We’ve heard about eating for our heart, muscles or our gut, but what about the most important muscle of all? A new NoHo restaurant wants to feed your brain.
“There’s a ton of science on prevention right now about the importance of nutrition for cognitive health,” says Dr. Alon Seifan, a neurologist whose fascination with nutrition as a component of wellbeing led to Honeybrains, a fast-casual restaurant and coffee bar opening today at 372 Lafayette St. “We really think that with a lifestyle approach, we can make a huge difference that’s fun for people before they ever have problems.”
The concept of Honeybrains, created in collaboration with his two siblings, came about from Seifan’s research into Alzheimer’s disease and nutrition’s potential to affect cognitive health. “Metabolism in midlife is one of the most important predictors of how healthy our brain can be over our life course,” he explains. “Even little changes can go a long way.” A sustainable brain needs three metabolism-centric benefits: good circulation, balanced cholesterol and getting adequate vitamins, particularly B and D.
The resulting menu, developed with a nutritionist and executive chef Kevin Chun, features toasts, salads, sandwiches and bowls (five each, plus a breakfast selection). It also reads largely like a stroll down the produce aisle: marinated tomatoes and hummus are the only ingredients besides the fish in the S.S. Salmon Sandwich, while the Ever Green Salad consists of kale, spinach, grapes, fennel, spiced edamame and pistachios. Honeybrains isn’t about the latest headline-making superfood — the dishes and fresh juices were crafted according to proven advice you’ve probably already heard from the American Heart Association and other scientifically verified sources.
The team also looked at the Mediterranean Diet and even folklore from the world’s Blue Zones, where people live longer, to take “a non-biased approach to what is the best of what we all know.” That meant fruits and vegetables chosen for antioxidant content, fiber-rich whole grains, legumes packed with folate, and omega-3 fats. Add a generous garnish of herbs and spices, fermented foods like pickles, and stick to natural sweeteners, and “you can not only enjoy your food, but you can rest assured that it’s actually going to be good for you.”
Honeybrains was named for the food that best represents the virtues of the menu. The 15 varieties of raw, colorful honeys sourced from Queens to New Zealand brim with vitamins and are gentler on blood sugar, and can be tasted at the restaurant’s La Colombe coffee bar. Instead of seasonality, the menu will change with advances in nutrition science.
There are some surprises though, like a coffee-crusted skirt steak sandwich and organic bacon in the Cobb salad. “We want to highlight the idea of free-range meats being an important aspect, in moderation, of a healthy diet,” Seifan explains. Free-range animals eat grass, which contains omega-3s, and that diets high in iron are beneficial for pregnant women and children, whose brains are developing. “We are the opposite of the egg white approach, and it’s not the Paleo approach either where you’re eating all meat all the time, which is irresponsible.”
Even the restaurant itself promotes health. The beehive-looking space, designed by VAMOS Architects, features lighting intended to mimic sunlight at the optimal spectrum for concentration. It also has a “wellness nook” where people can try out and buy non-food products that have also been scientifically verified, and wellness talks on Thursday evenings. “We’re not saying what’s best,” says Seifan, “we’re just trying to reflect the science as humbly and transparently as possible.”