Ocean City is the kind of town that most people associate with junk food. A town where grabbing slices of pizza and fudge by the pound while strolling the boardwalk are practically mandatory. A town that prides itself on giant buckets of buttery sweet popcorn, sugar-bomb lemonades and donut shops. A town where finishing off a night without ice cream seems like a punishable offense. Ocean City has always been a place where dough, sweets and all things deep-fried lived in peace and harmony without any intrusions or objections of any kind.

Until now.

In the last few years we noticed that some of the menus in town started making subtle, but noticeable changes. Gluten-free options, vegetarian wraps and the occasional green drink sat next to more traditional items like cheesesteaks and burgers at mainstays such as Jon and Patty’s and Starfish Cafe. But recently, things have gone even farther — full on eateries solely devoted to nutritious foods are popping up all over town, begging the question: has the O.C. gone healthy?

“Absolutely,” says Brooke Weidlich. And she would know firsthand, as the co-owner of Bungalow Bowls, a shop specializing in healthy, fruit and granola-based bowls that sits on Asbury Avenue Weidlich, a Somers Point native, opened the shop this spring with her lifelong friend Erin Oechslin. “People are definitely working to be aware of what they are putting into their bodies,” she says.

And the customers aren’t the only ones concerned with their health. “It’s something we really care about. We pride ourselves on having a staff that is knowledgeable about all of the ingredients on our menu,” she says.

What ingredients are those exactly? Most of their bowls combine an assortment of fresh fruits such as pineapple, banana, acai berries and coconut flakes along with other elements like granola which adds crunch. One particularly popular item is their Ocean Bowl.

“Our ocean bowls are a blend of blue majik, pineapple and banana. Blue majik is an extract of spirulina (a known super food made from blue green algae). It is high in antioxidants and nutrient dense. It has a ton of amazing benefits. Our customers have noticed a difference in their energy after having one of our Ocean Bowls,” notes Weidlich.

But bowls aren’t the only game in town. This summer Ocean City has seen new boutique eateries such as Quirk Small-Batch Cuisine along with seasonal spots like Heart Beet Kitchen and others offering all varieties of healthy munchies to tourists and locals alike.

“The Brussels sprout grilled cheese, bell pepper tacos and chicken pesto are all really popular,” says Samantha Freda who owns Soma Café, a funky little spot on Asbury Avenue specializing in salads, sandwiches and smoothies along with herbal teas and more. The focus at Soma is on using locally-sourced ingredients and eco-friendly practices in a positive atmosphere.

Patrons have embraced the health-conscious spot in a big way.

“The customer response has been the most satisfying part of this entire experience! We have so many familiar faces who have made Soma a part of their daily or weekly routine and it brings us joy to get to know our patrons and provide them with nourishing food and space,” Freda remarks.

And while it’s certain that some of the more cynical folk among us will dismiss this whole movement as just another nutrition fad, Freda doesn’t worry herself with such things.

“Some of it (people’s motivation) is appearance and fad based, but my hope is that no matter what the motivation, once people experience the difference in their lives from changing their diet, they will stick with it just because of how good they feel!”

It seems the motivation simply from feeling good is the strongest of all. After all, there is a limit to how much junk food one can eat. “The times are changing,” says Ashley Coyne, owner of Heart Beet Kitchen, a vegan hotspot on 8th Street. “Fast food restaurants are starting to have plant-based options. Dunkin’ Donuts has a gluten-free brownie now. Starbucks has vegan drinks. People have a lot more allergies now, especially kids. A lot of our customers aren’t even vegan. They just come in wanting healthy food.”

While the deep-fried Twinkies may not be going away anytime soon, it seems Ocean City is trying to keep its beach bod in shape one little café at a time.

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