MarKee Coffee co-owner Angie Keefe has heard them called ah-kay or ah-ky.
Her favorite is when people ask for “that purple bowl.”
Paul King of The Harbor General Store also has heard his share of mispronunciations for the nutty acai-cacao breakfast bowl on his cafe’s menu.
“Someone even asked for the nutty ca-ca-ah-oh bowl. We get mispronunciations all the time here,” King said.
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Workers at both cafes say they’re gentle with pronunciation corrections, or they don’t bother at all.
They don’t care how you say it, but for the record, it’s ah-sigh-ee, say Keefe and King.
Yes, it’s a smoothie that’s topped with a bunch of stuff. Yes, it’s served in a bowl. Yes, you eat it with a spoon.
If you’ve never had it, an acai bowl seems strange at first. It’s like a cold breakfast soup. Smoothies are supposed to be sipped through a straw in a cup, right? Dishing up a smoothie with a spoon felt like eating a Snickers bar with a fork and knife, but I forged ahead because of all those toppings.
While the bowls have been around for years in other parts of the country, they’ve been slow to gain traction here.
At the bottom of an acai bowl is that distinctive bright purple base that you’d recognize if you have spent five minutes on Instagram (where the bowls are epically popular to photograph).
Acai is a South American berry with a distinctive flavor that’s like an intense blackberry. Keefe first encountered acai berries more than 15 years ago when she was traveling in Brazil.
“It’s street food down there and available everywhere. It was so awesome,” Keefe said. “They serve it really the traditional way, which is acai with bananas and granola.”
At The Harbor General Store in Gig Harbor, co-owner Stephanie Sagle imported her acai bowls from Ohana Harbor Coffee Co., which her family owns in Kona, Hawaii.
“The hardest part was sourcing the organic acai. Once we found a vendor, we perfected our recipe,” Sagle said. “One standard that we stick by is that the smoothie base is 100 percent fruits and vegetables and no ice is ever added. We add a splash of coconut milk to ease blending, but no water or ice.”
King, the cafe’s manager, said the acai base always includes frozen blended blueberries, kale, bananas and the coconut milk if it’s needed to thin the smoothie mix. The result is an icy cold, tart and nutritious breakfast.
Keefe said MarKee’s version also sticks to an all-fruit base with no added water, ice or dairy. Juice thins the smoothie.
“We use fresh squeezed orange juice, frozen bananas and acai berry,” she said.
Both cafes gave a heads-up: Because the bowls are made from scratch and require quite a bit of blending, these are not fast food items. It can take 5-7 minutes or longer to make each bowl.
Here’s where to find the bowls. MarKee offers one version, and Harbor General Store has three acai bowls and one made with dragon fruit.
MarKee Coffee and Wine Bar
Where: 2312 N. 30th St., Tacoma; 253-302-5387; drinkmarkee.com.
Note: The Gig Harbor location of MarKee does not have the bowls.
The bowl: $9. The base was fruity with that distinctive tang for which acai is known. The smoothie was coated with copious toppings: Shredded coconut, granola and hemp hearts. I had a tough time finishing it as the bowl is generous. It’s available all day but only listed on the breakfast menu.
The Harbor General Store
Where: 7804 Pioneer Way, Gig Harbor; 253-358-3241; harborgeneral.com.
The bowls: Three acai bowls, all priced $8. All include the base of acai berry blended with blueberries, bananas and kale, with coconut milk if needed for thinning. All bowls are gluten free.
The classic bowl packs a one-two punch of fruit because not only is the base loaded with fruit it also comes topped with fresh banana, blueberries, strawberries and pineapple. It’s finished with toasted coconut and a drizzle of honey.
More acai: The berry acai bowl topped with strawberries, blueberries and dried goji berries, with coconut and agave. The nutty acai cacao bowl comes with granola, banana, blueberries, peanut butter, cocoa nibs and a drizzle of honey.
Dragon fruit bowl: The base of this smoothie bowl is dragon fruit (pitaya) blended with frozen strawberries, bananas, mangoes, chia seeds and coconut milk. The combination of bananas and chia seeds created a thicker base than the acai smoothie bowl. It was topped with granola and lots of fresh fruit: bananas, kiwi, strawberries.
Also find: At chain smoothie/juice cafes, Jamba Juice and Emerald City Smoothie.