Ready for some mid-winter asceticism to counteract the gluttony of the holiday weeks? I didn't even take a break from overeating between Nov. 25 and mid-December, steadily plowing through oversized restaurant meals in the service of my readers. January is when gym memberships blossom and we're ready for some healthful options. At least for a while.
That's what Café Succo is for. The two stores in Birmingham and Royal Oak call themselves "energizing, guilt-free eateries" dedicated to "invigorating your body and leaving you with a healthy feeling." The Birmingham store has an industrial-strength cold-press juicer and offers one-, two-, or three-day "cleanse packages" made up solely of juices and shots of wheat grass and ginger. The latter are put through a "masticating juicer" designed to pulverize greens. "It's got at least a week's worth of greens in it," manager Eric Ray says.
The Birmingham store has been open a couple of years and Royal Oak, next to Emagine Theatre, since mid-October. I hope the latter has gotten its act a bit more together since my mid-November visit, when it was disappointing. The Birmingham spot is pleasanter on every dimension.
Both stores offer açai bowls, salads, sandwiches, smoothies, and soups.
An açaí (ah-sah-EE) bowl starts with frozen purée of the açaí berry, the grapelike fruit from South America. You can find any number of websites that tout açaí as a super-food; the Café Succo site says it "burns fat, slows aging, lowers high cholesterol." (Nothing slows aging except perhaps cryonics.) The Mayo Clinic says that açaí may have more antioxidants than other berries, but those claims have not been proved.
Super it's not, but healthy it certainly is. Mix the purée with a cocktail of juices and top it with granola, rolled oats, Greek yogurt, berries, coconut, bananas, almonds, chai seeds, or hydro-isolated whey protein. That's an açaí bowl.
The bowl is served extremely cold, which cuts down on the flavors, which is a shame.
Less icy is a smoothie with a name like Revitalize, Charge, Strength, or Refresh. Like most smoothies anywhere, I found these to be dominated by just one flavor. Strawberry wins out when combined with peach, mango, and almond milk, while almond butter and almond milk beat the banana and strawberry in a Vitalize. Other ingredients to mix and match are kale, coconut flakes, spinach, fresh mint, and fresh basil.
If you're visiting Café Succo, you might as well take advantage of the cold presser. It is a fearsome-looking hunk of metal gears and plates that squeezes the fruits or vegetables mightily till they give up their goodness. We tried a 20-ounce bottle of Uplift for $11 — carrots, red apple, ginger, and lemon — and found to our delight that you could taste each ingredient distinctly. To my mind this is the Holy Grail of recipe construction: to produce a dish where each element holds its own.
Ray says some customers order their cold-pressed juices by the case, the most popular being Reboot with green apple, kale, celery, pineapple, lemon, and ginger.
Not yet being in a cleansing frame of mind, I ordered sandwiches at each shop. The English muffin-based ones in Royal Oak resembled a McDonald's offering, with a square of orange cheese and a soft, uncrisp muffin. The wraps in Birmingham were far better, though my vegetarian friend grumbled that only one of the four wraps on the chalkboard was vegetarian. They come with a side of fresh berries or hummus with cucumber slices — so much healthier than pita.
A grilled portobello mushroom wrap arrived with the mushroom ungrilled, but was graciously re-cooked on request. I liked my simple turkey-avocado-spinach very much; it had plenty of meat. (By the way, if your wrap has been cut in half, don't eat it without appreciating the beauty of the cross-section, which will look like a carefully constructed mosaic.)
We had a decent, if mild, tortilla soup at the Royal Oak store, with shredded chicken, corn, and red beans. The restaurant is in a corner of the larger Detroit Taco Co., and there is sometimes an aroma of refried beans to remind the diner.
Under no circumstances should you order the cocoa in Royal Oak, which claims to be Ghirardelli but tastes only weakly of tea or perhaps a nut, not chocolate. The counter guy said the flavor was because they don't use milk, but I've had cocoa made with water in Mexico, and it tastes like chocolate.
But you should study a poster there of our beloved Spirit of Detroit statue, which has been reimagined as made of vegetables and fruits. The train station, the Uniroyal tire, and Joe Louis' fist are in the background. The orb is a grapefruit.