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What Exactly Is Açaì Anyway?

If you are unfamiliar with the plant-based superfood movement, you might want to study the Playa Bowls menu online before you go. Local residents Ryan and Lindsay Murray opened the health-food store on June 8 in the new Montgomery Grove shopping center on Route 206 in Belle Mead.

A refreshing snack after little league baseball: Donovan and Eric Ciano of Belle Mead; Devin Kapasi of Skillman; Liam Marsh of Rocky Hill; and an unknown parent. On right, JD Marsh.


College and high school students seem to be familiar with this stuff, but I found myself wondering how to pronounce açaì. Also, what exactly is it anyway?

Take a quick look at and you will see what I mean.

Açaì is an ingredient in many bowls, but there is also something called pitaya. And, I know what chia is, since I once had a chia pet. But, to be honest, I’ve never actually eaten it.

I have been to Playa Bowls three times now, and I have not been able to get beyond the açaì.

On the grand opening day, I tried the Nutella Açaì Bowl ($11). Anything with chocolate and hazelnut has got to be good, right? And it was flavorful, refreshing, and very filling. The ingredients: pure frozen, blended açaì topped with granola, banana, strawberry, coconut flakes, and Nutella.

It was way too delicious to be good for you!

The açaì berry is renowned for its vast range of energy-boosting, cell-healing, immune-stimulating properties, according to the Playa Bowls website.

The Murray Family of Montgomery are the proprietors of Playa Bowls in the Grove at Montgomery. From left: Ryan P. Murray with son Noah, 5, daughter Emma, 3., and wife Lindsay M. Murray. They are with Playa Bowls founders Rob Giuliani and Abby Taylor of Bradley Beach.


Açaì (ah-sigh-ee) is a Brazilian palm berry that has a reputation for being the most “antioxidant-packed fruit on earth.” Supplement stores carry açaì powders and capsules.

The Murrays also plan to open a Playa Bowls in downtown Princeton this year.

Ryan Murray, 38, is presidentOrion Interiors, a Raritan-based carpentry firm that built the 38,000-square-foot American Girl flagship store at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, an address that sits on 51st Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, facing south toward the skating rink.

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Orion also built the Wells Fargo bank branch in the Skillman section of Montgomery. According to Orion website, the company does a lot of business with Fortune 500 firms, and is hired by banks, department stores, restaurants, and others to construct buildings to their specifications (blueprints and plans).

PLAYA BOWLS — a New Jersey-based business

The menu includes eat-in or take-out superfoods — mostly plant-based but also some fish and dairy — that are nutrient-rich and good for one’s health. A few examples: Chia Bowls (chia seeds, coconut milk, agave, and vanilla with fruit); Poke (sushi-grade tuna with seaweed, cucumber, avocado, and radish); and juices with names like the Beach Break (pineapple, carrot, ginger, and lemon).

Two New Jersey surfers — Abby Taylor, 29, of Bradley Beach and Rob Giuliani, a 30-something Rutgers graduate from Toms River — started out with a small food stand in Belmar. They now have a fast-growing franchise, with more than 70 locations nationwide.

Taylor, who earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, was bartending at D’Jais in Belmar and traveling in the winters in search of waves and warmth to places such as Puerto Rico and Central America.

On her trips, she noticed local surfers snacked on Açaí — a small reddish-purple berry from Central and South America. Some blended the fruit like a smoothie, or would creatively mix together a bowl of various healthy ingredients, such as granola, bananas, and oatmeal.

She craved the same heathy foods when she returned home to her New Jersey beach town, but the ingredients were hard to find. Pizza, ice cream, and french fries dominate at the seashore resorts.

So she started a tiny pop-up stand with one blender, offering her refreshing superfoods as an alternative to the junk food served on the boardwalks and beaches.

Her surfer boyfriend, Giuliani, lived above a pizza shop on Ocean Ave in Belmar. He had asked the shop owner if they could open a stand outside to sell Taylor’s Açaí and pitaya bowls, and the owner agreed.

Giuliani was a U.S. Air Force staff-sergeant at McGuire, and later sold medical devices for Arthrex. All says these experiences have been instrumental to the company’s rapid success.

Pitaya, also known as Dragon Fruit, is another type of bowl on the menu. This is on my list to try next time I visit. It is a superfruit indigenous to Central and South America and supposed to have sweet taste much like a watermelon with seeds the consistency of a kiwi.

Finally, there are Chia Seeds bowls. Chia seeds apparently deliver a massive amount of nutrients with very few calories.

Well, I like the sound of that and will add that to my list of things to try as well. ■

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