Grilla Bites features delicious vegetarian and vegan food
A recent McDonald’s commercial features children poking through their Happy Meals, desperately searching beneath prefabricated hamburger patties and greasy fries for something called “hope,” which the corporation promises is included in each package.
The commercial sparks laughter or tears from anyone older than the kids onscreen who know the only thing really hidden in that bag is saturated fat, Teflon resin and lifelong addiction. But it speaks to a world desperately seeking a better business model for the restaurant industry, one based on more noble objectives than just the bottom line.
Locally, such an animal exists at Grilla Bites. “Basically, Grilla Bites is about supporting the local economy, doing everything sustainable as much as we can, supporting the environment and giving back to the community,” said Alayna Trombetta, the restaurant’s manager. “We buy local as much as we can and definitely buy organic whenever possible. We work with local growers and get a lot of stuff from … the farmers’ market.”
The briefest glance inside Grilla Bites reveals Trombetta’s testimony isn’t just toeing the company line. Located at the red-bricked Garden Villa and fronted by a large fountain, the eatery’s doors open into a large, airy space decorated with murals of rolling farmland and local art provided by Avenue 9 Gallery.
The most noticeable feature of the interior—the proverbial 900-pound G(o)rilla—is the king of all salad bars, a yards-long spread of anything under the sun you’d care to place atop a bed of greens, as well as prepared vegan and vegetarian delicacies. The usual items one would expect at an exceptional salad bar—broccoli, mushrooms, red cabbage and three types of olives—rest alongside more exotic items including sugar snap peas, sliced strawberries and grilled pesto tofu. Pre-prepared items include tabouli, vegan potato, country potato and quinoa-walnut salad. Salads cost $9.25 a pound.
The restaurant takes its unique name from the cornerstone of its menu—grilled sandwiches such as the Thai Tuna (dolphin-free tuna and soy bacon with a spicy mix of crushed red peppers and vegetables) and the Magilla Grilla (free-range, nitrate-free turkey and soy bacon with more vegetables, ranch dressing and barbecue sauce).
The sandwiches are served on bread from Chico’s own Tin Roof Bakery and coupled with a choice of organic corn tortilla chips or veggies, with organic hummus. As Grilla Bites is designed to cater largely to the non-meat-eating set, they have a selection of organic tofu sandwiches topped with curry, pesto or barbecue sauce. Other vegetarian sandwich selections include Mom’s Grilled Cheese, a melty mess of jack, cheddar, optional Swiss and a choice of vegetables.
Whole sandwiches range between $9.25 and $9.75, with halves available for $6.25.
Burgers like the Blue Bacon (blue cheese, soy bacon, grilled red onions, spinach and tomato) and Ortega Chili Pepper (grilled Ortegas and other things that grow from the ground with Dijon and ketchup) and Cheeseburger are based around veggie patties, with specialty items including Portabello and tempeh burgers. All burgers are $9.75.
Other items (on a list of “Daily Entrees”) include the Zen Bowl for $7.95—a bevy of Eastern and Western vegetables piled over brown rice or soba noodles and topped with coconut curry or peanut sauce—and Vegan Meatloaf smothered in mushroom gravy ($9.95).
Trombetta said it’s a common misconception that Grilla Bites is all vegetarian. “We do have meat,” she offered, “and it’s all good-for-you, organic meat.” Indeed, in addition to the aforementioned non-vegetarian dishes, the eatery also has wild Alaskan salmon patties and bison hamburgers (same price as other burgers), and organic, uncured beef hot dogs ($5.95), which are featured on Grilla Bites’ kids’ menu.
Grilla Bites is owned by Tim Keating, who bought it from Grilla Bites founder Fred Marken last year; Marken’s original (now-defunct) store was located on Second Street next to Brooklyn Bridge Bagel Works, and until last year he also ran a scaled-down store inside In Motion Fitness.
Marken’s storied entrepreneurial career dates back to a hippie clothing shop he opened downtown in 1969. He owned LaSalles for a number of years, which long-time residents will say was once a much different establishment than it is now, and has also been an organic asparagus farmer and bottled-sauce impresario whose goods lined the shelves at Trader Joe’s and Costco.
Grilla Bites is, in many ways, the culmination of Marken’s previous endeavors, each adventure lending elements to his current business philosophy outlined at www.grillabites.com, a philosophy emphasizing organics, health and commitment to local communities. Though he doesn’t own a store, he oversees the Grilla Bites burgeoning licensing rights. To date, there are stores in Chico; Redding; Ashland, Ore.; and Snohomish, Wash., with plans to open more in select cities in California, Oregon, Washington and Utah.
In addition to store information and company history, the Grilla Bites website also includes book reviews, recipes, links, resources and informative commentary on organics and sustainability.