Kale you can drink

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Simpatico Espresso is a self-described "hidden" gem, in the lobby of the now sparsely occupied Regional Enterprise Tower, the former Alcoa Building on Sixth Avenue, Downtown. Owner Ward Payne describes his stand as a "bodega" that offers all kinds of treats, from specialty coffees to Strip District baked goods to fresh fruit parfaits to a range of shakes and fruit smoothies.

So it is a little surprising that one of the place's best items is the smoothie made with kale.

Since it was added to the menu this past August, it's been the best-selling smoothie flavor, beating out strawberry, pina colada, peach and others that you might think people would prefer over a, uh, leafy green vegetable.

But kale has been enjoying a long moment. What's even more surprising -- "crazy" is Mr. Payne's word -- is that the Kale Smoothie seems to have a lot of staying power.

"For some people, it's the trend," Mr. Payne was saying at one of the tables near his stand last week. "For other people, it's just that they want to make an effort to do something healthy."

Either way, he says, "When they taste it, they fall for it."

This also may surprise you: Simpatico's Kale Smoothie doesn't taste a lot like kale.

Sure, there's a lot of kale in it. On runs to the Strip for baked goods from Colangelo's, Enrico Biscotti and Cafe Raymond, Mr. Payne also will stop at Wholey's and pick up bags of the frilly greens. He's been doing that for years for his longtime barista and manager and kale lover, Monica Mailly.

She puts a lot of raw kale into each Kale Smoothie, but it's mostly an all-natural pineapple smoothie base with some coconut in it and ice. And she also puts in some fresh banana and a piece of whole lemon -- peel, sometimes seeds and all.

The result is emerald green but tropically fruity and sweet, not vegetal. The 16-ounce smoothie is $4.50; the 20-ounce, $5.25 [note: this story originally had the prices incorrect at $4 and $4.50].

They sell a lot of them. At least one woman saw a sandwich board outside the building as she was driving by and stopped for a Kale Smoothie fix. Some customers buy one every day.

One of the regulars is Michael McCarren, who works in the building as regional human resources manager for ISS Facility Services. He says, "I like the kale smoothie as a dietary supplement -- a way for me to get a portion of my fruits and vegetables in for the day. The fact that it tastes fantastic is a bonus."

Another fan is Cecile Shellman, artistic director for visual arts and exhibitions at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture on Liberty Avenue, who says, "Now I have one three to five times a week. I've converted my husband, a few friends, and even people I didn't know before to the kale smoothie. It's that good!"

Thanks in part to the popularity of the Kale Smoothie, Mr. Payne's vendor (Dr. Smoothie) has introduced two more veggie-fruit flavors: Carrot-Orange and Butternut Squash-Mango.

Of course, you can find green smoothies, with the "green" supplied by kale or spinach or other greens, at other outlets.

The Enchanted Garden, on South 13th Street in the South Side, serves the Incredible Hulk, a protein shake with kale as well as pineapple and banana.

Savasana Juice, in East Liberty, makes a concoction, available at yoga studios and gyms, called a Kaleypso Kooler, made from kale, cucumbers, celery, apples, lemon and ginger.

Ligonier's Fresh from the Farm Juices sells to area coffeeshops a variety of juices including Limey Green, made with Limey Green (kale plus spinach, carrot, lime, apple, and cilantro).

Simpatico Espresso, in the lobby of the Regional Enterprise Tower at 425 Sixth Ave., Downtown, is open from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.


Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.


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