Grain bowls are riding high on current healthy eating trends, around the country and right here in Maine, too. In our state, they’re on the rise at local restaurants, where chefs and owners report that vegan bowls quickly become bestsellers.

Two and half years ago Ten Ten Pié in Portland added a vegan grain bowl to its menu. “It’s become one of our top-selling items,” owner Markos Miller said. “We were pleasantly surprised by how well-received it was.”

The multi-grain veggie bowl has a base of three kinds of rice and quinoa, which is topped with greens, seaweed, avocado, pickles and tofu. A carrot-ginger dressing finishes the dish.

A few blocks away at the Press Hotel, Union restaurant chef Josh Berry offered a “very successful” vegan grain bowl on the spring menu. Since then, grain bowls have been popping up on the restaurant’s specials board. Berry said he’s noticed customers on a business lunch “want a lighter dish but want to still really remain full.” Grain bowls score on both points.

The most recent grain bowl offered at Union united green bamboo rice, French green lentils, green zebra tomatoes and zucchini. Berry said fall versions might include wheat berries, seared tempeh, red cabbage and pumpkin broth.

On the island of North Haven, where the year-round population of 350 swells to 1,500 in the summer months, a vegetarian grain bowl added to the menu at Calderwood Hall two years ago has won a following among both locals and summer folks. Called the grains and greens bowl, its made up of brown rice, seasonal vegetables, quick pickles and feta; the cheese can be left off to make it vegan, and a choice of two dressings are offered.

“I didn’t have any idea it would be so popular,” said Jessie Hallowell, who is the kitchen manager at Calderwood Hall, which is the only restaurant on the island to stay open year round. “It appeals to a broad audience,” Hallowell continued. “It’s really surprising to me, but it really is across the board. Kids don’t order it as much, but lobstermen, carpenters, moms, vegetarians, the gluten-free and teenagers do.”

Miller at Ten Ten Pié said his grain bowl eaters also run the gamut. Many are younger people and women, “but more and more we see carpenters, construction workers and guys that a generation ago would be ordering Italians from the same spot,” he said. (Ten Ten Pié is located in the storefront that once held DiPietro’s Italian sandwich shop.)

One restaurant that has gone all in on the grain bowl trend is LB Kitchen in Portland, which opened in late February with a health-focused menu of grain bowls and avocado toasts. Bryna Gootkind, who opened the restaurant with chef Lee Farrington, said they decided to focus on grain bowls as a result of her experience in the natural foods industry; she works in marketing for California-based superfood brand Navitas Organics. On business trips, she said she has noticed how well grain bowl restaurants have done in major cities.

“We were surprised the concept wasn’t happening very much in Portland,” Gootkind said.

LB Kitchen has been busy since opening, and the recently added tofu banh mi bowl has replaced the All the Vegetables bowl as its top seller. Both are vegan. The banh mi bowl features brown rice topped with pickled daikon, pickled beets, avocado, greens, spicy vegan mayo and tofu. All the Vegetables starts with a base of quinoa or farro and then is topped with seasonal vegetables, pickled beets, sauerkraut and, if desire, turmeric grilled tofu.

These grain bowls and the rest of its healthful, on-trend menu landed LB Kitchen the contract to provide all the breakfasts and lunches for the bands playing at Thompson’s Point this past summer.

One of the newest grain bowls can be found at Gather in Yarmouth, which tested the vegan Golden Bowl on its specials board in September. Composed of rice piled with roasted vegetables, pickled red peppers, tofu and a nutritional yeast sauce, the dish captured the attention of diners.

“Interestingly, this dish got such a positive response from people who don’t always order vegetarian,” Gather owner Matt Chappell said.

On the nights the grain bowl was on the specials board, it accounted for 10 percent of the dishes ordered. “For a vegan option to be 10 percent of the meals that go out that night really says a lot,” he said. “My top dish on a given night wouldn’t exceed 10 percent, let alone a dish on the specials board.”

The Golden Bowl is now on Gather’s permanent menu.


Step 1: Pick a cooked grain

Go basic with white rice, or take it up a notch with brown basmati rice, jasmine rice or red rice. More adventurous bowl makers may opt for quinoa, buckwheat, hulled barley, wheat berries, farro or rye berries. Try a mix of grains.

Step 2: Select your vegetables

Let the season and the farmers market be your guide. Or pick a flavor profile and work from there. At this time of year, roasted root vegetables or Brussels sprouts are nice, as is sauteed kale and garlic.

Step 3: Choose a protein

Try tofu – either baked or fried, hot or cold. Tempeh works well, too, but is better served hot. Other good grain complements are plant-based meats made from seitan, beans, and falafel or crumbled veggie burgers.

Step 4: Add a pickle

It can really help brighten a bowl. Options range from pickled cucumbers and pickled peppers to pickled cauliflower. Marinated artichoke hearts, olive, sauerkraut and kimchi also add zest.

Step 5: Top with sauce

This crucial element brings the bowl together, and the possibilities are endless. To name just a few, balsamic vinaigrette, carrot-ginger dressing, vegan ranch dressing, lemon-tahini sauce, Thai peanut sauce, miso broth, and vegan cheese sauce.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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