CoreLife Eatery opens in Ithaca Friday with a fresh build-your-own bowl approach

Can you serve a wide enough variety of food in a bowl to keep customers coming back? Apparently so: the tenth CoreLife Eatery opens in Ithaca this Friday, and nearly everything they serve comes in a bowl.

CoreLife’s filling bowls start at just $5.95. 14850 Photo by Mark H. Anbinder.

There are three basic bowls at CoreLife — the green bowls, the grain bowls, and the broth bowls — but calling the offerings “soups and salads and noodle bowls” doesn’t quite do it; the possible variations are endless and hearty.

The CoreLife Eatery chain picks up the healthful food concept where so-called “fast casual” eateries like Chipotle leave off, looking for natural, farm-fresh food and preparing it as simply as possible — right in each store.

Co-owner and co-founder Todd Mansfield tells 14850 Magazine that the idea for CoreLife Eatery grew out of his career in physical therapy and metabolic medicine. He started to look at food as fuel, for himself as well as for his clients. “What fuels my system?” That explains the superfood ingredients like quinoa, kale, and beets, simply prepared protein sources, and “good fats” like fresh avocado.

The Tuna Poke Grain Bowl features kale, quinoa, ginger grated right into your dish, edamame, avocado, and more, with a tasty miso sesame ginger dressing.

“People like choice and control” when they’re dining out, says Mansfield, as evidenced by the assembly-line approach at places like Chipotle and Moe’s. Start with a base and pick your protein, select your toppings, and choose a sauce. “We love the flexibility bowls provide for our guests,” adds company president and partner Scott Davis, who helped develop the food service concept for the Panera chain. Another partner is a Moe’s franchise owner who owns most of the Moe’s locations in Central New York.

“We … do not make sandwiches or wraps,” Davis says of the chain’s largely gluten-free menu. The only gluten in the restaurant is the optional slice of bread you can have when you get to the end of the serving line. Leave that off, and there’s no gluten in your meal. If you’re very sensitive to gluten, as Celiac Disease sufferers are, or have other food allergies or sensitivities, just let the staff member at the beginning of the process know, and your entire meal will be carefully prepared by one person, with as little risk of cross-contamination as possible.

“Sauces, falafel, and hummus are all made in each store every day,” Mansfield tells us, “as are the bone broths” featured in the eatery’s warm and soothing broth bowls. (Chicken and beef bone broths are joined by a vegetable broth, and in fact, you can have a 12-ounce serving of just broth for just $1.95.)

Choose your veggies along the “assembly line.”

The Green Bowls — OK, sure, they’re salads, but they’re pretty hefty salads — start with spinach, kale, romaine, arugula, mesclun, or a combination, and go from there. A Mediterranean bowl features that fresh hummus, there’s spicy ginger grass-fed steak, Sriracha roasted tofu, and antibiotic-free chicken.

The veggie toppings include basics like red onions, tomato, carrots, and chick peas, but there are also sprouts, mandarin oranges, edamame, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, and beets. There’s an additional charge for “premium” items like gorgonzola, feta, or cheddar cheese; avocado, bacon, or hard-boiled egg; or roasted tofu, falafel, or chicken or steak — but many of the displayed menu choices include those items in the posted prices.

Grain Bowls start with rainbow quinoa, organic brown rice or a wild rice blend, or rice noodles. The rice isn’t the only organic food item, but Mansfield says “organic” isn’t what they’re after; they’re after a sustainable and natural farming approach, as evidenced by the grass-fed beef and antibiotic-free chicken. “We want to serve healthy, fresh food with great taste,” he says.

Pick your seating style! Tables, stools, and booths at CoreLife.

The first eatery opened less than two years ago, in Syracuse, and they’ve added locations around Rochester and Utica, in Vestal, and in Ohio and Pennsylvania, all company owned, as is the new Ithaca location. They’re about to add twenty more in the next year, five of them under franchise agreements.

As the popularity of the first store took off, the team realized how tough it would be to source all of their food from local farms. “With a line out the door, we just couldn’t get enough produce” from local producers.

That said, the company does source what it can from farms near their stores. “We’re meeting with local people about what we can source locally,” Mansfield says, but “it has to be affordable enough that we can serve an affordable meal to people who come in.”

Three sizes of almost all of the bowls are $5.95, $7.95, and $9.95; the steak items are 50¢ more across the board, and the priciest item on the menu is the Tuna Poke bowl at $8.59, $10,59, and $12.45 for the three sizes, all topped with a generous serving of fresh ahi tuna. (The sizes are small bowl, big bowl, and big bowl with double protein.)

Beet lemonade! Delicious and good for you.

The drinks, too, are made in-house, with a range of iced teas and lemonade varieties. That includes hibiscus iced tea or green tea, iced coffee, fruit punch made with coconut water, and cranberry lemonade, blueberry lemonade, or beet lemonade. The lemonade has sugar in it, of course. “People don’t like lemonade without sugar,” Mansfield jokes. But for those who want to limit their sugar, he suggests mixing the beet lemonade with the unsweetened green tea. We’re sold.

We should add that if you’re just not into bowls, you can have a plate instead, of greens or grains plus two roasted vegetables, such as brussels sprouts, squash, or green beans, then add a choice of protein: hummus and falafel, tofu, chicken, steak, or ahi tuna. Plates range from $7.95 to $11.95.

CoreLife Eatery opens to the public on Friday, April 21st, but on Thursday until 7:30pm they’re holding a “pay what you want” fundraiser event that will benefit the Ithaca Rescue Mission. Find CoreLife at 740 South Meadow Street or at eatatcore.com, or call them at 607-288-2146 and tell them you heard about them here.

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