By Lisa N. Ha
There’s more to the açaí berry than an exotic sounding name* and curiously purple color. Cultivated from a 60-foot tall palm tree native to Brazil, this grape-shaped fruit has increasingly become recognized in the U.S. for its antioxidant power. Açaí is served as a traditional breakfast food in Brazil, in southern California, and now in Harrisonburg — if the employees at Pulp get their way. The smoothie bar (AKA açaí bowl restaurant) opens Monday on South Main Street. It’s conjoined to and operated by Shenandoah Bicycle Company, a pairing that the owners say is a natural fit.
“It’s a good companion to the active lifestyle,” says co-owner Tim Richardson. A graduate of James Madison University, Richardson incorporates açaí in his regimen for 24-hour bicycle marathons. He was already contemplating adding an açaí smoothie bar when he was approached last summer by Matthew Lau, a fellow JMU alum who was visiting the area from Portland, Oregon. Lau represents a company that distributes fair trade, sustainably farmed açaí puree. Bikes, meet berries.
“This is a ’20 people standing around together eating before going on a bike ride’ food,” says Lau. “It’s a meal. The energy will hit you forty-five minutes later. You’ll be able to go faster and longer than before, and you’ll recover more quickly from exercise.”
Outside of any medicinal claims, the smoothies simply taste good. An açaí bowl begins with several packets of the berry pulp, harvested in Brazil and frozen no more than four hours afterward. The customer then selects companion fruits to mix in like organic strawberries, bananas, mangoes, or blueberries. A splash of almond milk or other liquid, a spin around a blender — and then the fun begins. What was once mere fruit is now the consistency of a rich, thick sorbet worthy of being eaten with a spoon. Customers have a range of topping choices: fresh strawberry slices, almonds drizzled with local honey, chocolate shavings, coconut and more. Beginners wary of some of the more exotic choices like hemp milk or bee pollen might want to start with the classic “Rio bowl”: banana, açaí and milk topped with organic granola and more fresh banana slices. Whatever you choose, Richardson says, “it’s all about trying it.”
After that, he promises you’ll be hooked.
*How exactly do you pronounce “açaí?” Watch the clip below and find out.
Pulp is located at 135 South Main Street adjacent to Shenandoah Bicycle Company. Hours (at least for now) are 9-ish to 4, Monday through Saturday.