Craving Cava Grill
Luckily, there’s a fantastic new fast-casual choice to add to Irvine’s restaurant repertoire. Cava Grill is like a Mediterranean Chipotle, but with exponentially more combinations available to build your own delicious and potentially healthy meal.
The aesthetically pleasing, simple and expansive space debuted at The Crossroads Center a few weeks ago in the exterior pad that includes Creamistry. It’s a simple process: guests first choose between a bowl or a large pita upon which to create a meal. Add grains and/or greens, a choice of protein, and a variety of flavorful dips, spreads and dressings.
Sounds simple, but by peeking at what other patrons order, it’s clear that the variety is almost endless. Most seem to choose the bowl over the pita, the better to go crazy with the combinations. I start with some greens from the fresh salad bins right behind the first station in the familiar assembly line-style queue. There isn’t just one single salad mix, but rather a choice of a few, including organic arugula, spinach, romaine, mesclun and something called super greens, which on my visits was a mix of shredded and chopped kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage. There’s also a map on the wall, with a list of local farmers and purveyors from which the chain purchases produce, meats and such.
On my first visit, I went with super greens and a bit of brown rice from the grains list, which also includes black lentils and saffron basmati rice. I did a half-and-half combo of proteins (a server clued us in to this option), mixing chicken with roasted seasonal vegetables. Then I threw in a rainbow of toppings, including tomato and onion, carrots, cauliflower quinoa tabbouleh and a crunchy slaw of some sort.
Some go minimalist: a grain, a protein and a topping. I saw one that was just the delicious grilled chicken, brown rice and pickled onions. A bit beige for our taste, but (wait for it…) it is Irvine.
It’s easy to go Paleo at Cava Grill, loading up with clean protein and produce, or to create a healthy, plant-based bowl.
The MyFitnessPal app on my phone says that a super greens salad and chicken bowl topped with cucumber-tomato, pickled onion, mint and Greek vinaigrette dressing is 414 calories with 20 grams of protein.
But one can also easily overdue it (thankfully) and end up with a high-calorie dish that could feed a hungry person for a couple of meals. A big pita packed with spicy lamb meatballs, topped with jalapeno feta cheese and Greek vinaigrette, for example. Some find the meatballs dry, but I appreciate the seared spice that adds crunch to my bowl.
Perhaps my second favorite thing about Cava Grill is the wide variety of bold flavors available. At too many fast casual concepts one has to beg for a bit of spice, and it often comes bottled with brand names like Tabasco or Cholula. Here, there’s three ways, as a dip and two varieties of dressing, Sriracha Greek yogurt and the spicy meatballs, plus that crazy feta.
My first favorite thing? The servers. They seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs. That might be because they’re treated well by the owners and investors, including starting pay of $13 an hour after an increase this past summer, plus health insurance.
A Greek-American trio of culinary entrepreneurs Ike Grigoropoulos, Ted Xenohristos, and Chef Dimitri Moshovitis started Cava Grill in Washington, D.C. AOL co-founder and venture capitalist Steve Case made a major investment, along with others, allowing the chain to engage in its current rapid expansion.
In a statement the owners said that the wage increase will benefit 1,000 workers now, and many more later as the chain expands: “Though there are many different state and local conversations about increasing the minimum wage to varying degrees in the future, we wanted to better support our team members across the board now,” they said.
I say Irvine will welcome this tasty new addition to our multicultural culinary scene.
3972 Barranca Pkwy.