Raising five kids in Boston as the wife of then-Celtics star Ray Allen, Shannon Allen finally got so frustrated over convenience food options that she made herself a promise.
You see, the family would watch her husband play as a captive audience at the Garden, and “my kids and I ate chicken fingers and fries three nights a week. Now, I love chicken fingers, but you just can’t do that.”
Inspired by her middle son’s Type 1 diabetes and related dietary needs, the self-proclaimed fast-food junkie forged a partnership with Boston chef pal Todd Kiley and got to work on creating Grown, a budding Miami-based fast-casual chain that follows all the trendy tenets of healthful eating. Gluten-free. Locally sourced. Certified organic. Completely unprocessed. Homemade bone broths, marinades and dressings. Yet it’s not a two-hour lingering dinner with a foodie chef but a five-minute drive-through or counter pickup experience, ideal even for the busy parent who doesn’t have to attend three NBA games a week.
You could see the results of their handiwork in plain view at the recent opening of Hard Rock Stadium, where Grown outlets at the 50-yard-line and on the club level did turn-away business selling farm-to-football organic juices, wraps, salads, vegetable-rich entrees and more.
Ray Allen, who took and made the most important jump shot in Miami Heat history, isn’t the only ambitious one in the family. Shannon’s original Grown — a 69-seat, bright and cheery space with white subway tiles, a fruity spa water station and patio featuring reclaimed wood benches — has been open about six months just south of the University of Miami; the two Hard Rock outlets are Nos. 2 and 3. But two more are planned for February in Orlando, and she has her sights on anyplace, anywhere that people are a captive audience — campuses, stadiums and the like — and want to eat food that makes them feel good.
That good feeling begins with any of six designer cold-pressed juices on the Grown menu. After downing a big cup of Love Greens — cucumber, apple, celery, pineapple, ginger, spinach, kale and parsley — we noticed enough of an energy boost to make entering the Dadeland parking lot on a Sunday afternoon conceivable. Berry Good — apple, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry and pineapple — was delicious, too.
Breakfast is big here. You can go all green with the acai bowl with almonds, flax seeds and cacao nibs, but conventional things excel, too. Light and airy gluten-free blueberry pancakes were teeming with fresh blueberries, served with real maple syrup and butter, with a colorful salad on the side as a bonus.
The menu has lots of the build-your-own touches so popular nowadays at fast-casual spots. Our Egg Ohm Wich, Southwest style on Dave’s Killer Organic Multi-Grain bread with bacon, white cheddar, salsa fresca, corn and black bean salsa, didn’t have the gooey lushness of traditional hangover food, but it had a fresh, tight flavor and was just enough. Organic fresh fruit is served on the side.
The rest of the menu is build your own, with entrees, salads, sandwiches and wraps, plus three soups each day. A big cup of chicken tortilla soup is a meal in itself, homemade chicken broth with a hint of jalapeno plus a dozen other vegetables fortified with shredded chicken, tortilla strips, white rice and a hearty blob of white cheddar cheese. You can tell when a soup’s stock is homemade. Vegan minestrone is terrific, too: garbanzos, cannellinis and kidney beans with gluten-free penne, tomato, onion and garlic. Each day there is a special soup; our chicken noodle this night was unremarkable, overly salty and sort of watery, but we’d look forward to trying others.
Our free-range chicken whole wheat wrap with the Capri Vibe (basil pesto, kale, romaine, tomato, mozzarella, red onion and balsamic reduction) featured delicious, tender chicken, but how much can you do with a wrap? Salads and entrees are more rewarding.
We paired a big salad with kale, spinach, butter lettuce and mesclun with the Mediterranean “Vibe” and seared portobellos as the protein. We were rewarded with homemade hummus and quinoa tabbouleh, feta cheese, green olives, roasted red pepper, red onion, vine-ripe tomato and two gigantic mushroom caps that sliced like steak. Homemade herb yogurt dressing tied it all together.
Former Whisk sous chef Jamarr Massey, who took over about a month ago after Kiley returned to Boston, Memphis dry-rubs and slow roasts grass-fed brisket seven hours to make the richest of the entrée options, complete with homemade barbecue sauce. We paired it with roasted, mashed sweet potatoes and Esquites Mexican corn, the fresh kernels tarted up with feta and organic mayo, jalapeno, fresh garlic and cilantro.
Garlicky grilled shrimp, about eight to an order, made for a lighter option. We had it with a zesty Mediterranean quinoa salad, red and white quinoa with cucumber, roma tomato, cilantro and lime, plus beautifully fresh green beans with caramelized onions and toasted almonds.
Desserts are created daily by a pastry chef who makes organic baked goods from scratch. You might get coconut crème brulee with a caramel or white chocolate drizzle; carrot cake with cream cheese frosting; chocolate mini muffin bites; homemade cookies. Desserts always vanish by 3 p.m., so there’s no dessert with dinner. Opt instead for a glass of organic wine and toast Shannon Allen for her new approach to fast food.
Critics dine anonymously at Miami Herald expense.
If You Go
Address: 8211 S. Dixie Highway, Miami
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ (Very Good)
Contact: 305-663-4769; grown.org
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days
Prices: Breakfast $6-$12; sandwiches and salads $11; entree platters $14-$17
FYI: Free parking; organic wine; major credit cards; noise level low; drive-through
What The Stars Mean: 1 (Poor) 1.5 (Fair) 2 (OK) 2.5 (Good) 3 (Very Good) 3.5 (Excellent) 4 (Exceptional)