Cava in Bridgewater, Where Healthy Meets Fast-Casual

Despite what its name implies, this fast-casual eatery doesn't serve any wine—but it does offer a healthy assortment of customizable Mediterranean meals.

Photo by Shelby Vittek.

If you head to Cava expecting to have a glass of the Spanish sparkling wine that share’s the same name, you’re destined for disappointment. There is no cava served at Cava. In fact, there is no wine or alcohol of any kind available to order.

What you will find is a bright and modern fast-casual eatery that specializes in Mediterranean cuisine. The growing chain has locations in 10 states, with three in New Jersey that have  opened within the last year. There’s a Cava at Bergen Town Center in Paramus, one on Montgomery Street in Jersey City near the city’s waterfront, and another at Bridgewater Commons in Bridgewater, the state’s latest storefront to open, and the location I recently checked out for lunch.

Cava works with local farmers and producers in several states in the Northeast. Here in New Jersey, they work with Bergamo Brothers Farms, Buena Vista Farms, Cresci Farms, Leone Produce and Paul Coia Sons Farms, all located in Vineland; and Lanning Brothers Farm in Bridgeton. I appreciated the company’s dedication to sourcing ingredients locally when possible, and enjoyed being able to see where my food came from on the map that’s on display near the ordering area.

A new player in the growing fast-casual restaurant scene, Cava is supposedly focused on speed and convenience, though my experience was anything but. I found the ordering process to be overwhelming, with no actual dishes to choose from, just a list of available ingredients. And the signage itself was confusing. In America, we’re taught to read from left to right, but here you’re expected to follow ordering instructions from right to left—at least at the Bridgewater location.

Greens-and-grains bowl with spicy lamb meatballs, hummus, tzatziki and a number of toppings, with lemon herb tahini dressing. Photo by Shelby Vittek

The whole menu is highly customizable and requires you to choose ingredients every step of the way. You start with a base (salad, grains, pita, a greens-and-grains combination, etc.), choose up to three dips (hummus, tzatziki, harissa, spicy feta, roasted red pepper hummus, etc.), pick a protein (falafel, spicy lamb meatballs, braised beef or lamb, grilled meatballs, chicken, or roasted season vegetables), select your favorite toppings (shredded lettuce, pickled onion, cabbage slaw, cauliflower quinoa tabbouleh, olives, mint, etc.), and then top it off with a drizzle of dressing (lemon herb tahini, green harissa, yogurt dill, etc.). The menu also boasts a line-up of house-made juices and teas.

As a first-time patron, I wished someone had done some of the work for me already, someone who was already familiar with the menu and what flavor combinations would work together. Despite the semi-stressful ordering situation, I managed to cobble together an appetizing order: a greens-and-grains combo with spicy lamb meatballs, hummus, harissa, tzatziki and a number of different toppings. My lunch companion ordered a similar variation, opting for roasted vegetables and roasted red pepper hummus instead.

Cava’s ordering process might not have been the most enjoyable experience, but our fresh creations were. Our greens-and-grains bowls were hearty and flavorful yet refreshing, and we didn’t feel too weighed down when it was time to head back to the office. The next time I visit, I’ll come prepared with a game plan—and maybe you should do the same.

Cava, 620 Commons Way, Suite 4100, Bridgewater; 908-224-0052

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