Healthy also means tasty at Alchemy Juice Bar

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

Let's get the logistics of Alchemy Juice Bar + Cafe out of the way first. Yes, this is an order-at-the-counter cafe in the lobby of a fitness center. But no, it's not the protein-shakes-and-supplements spot normally found inside gyms.

Think of Alchemy, and Alexis Joseph, the cafe manager and director of nutrition and communications, as those really fit friends whose super power is making super foods taste good.

Joseph, a registered dietitian, created the menu with owner Abed Alshahal (he andbrotherAli Alshahal co-own A&R Creative Group, the company behind concepts like Market Italian Village and The Crest) and chef Dustin Brafford of The Crest. Joseph says the plan always was to make Alchemy more than a smoothie and juice joint.

"I really wanted it to be somewhere people could come to eat and know there are healthy benefits in the food," says Joseph, who sticks to a primarily vegetarian diet. "It's really a whole foods approach with lots of plant-based options."

Most of what's on the chalkboard menu is vegetarian, packed with protein punches from brown rice protein, whey and hemp. Essentials like cashew and almond butter are made in house, as is almond milk and cold-pressed juice found in the grab-and-go case at the counter. But juice is a very small part of what they do. Skip tasting what's on the chalkboard menu-a collection of smoothies, toast, acai bowls and sandwiches-and you'll miss out on some of the best stuff here.

Start with an acai bowl like the Banana Cacao Avocado ($6.50) that's reminiscent of slightly soupy chocolate ice cream, minus the sugar and guilt. If you've never tried chocolate (or in this case, antioxidant-packed cacao) and avocado together, you're in for a treat. The base is organically-sourced acai mashed with fresh avocado, and it's topped with sliced bananas, crunchy and pleasantly bitter cacao nibs and sweet coconut.

The tuna salad sandwich ($8) is made sans mayo, but I barely missed it thanks to locally made sauerkraut that's pungent, but not overpowering. The Bean Burger ($8), featuring a Luna Burger patty, is a towering sandwich on brioche topped with micro kale and tomato and a creamy house-made cashew mayo.

And then there's the toast-a healthy slice of bread for $3, topped with clever spreads like hummus and za'atar, or, my favorite thus far, mashed avocado, hemp seeds, micro kale, heat-packed red pepper flakes and sea salt.

Don't expect to find ice cream or frozen yogurt in these smoothies-they're sweetened instead with natural items like frozen bananas and dates, and range from green and fruity, like Tropical Green with pineapple, banana, coconut water, spinach and kale, to dessert-like, as in the Pumpkin Pie with pumpkin puree, banana, chia seeds, dates and cinnamon.

If you're in a hurry, grab something from the cold case, like Kale & Quinoa salad ($8) tossed with almonds, peppers and golden raisins, or the savory za'atar-spiced Sweet Potato & Lentil salad ($4.50). Alchemy also has a full-service coffee bar if you need an extra pick-me-up.