I don't typically dig for crumbs in the darkened recesses of energy bar packages.
But last month, while grabbing a cup of coffee en route to the gym, I spotted a handsome package sporting a familiar imprimatur—Big Spoon Roasters, the four-year-old Durham company that's earned national acclaim for small jars of almond, peanut, pecan and cashew butters with admittedly high prices. The 70-gram "Apricot Pepita Nut Butter Bar" costs $4, several times as much as my dense, predictable Clif Bar. I earmarked the funds as a weekend indulgence.
Several hours later, I found myself holding the ripped wrapper above my gaping mouth, hoping for one more perfect morsel. Subtlety isn't a character trait of workout foods, but this one depends upon it. It's soft and chewy, with pockets of crunch. It's sweet, with the apricots sitting alongside bits of chocolate, and a little spicy, as though a dab of pepper had been dropped into the mixer. I wanted to keep working out just so I could have another.
"Why should you compromise taste in any food experience?" says Big Spoon's founder, Mark Overbay. "Sure, it's great that you're fueling your body for that marathon, but it should still taste good."
Tall, lean and sporting a white cycling cap, Overbay looks like he's training for a marathon as he stands in the company's cozy manufacturing space. It smells like a candy factory but is as clean as a research lab. His wife, Megan, formulated the basic recipe for the bars while competing as a triathlete. A mix of pumpkin seed-and-peanut butter, honey, chocolate, quinoa, apricots, grass-fed whey protein, oats and seeds, the bars are pressed, not baked. They balance two parts carbohydrates with one part protein, a formula Overbay prefers for endurance. Big Spoon uses chicory root fiber to bind it all together—easier for digestion than soy, he says, and with a slightly savory flavor.
"I wanted to avoid adding any ingredient that didn't positively influence the flavor and the nutrition," he explains.
After making small batches of the bars for four years and quickly selling out at markets, Big Spoon, as of June, has the equipment and personnel to send them to stores. They'll even launch a dried-cherry version in the fall.
"I had no idea how they'd do in a retail setting," Overbay says, "but now we can't keep up."
Big Spoon, it seems, is giving itself a workout.
Eat This is a recurring column about great new dishes in the Triangle. Had something you loved? Email email@example.com.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Heavy lifting"