The Life Alive cafes that have landed recently in Kendall and Harvard squares (there are Boston locales too) are a huge change-up from the crunchy Central Square original from 2010. Part of it’s that healthy, sustainable eating is in, and that Au Bon Pan and Panera founder Ron Shaich has become an investor and adviser to the local veggie chain, as well as to the Tatte bakery shops. The upgrades are great; the eateries have a more inviting, communal vibe, and the one in Kendall – which took T tokens as a form of payment this month upon opening– is a vast and open space perfect for tech-area toilers to come in and conduct a few rounds of business while sipping antioxidant juice drinks and noshing on nourishing bowls. The Harvard Square site, where Papyrus used to be at JFK Street and Massachusetts Avenue, shares space with a Down Under yoga practice. The setup reminds me of, and makes me long for, the old O2 Yoga institute just down the way in Mid-Cambridge, where you walked through the studio-run vegan cafe to get to your 90 minutes of limber enlightenment and could grab a healthy bite and sip in the relaxing aftermath.
The food’s a notch up with the new wave of invigoration. I’m not seeing a variety of wraps and burritos on the menu anymore – those are replaced with açaí bowls and ramen and udon offerings – but there are still grain bowls and salads, and the selections of juice and coffee drinks have expanded threefold. Life Alive serve breakfast too, and there you have said açaí bowls with oats and granola, a sole steamed breakfast wrap with egg and greens, blueberry superfood waffles, a sweet potato quinoa breakfast hash and a brekkie taco, to boot.
If you’re overwhelmed by the menu after breakfast, simply jump on the Buddha Bowl, which in theory has everything you need nutritionally for the day in one serving. In it you get a perfectly ripe avocado encrusted with “superfood” of crushed nuts and seeds atop lemon garlic curry rice and quinoa, rainbow beets, kale, shiitake mushrooms and purple cabbage. It’s finished with tamari ginger sauce and fiery jalapeños. I add sesame-seared tofu and a steamed egg for a protein kick and drizzle on hot sauce from the convenient stations where jugs of still water are available to bring to your table. It’s super satisfying and delicious, and won’t make you feel like you need an afternoon nap when you return to your desk.
Other bowls on my radar are the Spring Falafel, which is another protein choice you can add to bowls and salads, and the cold, spicy ramen noodle bowl (not a soup, but under the broth menu). On the salad slate, the Avocado Greens bowl is a great choice. Again that glorious green goodness is encrusted with nuts and seeds, now atop a mound of romaine with a tomato summer vinaigrette and a Mediterranean flourish of kalamata olives, cucumber and feta. I add protein here as well. New on the menu and perfect for the summer is a watermelon poke salad and a sesame tofu shiitake salad; both have been calling my name. For drinks, there are smoothies (including the Green Day, Blue Crush and yummy banana-and-peanut-butter concoction Elvis Alive), sparklers (including a refreshing raspberry lime) and handcrafted breakfast juice delights including a Watermelon Cooler and Ginger Crush. The lattes too have health and wellness steamed in, most notable in the Hot Ocean Blue, a vibrant, frothy blend of blue-green algae, maca, vanilla, maple syrup and sea salt. For those looking to ease swelling, there’s the Hot Golden Milk with turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper and maple. Who knew wellness could taste so good?
Life Alive (In Central, Harvard and Kendall squares in Cambridge and coming to Davis Square, Somerville)
Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.