I was intrigued when Victoria-based JUSU Bar reached out and offered me a gift card to come try one of their Calgary locations. I had avoided stopping in at their Brookfield Place kiosk so far because all I had heard about it before that point had led me to believe it was a much fancier juice bar than I could afford to pick up as a new addiction. With my gift card tucked into my sweaty palm, I made my way over and peeked through the glass to see what they had going on.
A few quick internet searches that morning had left me feeling a bit skeptical. In addition to their food and drink Bars, they also market their juice wholesale to other retailers and tout their 1 or 3-day juice cleanses. (A lot of the reported benefits of juice cleanses have been debunked by peer-reviewed science – I couldn’t narrow it down to just one link, but it’s highly searchable.) I just wanted to grab a sandwich and post a couple of Instagram photos to share the new find, but loved my lunch so much I just had to share it on the blog as well. Turns out they’re much more than a designer juice spot!
I’ve been trying to focus on getting more plants into my diet (though honestly not enough to skip a Brazilian BBQ birthday feast last night), so I was curious to learn more about their vegan snacks, sandwiches, soups and drinks. Other than a few paninis and sandwiches, you won’t find much meat, dairy or gluten in their menu. It seemed like a fun project to order a few light vegan options and design a lunch hearty enough to satisfy an avid omnivore.
So it was actually extremely naive of me to assume that a fully vegan meal wouldn’t be filling. I had learned that all their soups are vegan, so I wanted to start there with a bowl of the daily feature, coconut curry. Along with that, I ordered a vegan panini, a dark green juice and one of their fabulous-looking peanut butter cups for dessert.
First of all, the portions here are wild. The bowl of soup was massive and not a cute side dish to the sandwich at all. You could definitely fill yourself up on a bowl of this. It was flavourful, creamy and not very spicy. I was trying to think of a knock against it and the only thing I could come up with was that it had a thinner consistency, so it did take longer to eat than those soups you can really pile up on your spoon.
The panini was my favourite and I’m now very concerned about how many of these I’ll be eating in the near future as “organic”, “healthy” and “local” does not always translate to “low in calories”. “The Vegan” comes with big chunks of fig, roma tomato, pickled red onions, vegan goat cheese and herb aioli on a hearty slab of ciabatta. I was a little bemused by the halved figs at first, then realized the large, hearty slices were definitely working as a texture substitute for hunks of meat, something I might have missed otherwise. The tomato, pickled onions and aioli worked together to create some bright, acidic bruschetta-like vibes and the vegan goat cheese might be my new favourite plant-based food – it was so convincing! I did some googling when I got back to my desk and learned that vegan goat cheese is often made from soaked, blended nuts, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. I would spread this stuff on crackers. Insane!
Once I got over how sad I was about the vegan panini being finished, I moved on to a little bite of dessert. JUSU has a few healthy-minded desserts on deck, but these hefty vegan, gluten-free peanut butter cups were so cute and packaged to go. The dark coconut and cocoa shell was almost too rich for me and the peanut butter filling was thick and substantial. I would have been better off sharing this with someone as it packed a lot of punch in every bite. Definitely a nice treat for any vegans bummed about missing out on the more commercially available peanut butter cups.
The juice was a great thing to bring back to my desk to sip through the afternoon. I ordered their recently launched Goin’ Green, a refreshing drink containing pear, apple, cucumber, kale, lemon, mint and cold pressed hemp oil. I didn’t love the hemp oil aftertaste and I did have to keep shaking the juice to keep it from separating, but the cucumber and fruit flavours left me craving more, for sure. I would definitely order this or one of their many other house made juices again. Worth noting that their juices are raw and unpasteurized to maximize the nutritional impact of the fruits and veggies, so you have to keep them refrigerated and drink them soon after purchasing. This is not an item to hoard in your desk drawer for a rainy day!
For a tab of about $30, I definitely ordered enough lunch for two people. They’re priced right for downtown Calgary’s network of +15-level lunch spots. With locations in Vancouver, Victoria and a few others in Calgary, they seem to be growing and thriving in a market that demands higher quality ingredients and more diverse options. I want to note that I usually shy away from businesses that base their brand on being organic as that label comes with mixed regulatory oversight and exaggerated health, environmental and ethical benefits. JUSU feels different, though, because they don’t hit you over the head with their cleanses and other health claims when you’re stopping by for a bite. They obviously take good flavours seriously based on that gorgeous, gooey panini I scarfed down in 60 seconds flat… They’re just going to serve it to me with the healthiest local ingredients they can source. I can’t be mad at that!