Lately it seems everyone is trying to create the next Chipotle, Shake Shack or other fast-casual hot spot. That includes Honeygrow, a budding chain that arrived in Jersey this year. Founded in 2012 by Justin Rosenberg, a former real estate asset manager, the stylish salad-and-stir-fry café has grown from one location in Center City, Philadelphia, to six—the latest being Cherry Hill in April and Hoboken in October.
In my visits, Cherry Hill’s bright, big-windowed space was filled with families towing kids, couples on dates and women with yoga mats slung over their shoulders. One wall features a photographic mural depicting a nest of fresh noodles, a vase of jaunty herbs, whole eggs and a dripping honeycomb—a visualization of Honeygrow’s menu.
You order on touchscreens mounted in a row facing a Chipotle-style open kitchen, and pick up your order at the cash register. You have two choices—a salad or a noodle stir-fry—but many options within each category. Honeygrow’s menu includes six “suggested” salads and six “suggested” stir-frys—their own presumably terrific combinations. Or, if you’re up to it, build your own.
In salads, choose from five types of greens, a range of raw or cooked vegetables, “additions” ranging from shrimp, chicken and bacon to avocado, tofu and falafel and 10 dressings. In stir-frys, choose from egg, whole wheat or rice noodles, a black and brown rice blend or a Boston lettuce cup. Then choose from six proteins, six stir-fry sauces and dozens of mix-ins.
It can all seem daunting at first, but the touchscreens are intuitive and orders are filled quickly unless the place is busy. Tapping into the zeitgeist, much of the produce is local, and all the meats are hormone- and antibiotic-free.
Rosenberg, 33, had no restaurant industry experience, just “a passion for food and design,” he told me on the phone after my visits. A New York native, he earned an MBA at Temple before building Honeygrow.
Recently, Rosenberg hired a culinary director, chef David Katz, 39, whose Philadelphia restaurant, Mémé, Rosenberg frequented until it closed in 2012. Katz quickly began tweaking, “using fresh herbs on the mushrooms and roasting them at a higher, dryer temperature,” Katz told me. He’s been “showing how the basics, when applied right, can make a huge difference.”
Trust Honeygrow’s suggested stir-frys but build your own salads. In the Warai Greens salad, for example, red onions overwhelmed the fresh strawberries and the fruity strawberry-miso vinaigrette. The Persampiere salad, with grape tomatoes, mozzarella and roasted garlic balsamic dressing, was bland.
One pleasant exception is the Whole-Wheat Noodle salad, with chewy noodles, baby spinach, tender roasted shrimp, roasted squash, crushed candied cashews and a honey-ginger-scallion vinaigrette.
In stir-frys, the bowl of Sesame Garlic noodles, snap peas, bell peppers and slices of tender eye round steak were coated in a mahogany sauce that was liquid umami. Spicy Garlic noodles, meanwhile, stoked a slow fire with sliced chicken breast, crisp broccoli and tangy pineapple. Smoked Oyster delivered a home run of sweet-and-savory pork tenderloin, scallions, spinach, bean sprouts and broccoli. The wok chefs cook the meats with speed and care.
There is one dessert, the Honeybar—a classy fruit cup. Pick three fresh fruits (from a list of six) drizzled with your choice of local honeys and add two toppings from a list of six, including house-made whipped cream, coconut shavings, dark chocolate chips or maple yogurt (add more for 50 cents each). It’s absurdly simple, and absurdly delicious. There’s also one drink, the Kale’atta smoothie, the trendy green sweetened with banana, pineapple and fresh mint.
Rosenberg plans to open more locations in 2016. Go now, so you can say you knew Honeygrow before it grew into a national phenomenon.Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Salads, $6-$11; stir-fries, $7-$10; desserts, $5.
Ambience:Bright, hip, cafeteria-like space with touchscreen ordering.
Service:Young, cheerful; pickup at cash register may be slow when busy.
Wine list:BYO wine, openers–and glasses, or use the plastic water cups.