a dream for laptop users. In the wide-open kitchen, the staff scoops various produce items and meats from stainless-steel bins beneath a colorful map that shows where certain ingredients were sourced.
Ordering is done at a bank of touch-screen computers—perfect for the shy and meticulous. Be forewarned: Tapping your way through all the choices can be addicting. Rosenberg spent countless hours with esteemed local food photographer Jason Varney to get artful shots for the menu. This can also add significantly to wait time if newbies are lingering in front of you.
The menu is, in all honesty, two items: salads and stir-fries. But it’s the options afforded each that give Honeygrow its primary appeal. Each category comes with five or so proposed combinations that can be ordered with a tap—or you can start from scratch. Egg-white noodles made specially for Honeygrow serve as the main base for stir-fries, though you can switch to egg or rice noodles, brown rice, or even a romaine lettuce cup.
Other choices include chicken, pork, shrimp, beef and tofu (made in-house), not to mention a slew of veggies, from bok choy to Thai basil. Settle on one of six sauces, pay and pick up your order in a traditional Chinese-style takeout box.
Salads follow the same routine, with six dressings and the option to add a slice of fresh, nut-studded bread from Wild Flour Bakery in Philadelphia. There’s also a solid smoothie menu, plus something called the Honeybar—a mindful take on dessert, where you choose a combo of fresh fruit, crunchy mixers and nonfat whipped cream, all drizzled with local honey. Drinks include fresh tea, microbrewed sodas like birch beer, and Coke products for the diehards.
In case you’re craving a repeat, Honeygrow’s system remembers your last four orders. It also lets you know which ingredients are vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free, while offering a heat-index score for the stir-fry sauces.
I threw caution to the wind and tried the hottest option on my first go—Spicy Garlic, tossed with chicken, bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, peppers and egg-white noodles. And it was spicy enough to render my mango-pineapple-mint smoothie necessary. The Lemon Miso Tahini sauce, on the other hand, was mild and a bit demure with a mix of shrimp, edamame, mushrooms and carrots. With both, the protein was well cooked, the veggies tender-crisp, and the serving size sustainable enough to get you through the afternoon.
Fresh and crisp, with flavorful dressings, the salads also shined. The Persampiere was an intriguing riff on a Caprese—cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, focaccia croutons, red onions, panko-crusted chicken and arugula, tossed with a creamy Parmesan dressing.
The Skinny: Honeygrow is bright, fresh and streamlined—an upscale but unfussy experience, perfect for a quick lunch or an easy supper. Come as you are, pick what you want, and drop your recyclables in the bin on your way out. Thanks to Honeygrow, at least one thing about your day can be uncomplicated.