Dining With Denise Neil

Juicing trend colorfully lands in Wichita at Songbird Juice Co.

A colorful array of Songbird Juice Co.’s cold-pressed offerings
A colorful array of Songbird Juice Co.’s cold-pressed offerings The Wichita Eagle

It’s more fun to drink your veggies than to eat them — at least it is if you buy your veggies cold-pressed in plastic bottles from Wichita’s new Songbird Juice Co.

The colorful new shop, which Marty Spence opened in September next door to Riverside’s R Coffeehouse (owned by her partner, Angelo Rodriguez), specializes in cold-pressed juices, a hot health food trend. The juices are made with a high-dollar hydraulic press, which smashes fruits and veggies between plates, turning them into raw juice. No heat is used in the process, which makes the juice shelf-stable for up to three days.

“Juicing” has been trendy for years, even though health experts are divided on its benefits. Advocates insist it helps the body absorb nutrients more quickly and boosts memory, skin clarity and energy. Critics say it robs diets of the fiber provided by eating whole veggies, and that the juices are more caloric than people realize.

The juices are bright and beautiful, if a bit pricy. Songbird sells 16-ounce bottles for $8 each, which is what cold-pressed juices tend to run. The reason: It takes several pounds of fresh produce to make a 16-ounce bottle of juice. (Cold-pressed juices, I’m told by one of my juicing colleagues, are less expensive at big box stores and national health food retailers, though they’re not locally made.)

Songbird offers more than just juice. Spence also makes smoothies out of fresh fruits and veggies mixed with ingredients like coconut water, rice milk, dates, peanut butter powder and turmeric. She also makes three flavors of energy balls and serves bowls made using acai berries as a frozen ice cream substitute. Soon, she plans to start carrying kombucha, a fermented tea hailed for its health benefits.

But the juice is the main draw, and Spence even sells the juices bundled in “cleansing packages” designed to reset the digestive system.

I tried nearly all of Songbird’s juices, and the friendly staff will let you try them, too. They keep sample bottles ready and offer tastes in clear shot glasses, which show off the juices’ naturally vibrant colors – deep red, neon orange, greener than green.

I’m not a fan of some vegetables, so I was a little wary to try, for example, the deep red juices that used beets as an ingredient. And as a rule, liquid kale and parsley don’t sound tempting to this Kansas girl. But I was surprised to find that none of the juices were offensive to my palate, and in fact, they all tasted bright and clean.

Each of the juices has a tranquil-sounding name – Vitality, Recovery, Harmony, Gratitude, Generosity. And each is made with a blend of two or more fruits and vegetables. For beginning tasters, the juices with more fruits are easier to love. My favorites were Harmony, made with a mixture of pineapple, carrot, orange and turmeric, and Shine, a pineapple/pear/mint combination. Harmony was a gorgeous hue of bright orange, and its flavor could best be described as a watered-down, healthied-up orange juice with a pineapple aftertaste. Shine was perhaps the sweetest of the juices, and its similarity to standard apple juice made it a hit even with my 11-year-old.

The beet-based juices were more difficult for me to face than the green ones, but they went down just fine. Gratitude, which mixes pineapple, pear, beets and ginger, was a deep, dark red-purple color, and although it had an earthy beet aftertaste, the flavor was mostly ginger. I much preferred Vitality, which was a slightly lighter red, and the beet was masked well by the sweetness of the apple and carrot it was mixed with.

I brought the juices back to the office and shared with my co-workers. Journalists are not historically inclined toward health food, but everyone was game to try. They were most alarmed by the green juices, but all of us were surprised by how much we liked them. (Except the city hall reporter, who said they tasted like grass clippings.)

The most daring mixture was Recovery, a green, almost brownish mixture of romaine, apple, celery, cucumber, spinach and parsley. Don’t sniff it first because the smell of all that liquid leafiness is a bit off-putting. But the juice itself was saved by the sweetness of the apple, and it wasn’t hard to drink. (I’m pretty sure I’d never want a full bottle, though.) The lighter-green Generosity was much better. The combination of kale, cucumber, pineapple and ginger resulted in a mojito-like flavor that was mostly citrus and cuke. That one I could have finished.

Songbird also bottles three varieties of almond milk, and they’re made by blending raw almonds, purified water, vanilla and honey. One adds cocoa to the mixture; another is flavored like lavender. To a dairy drinker, they tasted like watered-down skim milk. But I could see them being a nice alternative for lactose-intolerant people looking for a cereal topper or coffee creamer.

The juices were fun to sample, but my favorite thing I tried at Songbird was the acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) bowl. The menu lists three, and I ordered the Nutty Bluebird. It was served in a big cardboard bowl like you’d find at a frozen yogurt shop. The bottom was filled with a dark purple, frozen blend of acai berry, banana, almonds and almond milk that was the texture of ice cream. On top was a layer of homemade granola, then fresh bananas and blueberries drizzled with local honey. The serving was huge, and it was my lunch that day. It didn’t taste like health food at all, but Spence insisted it had only about 500 calories. Many people order it for breakfast, she said.

I also loved Spence’s “energy bombs,” which are no-bake balls that consist of ingredients like peanut butter, oats, flax seed, chocolate chips, honey, dates, coconuts flakes and key lime juice. They were soft and full of flavor and reminded me of a no-bake cookie.

Songbird is small but has four booths inside and a couple of tables set up on the inviting covered patio. It has a college-town feel.

Another interesting feature: The giant juicer is visible through a glass wall at the entrance, and if you visit at the right time, you’ll see workers sending giant piles of fresh greens through the machine.

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

Songbird Juice Co.

Where: 1142 Bitting, 316-866-2473

Type of food: Cold-pressed juice, smoothies, protein balls

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays

Price range: Juices are $8 for a 16-ounce bottle. Acai bowls are $8. Smoothies are $7.

Alcohol: No

Website: songbirdjuiceco.com