WILLIAMSBURG — If you hate making decisions, rejoice: Portland’s The Whole Bowl is coming to Williamsburg next week and it offers only one item on the menu – a rice and bean bowl.
How does one exactly come to such minimal perfection? The owner and founder Tali Ovadia was working at a software company over 18 years ago, when they were bought out. Her plan was to open a food cart for the summer to get by, which with time turned into a multi-storefront business.
Inspired by her travels to Nepal and their hearty staple Nepali dal bhat, a lentil and rice dish, Ovadia wanted to offer something just as healthy, cheap, and filling. However, even though it’s delicious, her first test tasters of friends and family decided it wasn’t appealing to the eye.
“It’s delicious, but it’s not pretty,” laughed Ovadia. “One of my friends said, ‘it looks like vomit.’”
Without missing a beat, Ovadia started playing with garnishes and presentation and moved toward a Mexican-inspired bowl, that has Tilamook cheddar, sour cream, pico de gallo, avocado and her signature lemon-garlic Tali sauce–the recipe remains a secret. Ovadia playfully calls her dish “Portland cuisine.”
“It’s only one dish because my cart was 10 square feet of space and I didn’t have a lot of room to have a lot of ingredients, I could do one thing and do it really well,” Ovadia elaborated on the minimalist menu. “People appreciate not having to make the choice, they’d come to my cart knowing there’s one thing on the menu, and I was excited to explore the idea of minimalism.”
The only other additions on the menu are corn tortilla chips to add to your bowl, vegan cookies and brownies, and a variety of drinks. The bowl is easy to modify to vegan diets, it’s gluten- and nut-free, and pleases a crowd. Their tag line is, “It tastes like a hug.”
Ovadia grew her business from a cart to a trailer, to a storefront, to multiple locations in Portland, and now Cincinnati, and soon Williamsburg.
Ovadia’s Brooklyn partner, an old friend, Adam Sturm, was a chef in his 20s and 30s, with impressive stints like being the sous chef of Chef Michael Lomonaco at the 21 club. Now in his 50s, he has opened a chain of cross fit gyms in North Brooklyn, CrossFit Outbreak.
While visiting the West Coast, Sturm had tried Ovadia’s Whole Bowl and pitched her the idea of a Brooklyn location. Both agreed that there’s a reciprocity between Portland and Brooklyn, a lot of similarities between the two, including an appreciation for simple, cheap, healthful food.
“We’re in this corridor of vegetarian and vegan restaurants on Metropolitan avenue,” said Sturm of the new location, nestled among plant-based restaurants By Chloe, Butcher’s Daughter, and Modern Love.
When they visited the location, there was a sign on the building that read “store with good karma,” and seeing the foot traffic in the area was high, they knew this was the right place. Emphasizing their concept, Sturm said it’s hard to find a cheap and healthy lunch option in Brooklyn under $12.50.
This is their largest space yet, with 18 seats and 850 square feet. There are four bowl sizes, the 12 ounce “Bambino Bowl” for $8.95, the 16 ounce “Big Bowl” for $9.95, the 24 ounce “Insatiabowl” at $11.95, and the crowd-feeding “Hyperbowl” that will satiate between 8 to 10 people for $69.95.
Opening Monday November 11, the first 50 customers will get free bowls – one big bowl per person.
“When you eat a bowl–you end up feeling good about it and not going home and taking a nap,” Ovadia said. “It’s healthy and clean food. Hopefully, it’ll speak for itself.”
488 Metropolitan Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., 7 days a week.