Eating around the holidays can be tricky: You’re already on the path to overindulging, but comfort food is such a big part of the festivities that it’s seemingly unavoidable. If the scale’s been a little unforgiving lately, fend off the high-calorie feeding frenzy by heading to Zeal for a morning pick-me-up you don’t have to feel guilty about. A place to eat mindfully instead of mindlessly, Zeal offers a zillion options for whatever diet you’re into at the moment or for the long haul, whether that's paleo, vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, gluten-free, soy free, dairy-free — or simply a meal where you don’t feel like you need to collapse on a couch immediately afterward. The Pearl Street eatery serves "food for enthusiasts" at breakfast, lunch, and dinner; I stopped by to see if the a.m. menu would suffice in providing enough fuel for the day while satisfying the craving for a social morning meal.
Celebrating two years on Pearl Street, Zeal epitomizes Boulder in the best way possible. From homemade crunchy granola to build-your-own acai bowls, the restaurant has built a reputation for juice cleanses and a menu that was co-developed by the gals from Conscious Cleanse, the cult lifestyle book devoted to cleansing, detoxing, and developing a better appreciation for what you put in your body. The in-house juicing station is complemented by a grab-and-go market where you can pick up healthy snacks and individual juices by the bottle. Zeal serves breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m. on weekdays and until noon on weekends.
The drink menu is almost more impressive than the food options, with cold pressed juices, organic smoothies, coffee whipped with grass-fed butter and organic coconut oil in regular or pumpkin spice (it still tasted like coffee, much to the dismay of this girl’s aversion to coffee that tastes like coffee), kombucha on tap, homemade almond milk, and other crazy concoctions available by the shot or glass. We opted for a colorful juice flight to taste the rainbow that’s a little different than what you get with the cleanse (read: sweeter and more palatable), but still a good way to meet your fruit and veggie quota for the day. The red was the table favorite, a blend of beet, apple, ginger and lime that had a shake-like thickness. And although the green ( (kale, cucumber, celery, lemon, and ginger) is one of Zeal's best sellers, I could’ve done without it, since it had absolutely no added sugar — I'm just not ready for that level of Boulder health-freakiness. The yellow (pineapple, lemon, cucumber, jalapeno) tasted like a tangy lemonade, while the seasonal fall addition was a pink mixture of apple, fennel, mint, lemon, and cabbage. Never would I have thought to add fennel to a beverage, but this crew does plenty of taste-testing before unleashing blends on the public.
The housemade hot chocolate was even more unique, brewed with 68-percent cacao, almond milk, chai, sugar cane and beets. Yes, beets. Zeal sneaks the root veggies into both the hot chocolate and the chocolate shake – just enough to give it a red tinge without altering the rich, creamy bittersweet flavor, a trippy ploy considering how much we eat with our eyes. And in case you’re craving a hair of the dog, there are also cocktails, beer and wine if you’re looking to retox with a libation instead of flushing the system.
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As someone who has a real aversion to eating healthy, I still found just about everything on the menu pleasingly approachable despite typical red-flag descriptors like flax and chia. Distracted by the sinful flavors of chocolate and pumpkin spice, I was able to Jedi mind-trick myself into ordering something I normally wouldn’t. The menu is separated into hot and cold items with the hot side offering a range of internationally inspired plates, with the bibimb’fast and the frittata immediately catching my eye. More veggie-centric than a traditional Korean bibimbop, the proportions on Zeal's version seemed a bit off considering the dish actually translates to “mixed rice.” Only a few bites of brown rice were hiding below a mountain of veggies. I'd normally douse my bowl in red chili sauce, but I’m glad I tasted this one first, because the heat level is no joke, with plenty of fire from the tart, house-fermented kimchi, so I used the fried egg and rice to ease my burning mouth. The dish was a valiant effort in recreating bibimbop, but it's something I order frequently at other restaurants and my brain just kept asking “Where’s the beef?” The frittata stuck closer to my idea of breakfast, an eggy, quiche-like creation filled with fresh kale, tomato, and caramelized onion.
We ended the meal with a large bowl of pineki acai topped with peanut butter, banana, almonds and honey. How this creamy, gelato-like pudding dessert is good for you I’ll never understand, but if I can trick myself into eating healthy this way, I just might be a convert yet.