Protein Bar, a Chicago-founded chain that set up shop this winter in Arlington, has latched onto the relatively recent diet trend that proffers meals high in protein can be a satisfying way to eat healthy. They’ve eschewed breads and starchy vegetables and embraced the recently popularized superfood quinoa.
Cost and convenience are often cited as factors prohibiting a healthy change in diet, which Protein Bar has addressed with a fast-casual concept and an affordable menu of high-protein eats that include wraps, salads, quinoa bowls, smoothies, and blended raw juice drinks. Protein Bar has opened a hip restaurant in Ballston; its focal point is a massive light fixture overtop the dining room that mimics the orange and brown restaurant logo of arranged circles. The logo also appears as a pattern on the walls of the space, along with a handful of placards that talk about the restaurant’s healthy food philosophies and the nutritional value of quinoa, a seed which is grain-like but high in protein.
Quinoa finds its way into many of the restaurant’s dishes, most notably the quinoa bowls. The Spinach and Pesto variety ($7.19) offers a small bowl packed with spinach, little dots of the rice-like quinoa, and pieces of chicken. The pesto that’s added to the mix delivers a big, bright, and fresh basil flavor to all the bowl’s components.
Among the Protein Bar-ritos, wraps that are made both “chilled” and “grilled,” is the Ivy ($7.99) which serves up the ingredients of the Spinach and Pesto quinoa bowl. Here, the spinach, chicken, and flavorful house-made pesto are wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla and grilled, the evidence of which appears in dark score marks across the wrap. A wrap that more closely resembles the burrito the restaurant alludes to is the Original ($7.59), which swaps out rice for quinoa and adds chicken, black beans, cheddar cheese, and cilantro. The Greek Town ($7.99) chilled wrap is made with hummus, olives, cucumber, chicken, greens, and a tangy Greek dressing which, like all the sauces served at Protein Bar, is made fresh in-house. This option, as with several on the menu, can be made vegan upon request, and some menu items are also gluten-free.
The gluten-free Superfood Vegan ($8.99), offered among the Signature Salads menu section, shows the focus on health and flavor that goes into the Protein Bar menu. The base of the big salad bowl is the house’s Super 6 Salad Mix – romaine, spinach, and kale for greens with purple cabbage, broccoli, and carrots – brought together for their vitamin-rich and even supposed disease-fighting qualities. It’s topped with marinated tofu, crunchy pepitas, and soft chickpeas, then dressed with a chia sauce for a salad that has a blend of colors and textures and a fresh taste with the right touch of heat.
Even the drinks poured at Protein Bar have nutrition as their focus. The smoothie-like Signature Drinks include fruity blends, but also experiment with dessert-like tastes. The PB and J Street uses peanut butter, blueberries, strawberries, and agave nectar to approach the flavor of its namesake sandwich, and the result is a sweet drink with a slightly nutty taste. The drinks come in 12- and 20-ounce sizes, with the customer’s choice of milk (2%, skim, soy, almond) or yogurt (non-fat, soy, Greek), and gratis nutritional add-ons like protein (whey, soy, egg) and “boosts,” with supplements for energy, fat-burning, or even “hangover.”
The menu includes not just calorie information, but also protein, fat, carbohydrate, and fiber content for each item which, in addition to serving many vegan and gluten-free dishes, makes working within dietary restrictions easy. When the food is offered in a fast-casual atmosphere, with pick-up and even delivery available, it’s even easier. And the fresh and flavorful tastes at Protein Bar are the (proverbial!) icing on the cake.
Protein Bar is located at 800 N. Glebe Road, Arlington. For more information, call 571-970-1573 or visit theproteinbar.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Friday: 7:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Saturday: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.