Bowl of Heaven juice

The Green Glory juice tastes saintly; it’s an electric green blend of spinach, kale, cucumbers, celery, apple, lemon and parsley.

PHOTO BY ERICA KRUG

Long gone is the Hilldale Mall of my youth.

Upstairs Downstairs Deli, with its complimentary dish of garlicky dill pickles, has been replaced by Sundance Cinemas. And Hilldale Cinemas, where I saw "The Little Mermaid" and "Batteries Not Included” is now a Target.

Much of the mall has gone outdoors, and places like Square One Outfitters and Gimbels have vacated and made room for high-end stores like lululemon and Twigs. For better or worse, Hilldale has evolved.

Joining the list of new businesses is Bowl of Heaven. A chain that first opened in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, in 2010, Bowl of Heaven has expanded with franchises in Southern California, Nevada, Utah and now, Madison.

Open here since last October, this healthy fast food restaurant serves up smoothies, fresh-squeezed juices and acai bowls, layered with granola, dairy-free milk and fruit. "Acai" (pronounced "ah-sigh-ee") is an antioxidant-rich berry grown in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

Tucked into one of the open-air pedestrian side corridors where strings of bistro lights hang overhead, Bowl of Heaven was a hub of activity on a Sunday around lunchtime. The whirring of juicers filled the air as customers sipped brightly-colored beverages through straws or dug into a bowl of organic hemp granola topped with tropical "super-fruits."

Celia Garcia, who opened Madison's location, discovered acai bowls while celebrating her 10-year wedding anniversary in California. She and her husband loved how energized they felt after eating them and immediately decided they wanted to bring the concept to Madison.

All of Bowl of Heaven's acai bowls are dairy-free and include "MAQ7," a futuristic-sounding ingredient that apparently is "a synergistic blend of seven of nature's most exotic and powerful antioxidant rich superfruits and berries."

(I'm all for eating healthy, but I like my ingredients to sound like food that I recognize.)

Menu choices include the North Shore Original: a bottom layer of organic hemp seed granola, a middle layer of a thick smoothie blend of organic acai berries, strawberries, blueberries, apple juice and MAQ7, topped with more granola, bananas and honey. It costs $7 for the regular size or $9 for a large, and it will fill you up with fruit and granola goodness.

If you are feeling a little more decadent, go for the Red Zinger Bowl, a blend of raspberries, pineapple, coconut water and mango. This bowl is topped with granola and "dark vanilla Belgian chocolate" ($8 for a regular, $10 for a large).

For those in the mood to sip instead of spoon, look to Bowl of Heaven's smoothies. The Peanut Butter Blast smoothie ($6/ $8) is delicious. It's also thick; Garcia suggests you use the double-wide straw.

A blend of peanut butter, chocolate almond milk and fruit, including strawberries and bananas, the smoothie has a strong flavor of peanut butter — which is not a bad thing — with hints of banana and chocolate (the strawberry gets lost in the mix).

Or try the Purple Rain (gotta love Prince), a bright purple blend of unsweetened coconut milk, organic purple corn, cinnamon, blueberries, apple, pineapple, aronia berries and acai berries.

Then there are juices. Your choice here is fresh squeezed or cold pressed, making Bowl of Heaven one of several recently opened spots to get cold pressed juice. Cold pressed juices, which cost an extra $2, have several benefits including better taste and color, and a longer shelf life, according to Garcia.

Containing up to 1.5 pounds of produce per 16-ounce juice, the Green Glory tastes saintly. It's an electric green blend of spinach, kale, cucumbers, celery, apple, lemon and parsley that has lots of fiber to help with digestion ($7 for fresh squeezed, $9 for cold pressed).

Another popular juice is the Inner Peace, a blend of oranges, apples, lemon, turmeric and ginger.

One concerning about Bowl of Heaven is that everything is served in to-go containers with lots of one-use plastic straws and spoons going straight in the trash. It appears to be a chain-wide issue (it's surprising, considering the franchise started in California where San Francisco just banned the sale of plastic water bottles on city property). 

Garcia said she would love to provide reusable dishes, and that customers can ask to have their fresh juice served in a mason jar. She's also on the search for a commercial composting company.

With recent reports that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, and with the "ban the bag" conversation already started in Madison, I am hoping that Madison's Bowl of Heaven can come up with a way to keep the planet as healthy as its customers.