Ever been to Nalley Fresh? Yes? It’s great, right? No? If you’re not in Baltimore, you’re off the hook. If you live in Charm City….what are you waiting for?! Baltimore voted Nalley Fresh as Baltimore Magazine’s Best Lunch in Baltimore 2016 sooooo there’s no excuse not to stop in! (They also took home second-runner up for Best Vegetarian + Best Cheap Eats!)
I first discovered Nalley Fresh when I moved to Baltimore last March. Soon after, I discovered the chain only exists in Charm City + Baltimore County (my first impressions was that they had locations throughout the country – soon enough they will 😉 ) Upon my first visit as a BMore newbie, I was impressed by the food selection + the people. So, imagine my surprise when I was sitting at another Baltimore restaurant talking about my blog with my mother, and a man at the table next to us introduced himself as Greg Nalley….life works in strange ways, folks. We got to talking, and before I knew it, Greg, his business partner Maggie, my mom, and I were talking food. They asked about my blog, and I shyly told them I was a wannabe foodie with a love for adventure; but the blog was a work in progress. Without hesitation, Greg told me “no one is a ‘wannabe foodie’ – if you enjoy good food, you’re a foodie.” It was at this point, I knew Nalley Fresh was in good hands.
In today’s world, quality food + convenience are rarely found in the same sentence, let alone in the same dish. As a result, a new restaurant-trend has emerged over the past few years offering the speed + accessibility of McDonalds but valuing the portions + quality of a sit-down joint. With 8 locations and expanding, Nalley Fresh is one of Baltimore’s happy mediums. A trend-setter of a restaurant, this Charm City-based chain offers customizable bowls, wraps, and salads with diverse flavor profiles and a spread of healthy ingredients from which customers can choose. The restaurant offers customers endless combinations of ingredients, all served within the matter of minutes. I usually describe it as a salad bar on crack.
I’ll admit, I have never been a fan of chain + fast-food restaurants. I don’t enjoy the static selection of ‘numbered’ meals + the bland taste they offer. But, when spots like Chipotle started opening up, I warmed up to the idea of quicker, customizable options. As the poster child for this trend, Chipotle became famous for offering customers healthier ‘to-go’ options compared to fast-food meals + a decreased wait time compared to a sit-down meal. Hence, a new restaurant profile was born.
In 2011, about the same time this new restaurant trend was sweeping the nation, Greg Nalley had an idea of his own. The owner of Nalley Fresh had a concept for a comparable type of restaurant, but he didn’t like the limitations of existing spots like Chipotle, Saladworks, Subway, etc. Chipotle is great (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Chipotle) but the flavor profile of the restaurant is static. I can go in, get different combinations of rice, beans, meat, toppings on my bowl, etc – but the underlying taste of the resulting bowls/burritos/salads will be similar. This taste is what has made the chain so successful, but I sometimes I wanna switch it up and diversity is hard to come by at a spot like Chipotle.
Excited by the creative diversity resulting from our exploitation of foods’ flavors & nutritional potentials, Greg decided to open Nalley Fresh. With experiences as both a chef and a former restaurant owner under his belt, he decided to take a leap back into the restaurant world with his concept. The rest is history, and Nalley Fresh was born. Read more about Greg + the Nalley Fresh story here!
Design your own healthy!
Like I previously mentioned, the restaurant offers a diverse range of options for your lunch cravings or dinner desires, inspiring each customer to “express your inner chef.” Now, if you are indecisive (and need some direction) look to the signature wraps, salads, and bowls. BUT, the heart and soul of the Nalley Fresh experience is building your meal from scratch. Follow your stomach, get creative, and start designing your own healthy! And did I mention it only costs $8.50? 8.50!
The beauty of a customizable meal is that it caters to everyone’s different definition of “healthy.” Just as everyone is currently obsessed with PokemonGo (for the record, I’m still confused), a lot of people are equally as obsessed with this nutritionally ‘superior’ buzzword. I’m not going to debate the appropriate use of this word in the restaurant industry, but we all have different food aversions, and similarly, we all have varying definitions of ‘healthy.’ Whatever your version of healthy – low-carb, low-fat, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo (to only name a few) – I’m confident that Nalley Fresh has a spread of options to accommodate your cuisine constraints.
When I stopped by the Canton location to chat with Greg + Maggie at lunchtime, I learned that the restaurant has the same staple proteins available for customers 365 days a year, but they also offer a rotating list of protein options with international inspirations (like Caribbean Citrus Chicken, Rosemary Garlic Beef, Chipotle Cinnamon Tofu, etc.)
Once you pick your meal (bowl, salad, wrap) and your protein, it’s time for the fun part – toppings! Pick 8 toppings for your creation; they have anything and everything ranging from egg noodles to red quinoa to wasabi peas. They have A LOT of ingredients I have never heard of – I guess that’s bound to happen with 75+ options to choose from!
You can check their website for the freshest options at the Nalley Fresh location closest to you. Also consider ordering online – pick a location, check what’s fresh, and start creating!
That’s a wrap!
I’m not big into sandwiches or subs/hoagies for lunch (the bread makes me feel more bloated than a whale,) but I really enjoy wraps as an low-carb, low-gluten alternative. You can pack it full of meats, greens, veggies, fruits, etc – just like a salad you can hold in your hands!
I’m not afraid to get a little creative, so when I stepped into line, I was ready to channel my inner chef. Without further ado, here’s my creation!
- Caribbean Citrus Chicken
- Black beans + rice (turned the wrap into more of a burrito!)
- Purple slaw + green peppers
- Cucumbers + carrots
- Mandarin oranges
- Toasted almonds + wheat berries
- Cilantro vinaigrette + mango vinaigrette + bangbang hot sauce
On the other hand, Maggie created a bowl with broth and a tortilla on the side, making her dish part salad/part soup/part wrap! Definitely giving this unique combo a try next time I stop in!
The Nalley Fresh Family
I was impressed by the food and overall branding of the chain before even speaking with the duo. After talking food, life, and Nalley Fresh with Greg + Maggie, I definitely feel like part of the Nalley Fresh family. They truly care about their customers and their community. They’ve even become involved in outreach efforts to educate local companies, like Under Armor + Johns Hopkins Healthcare, as well as Baltimore residents on nutrition AND make these fresh meals more easily accessible.
In my attempts to accurately describe my thoughts on the restaurant, a quote from Greg popped into my head. He told me that Nalley Fresh was created to be “accessible to the masses while still remaining foodie-centric.” Greg + Maggie are at the heart of this brand. All business owners have visions for their creations, but some fail to achieve them. I think they’re doing one hell of a good job. But I invite you to stop in and judge that for yourself 🙂
Until next time, keep it stylish!