Thursday, August 14, 2014

Owen + Alchemy

2355 N Milwaukee
Chicago, IL

I was lucky enough to get invited to the friends and family opening of Owen + Alchemy, the new juice bar -- excuse me, juice apothecary -- in Logan Square. The space is beautiful, as you can see from the pictures in Eater (sorry, it was only after leaving that it occurred to me that this was a good excuse to revivify this blog and hopefully post more often, so I didn't think to document it more thoroughly while I was there). You'd never guess that such a bright, airy room awaits you behind the black and slightly macabre exterior. Spidery looking air plants dangle artfully in alcoves behind the wide counter. There is a giant "alchemical" symbol painted on one of the walls. A large, gorgeous solid wood table rests atop a green metallic polyhedron-type thing instead of legs. The overall look is semi-goth art deco, but with neither the sterility nor the pretentiousness that such a combination implies. It's a very nice room. I wonder if they will add more places to sit, but in the meantime, the irregular edges of the table lead to a subtle sectioning that allows for a sense of personal space in the communal area. Nonetheless, the lack of seating and to-go packaging of everything rather discourages dining in.

The out-of-the-ordinary texture of the disposable plates and forks (and the establishment's obvious commitment to being environmentally conscious) makes me think they are probably good for the planet in some way, but are they really better than reusing silverware and dishes? Definitely, there will need to be a sign to let people know what to do when faced with the landfill, compost, and recycling bins. I was pretty sure that the glass bottle went into the recycling (it would be nice if they'd wash and reuse them instead, as that would definitely be more environmentally sustainable) but had no idea about the rest. The staff surmised that everything else could be composted, except maybe the sticker on the salad container (I don't mind tearing the sticker off, but at the same time...). A quick glance into the bins made it clear that customers had all kinds of different theories on what went where -- or maybe just didn't care.

As you can see from the menu, although the focus is juices, there are also bowls (mostly granola-type things) and salads. They were out of the kelp noodles by the time I arrived, so I had the 3-kale salad and it was fantastic. The kale was torn into pieces of a manageable size, and wonderfully complimented by the radish and fennel, with the almonds adding a pleasing crunch. The avocado dressing was delicious; creamy and tangy, it tied the ingredients together beautifully without being overpowering.

Of course the real point is the juice. I wish I could've tried more than one, but when forced to pick among the incredible array of options, I decided to go out on a limb and taste something really new to me, so I got #57, which is raw almond, turmeric root, raw cashew, cardamom, ginger, and raw local honey. It was good, though I wished it had been a little bit more gingery. The almond was pretty dominant, but the flat salty flavor that can make drinking nut milks (heh heh) a chore was thankfully tempered by the turmeric and honey. I would certainly get it again.

Here's the thing though. The juices come in giant bottles. Or at least they seemed giant; the website suggests that they are 8oz, but that seems awfully small in contrast to the behemoth that I got (the more I drank, the bigger it seemed!). Hmmm. The $9-12 prices are a bit of a shock to the system, but the neighborhood can probably sustain it? In its defense, I will say that I arrived starving, and the juice and salad I had left me beyond stuffed. So you're definitely getting a meal for the price. But I do feel like I might have preferred to pay $7 for a 6oz juice, or $10 for two different 4ozers... There is no doubt that these are high quality juices, and the commitment to sourcing from socially conscious farms -- not just organic, but also committed to fair labor practices -- is certainly worth paying more for... but you have to be able to afford it. However, the website also mentions memberships and subscriptions, which seem to offer discounts. It does not mention actual cost, which makes me suspect that they're waiting to gauge interest before settling on prices.

In any case: I would be surprised if the place didn't take off. It seems like the kind of thing that Logan Square hipsters would go wild over. But the food is also good enough to make it an appealing (and healthy!) lunch option for the less sophisticated as well. And honestly, the juice is so tasty that I could even be persuaded to do the unthinkable and try one of their cleanses...