Like a phantasmic millennial’s getaway from the gritty waterfront nearby, a single building on Free Street houses a superfecta of self-care: hair salon, yoga studio, mysticism and healing shop and Portland Pulp, an upbeat juice bar and salad eatery.
Tucked-away in the Old Port, the storefront’s exterior mirrored walls glimmer with the promise of wellness, while also giving passersby a sheepish peek at their own silhouette. “WARNING,” the mirror reads. “Reflections may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty.”
Beauty seems to stem from the inside at Portland Pulp, a cheery, white-tiled nook where young professionals pop in and out for health-conscious breakfast and lunch fare. Boasting an array of smoothies, fresh-pressed juice, wraps and salads, the menu far outsizes the cafe’s physical space, which offers a foot-wide wooden table plank and industrial metal bar stools facing the window. (On a summer day, Portland Pulp’s window bar could make a standalone destination for the people watching.)
But space is clearly not the point of Portland Pulp, a place that takes pride in pumping out nutritious, pleasant and comparatively affordable meals that hit most consumers’ efficiency and health quotients. With smoothie variations like Fineapple and Tropical Fall Dream, the lineup is eye-catching and amusing, though not ground-breaking. I’m still holding out for a turmeric golden milk smoothie, replete with mango, saffron and coconut garnish.
Despite this pipe dream, I opted for a small Queen Green smoothie ($6) and the Zoodles salad ($9 with chicken added), which was composed of raw zucchini noodles, cabbage, carrots, red peppers, chopped peanuts, lime and a creamy thai peanut sauce. The menu is also customizable, with build-your-own salads and smoothie add-ons that run the gamut of trendy health foods: spirulina, maca, chia seeds – you get the gist. Portions are generous, and though it might seem like the menu privileges raw foods, there’s also bacon, chicken and other protein options, if you look hard enough or just ask.
As I watched a young suit-clad man depart delighted with his buffalo chicken wrap (a special on the menu at the time), I surveyed the premises, confused: Was I still in the same vegan-looking health food paradise? I was, and it was then that I realized that Portland Pulp is one of the few juice bars where buffalo chicken wraps and straight kale juice can be friends.
As a kind of catch-all lunching option for a grab-and-go bite, Portland Pulp seems to resist socially constructed ideas of not only beauty, but health, too, and what it means to lead a healthy life – something too often defined by severely trendy ingredients and a narrow scope of veganism or vegetarianism.
Portland Pulp claims neither. It opts for something else entirely: fresh, farm-sourced ingredients that are “wicked juicy,” as the sticker slapped across my salad box read. If the throngs of young professionals making their pilgrimage here indicates anything, it’s that they agree.
WHERE: 116 Free St., Portland. (207) 450-7557. portlandpulp.com
HOURS: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
WAIT: Five minutes
PARKING: Street or garage parking
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No