In South Berwick, Engrain’s build-your-own bowl concept offers many healthy choices. Bob Keyes/Staff photo

SOUTH BERWICK — Engrain, a new fast, casual spot in South Berwick in the spot formerly occupied by Thistle Pig, is designed for these times: Efficient, clean, healthy and local.

Owners Benjamin Hasty and Jennifer Fecteau closed the sit-down Thistle Pig after the pandemic and adapted the restaurant for grab-and-go meals, as well as delivery and dine-in, with a narrow focus on locally sourced, build-your-own bowls. Instead of rich, sit-down dining, the new concept focuses on healthy meals to go. Engrain opened in July. I ordered lunch to-go on the first day of fall.

It was a near-contactless experience that left me feeling fully engaged with a local restaurant that values its customers and farmers, operates with a mission statement that I endorse (respect the earth, live a balanced life, connect with community), and backs up its values with sensible prices and responsible packaging.

Plus, the food was fresh, healthy and plentiful.

Engrain offers specialty signature bowls, but it’s fun to make your own, and the website makes it easy with a four-step process. You start with a base of rice, farro or greens; add a protein of chicken, salmon, tofu or beef; add vegetables and toppings (two each); and a choice of sauces and dressings. All for $12, with additional charges for extras and add-ons. The specialty bowls, which include grilled salmon, chorizo sausage and slow-cooked beef, range from $10 to $13. A kids bowl costs $7.

Engrain is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, so it’s good for lunch or dinner, and the menu is the same for both.

I ordered online, starting with a base of sticky rice, and added chicken, then layered on broccoli, shredded carrots, yogurt from Brandmoore Farm in nearby Rollinsford, New Hampshire, sesame seeds and a lime-yogurt sauce. I added green beans, an extra vegetable, for $1. With tax and tip, the total was $16.38.

I paid with my credit card at 12:31 p.m., and was informed my order would be ready for pick-up at 12:46. I live 4 miles away in Berwick, and it takes about 10 minutes, so I headed straight out. At 12:45, I parked on the street in front of the restaurant, stepped inside – masked, as required – and was greeted by a pleasant, masked woman, who directed me to a counter and a bag with my name on it. Mine was among three orders waiting for pick-up. She asked if I wanted utensils, which I declined, and I was on my way.

Ten minutes later, I was home safe with a fresh meal that I helped customize. I noted that the packaging was environmentally friendly, with a compostable bowl and lid made from plants, and a recyclable bag.

The food was beautifully presented, a colorful mix of vegetables with different textures. The sticky rice was a perfect base for the chicken, which was cut in bite-sized chunks. The beans, broccoli and carrots were smothered in yogurt. The lime-green yogurt sauce brightened everything, and a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds added additional texture and earthy flavors. And as pleased as I was with the taste, I was most impressed with the portions. This was a full meal in every way.

Engrain is a great neighbor that serves fresh, healthy meals at a fair price.

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