Food & Drink

‘There’s a heartiness to it.’ It’s all about the ingredients at this new State College eatery

Since Roots Natural Kitchen opened this summer on East Beaver Avenue, more people in downtown State College are getting used to creating and eating custom bowls, owner and founder Alberto Namnum said.

The new healthy dining option specializing in hearty, flavorful grain and salad bowls is located at 270 E. Beaver Ave. and is Roots Natural Kitchen’s sixth restaurant. The brand found its start in Charlottesville, Virginia, where there are two other locations, and it boasts outposts in Pittsburgh; Newark, Delaware; and Richmond, Virginia. According to Namnum, he was prompted to open the State College location in July due to the area’s large student population and the lack of healthy, natural restaurants downtown. While he says the brand is focused on college towns and demographically students, the eatery is also attracting professionals who work nearby.

So far, Namnum says the response to the new restaurant is positive. “People seem to really like it. We opened in the summer, which was a little slow, but ... once the kids got back, it got pretty busy.”

The menu offers 10 signature grain and salad bowls, as well as the option to create your own custom bowl. Namnum acknowledges that it takes new customers a while to warm up to the signature bowls, many opting to create their own meal with their chosen ingredients, but once they find a signature bowl they like, they let the pros handle the ingredient combinations.

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Roots Natural Kitchen opened its State College location this summer on Beaver Avenue. Photo provided

“What’s funny is that at (our) new restaurants, a lot of people do custom bowls. Then slowly as we exist longer, the amount of custom bowls goes down and down,” he says. “We worked with chefs local to Charlottesville when we first started and they helped us put everything together.”

One of the signature bowls that he says often gets overlooked at first, but that new diners should give a try, is the Apollo, a bowl filled with brown rice, spinach, chickpeas, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, pita chips and feta cheese, topped with grilled chicken and a lemon za’atar dressing.

In addition to serving hungry lunch and dinner crowds every day of the week, Roots Natural Kitchen also offers catering.

“We actually have properly built out a kitchen where we can do a lot of catering (at this location). We do that at the other restaurants, but the kitchens aren’t really built for it. This time we have a nice, big kitchen,” Namnum said. “A lot of people have dietary restrictions and with our catering option pretty much anyone can eat it. ... It’s tough when you’re ordering food for certain people and trying to cater to everyone’s differences, but with ours, we set up a make-your-own salad and grain bowl bar, so anyone can eat it and it’s been pretty popular.”

Currently, Roots Natural Kitchen offers the same menu year-round, though ideas for seasonal menu offerings are in the works for the distant future, possibly in 2020.

As the restaurant looks to its time ahead in downtown State College, Namnum seems optimistic, as he feels he and his team bring something completely different to the area.

“We really prioritize taste and how filling the bowl is,” he said. “There’s a heartiness to it. There’s a lot of hot food. The bowls are big, they’re pretty flavorful (and) there’s a lot of variety. That’s what makes us different.”

Roots Natural Kitchen is open 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Visit https://www.rootsnaturalkitchen.com/ for more information.

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at holly.ridd@gmail.com.
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