I've been hearing a lot about Growl Juice Pub in Old Town Orange. At first, I just rolled my eyes, as I do whenever someone gushes about how juicing is going to save the world. I consider juicing to be an expensive fad aimed at rich people looking for another way to consume kale.
A funny thing happened, though. Chefs and bartenders whose taste I respect were perhaps the biggest proponents of Growl. I couldn't talk to anyone in the inland OC food industry without hearing about how they go to Growl and get juice by the six-pack.
It's a beautiful space, though small, wedged into the "food alley" across from Provisions Market. The decor is attractive, the people are friendly though somewhat harried (it was very, very busy on both of my visits), and the presentation was top-notch: beer flight-style samplers in wooden holders, and of course, growlers of juice.
Growl Juice Pub, to my very great relief, goes very easy on the hippie woo-woo. They sell juice and fruit bowls and smoothies, and for the most part, they leave the evangelization of juice to other, more militant people. Their prices, for a fancy juice bar, are not bad, and they offer discounts meant to encourage return of their growlers. It's even possible to do the ever-popular three-day juice cleanse and come away with change from $200, unlike pretty much every other juice cleanse place in Southern California.
I liked most of the products, too. They may be making the best commercially available nut milks in the county, and I say this as someone with a deep and abiding suspicion of nut milk. Especially good was the vanilla almond milk, which also had coconut milk in it. The vanilla disappeared under the assault of the cinnamon, but I would drink that like horchata. And while I found the Viva No. 2 green juice far too acidic, they've figured out how to balance the overbearing earthiness of beet juice with ginger and citrus. Their pitaya bowl was very good, but needs to be half the portion and half the price; even I, a professional eater, couldn't finish one in one sitting.
Here's my problem, though. Their signs say they're organic. Their employees say the fruit is organic. Their Facebook posts have hashtags that say #organic.
So why are there clamshells of Driscoll strawberries in the glass cooler in the front? Why, when you can't drive for two miles in any direction from their store without passing a strawberry stand groaning with fruit that would make a Midwestern housewife swoon, would they use conventional, wooden-tasting strawberries bred to withstand the rigors of shipping to warehouse stores in Indiana?
Why are there pineapples with the commodity tags still on them in the same cooler? Why the pre-wrapped young coconuts you can buy at LAX-C, the Thai megamart in Los Angeles? Organic pineapple and coconut are admittedly hard to come by, but if you're dedicated to cold-pressing organic juice, perhaps it's worth seeking out.
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And if it isn't all organic, then why the $9 price tag for a pint of juice, when you can go to any Mexican jugos store and get non-organic juice for $3? Is cold-pressing really worth a 300 percent markup?
It tastes good, and that's perhaps all that matters, but I can't shake the suspicion that I and my fellow Orange Countians may be the victims of greenwashing. I hope I'm wrong, and that the fruit in the front cooler was just for decoration, chosen for its longevity rather than its nutrition.
Growl Juice Pub, 152-A N. Glassell St., Orange; 714-538-5338; growljuicepub.com