HoneyBrains is a neurology-inspired cafe and raw honey bar (which is a thing!) housed in a bright storefront in NoHo, a Manhattan neighborhood favored by wealthy people who want to feel vaguely bohemian as they buy designer furniture. A recent New York Post write-up noted that the owners and siblings Galit, Tomer, and Alon Seifan ambitiously claim they’re “dedicated to fighting diseases like Alzheimer’s.” (Alon is a neurologist.)
Foods, supplements, and elixirs thought to boost cognitive function are not new. While nootropics (“smart drugs”) are a persistent Silicon Valley obsession, the brain wellness fixation has gone mainstream in recent years, with startups like the Andreessen Horowitz–funded Nootrobox selling “memory-enhancing” capsules and chewable coffee cubes, and wellness shills like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop promoting foods to cure “brain fog” in its newsletter. HoneyBrains is in the right neighborhood to ride this alfalfa-scented wave, and I was enthralled and a little horrified by its twist on the wellness racket. The cafe promises to use “the most reliable, collective scientific knowledge about brain health” to make its foods; its website has an earnest manifesto about choosing ingredients based on a “L.I.F.E. Process.” L.I.F.E. stands for: Love, Ingredients, Flavor/Fun, and Education. Seems like it should be L.I.F.F.E., but anyways, the claims are absurdly lofty, and I wanted to go see for myself whether this scientific take on fast food could possibly live up to the hype.
Rows of comfy chairs and tables line the window, and a large table studded with succulents occupies the middle of the joint. There is a sign on the wall, and it says: “Learn, grow, live, give.” Just below it, a shelf holds T-shirts and a few expensive neuroscience-adjacent gadgets like the Halo Sport, which are for sale. There’s an expensive-looking honeycomb ceiling decoration so that if you look up you can feel like a bee, which I appreciated, especially after I drank a large coffee. Bzzzzzz! The restaurant is not affiliated with Honey, the 2003 film starring Jessica Alba*, though I suspect Jessica Alba would enjoy it.
Ranking: 4/5 honeycomb ceiling decorations
[*People thought that movie was bad but it was fun. Mekhi Phifer costars as a character named Chaz. Ginuwine performs. What’s not to like?]
I ate a few different foods over the course of my afternoon. First, I ordered an $8 juice. HoneyBrains divides its juice menu into eight sections, based on the alleged benefits of the juices: memory, focus, mood, balance, flow, boost, endurance, and recovery. I ordered the “Sage Thinking” juice from the memory section, because I need all the help I can get, even if it’s in the form of an expensive placebo. “This vibrant green drink may make it easier to learn new things and increase memory formation,” the description on the bottle’s label said. I chugged it. To my disappointment, it was premade, and it tasted like every other >$5 juice I’ve ever had: nectar and celery with an afternote of ficus tree.
Next, I selected a coffee, which was the price of a normal coffee and also tasted like normal coffee — a high point. There was an option to sweeten it with honey instead of sugar, but I was not ready for honey coffee in my life.
One of my favorite genres of food is “vaguely healthy, airport-purchased fast-casual that gives you gas.” I really thought that HoneyBrains would live up my standards for this type of meal, so what I’m about to tell you pains me. I purchased the “Avo Smash” sandwich, which was made to order and served in a plastic container. It was $10 and slathered with a black chili goo. The bread was tasty but the avocado was overwhelmed by the goo, and the pickled papaya was just sort of there. I became hungry again almost immediately after eating it. I wished I had ordered something else and added avocado, as HoneyBrains offers half an avocado as an add-on item to any meal, although they’re $4 a pop.
After a few hours of working in the cafe and fuming over avocados, I went for round two, and bought a soy soba bowl ($9). This was partly because I didn’t want to be a Wi-Fi mooch, but mainly due to the aforementioned instantaneous hunger. It had an admirable amount of cilantro on it, but unfortunately, the noodles were bland and a little spongy; I’ve had better meals at Starbucks. I was hungry again shortly after struggling through the soba, but at that point I had already spent nearly $40 at a damn cafe, so I went home. Strangely enough, for such a health-obsessed place, the cafe didn’t tell me how many calories came in anything. I’m going to assume everything was zero calories.
Ranking: 2/10 avocados drizzled with miso
If I had to sum up HoneyBrains’ clientele in a sentence I would say: “They looked knowledgeable about limited-run French streetwear.” Lots of NYU students and graphic designers gently breaking up with each other. The only other person on his laptop while I was there was a curly-haired man sitting by himself who was also reading a book called Never Eat Alone, which made me sad because he was openly reading a self-help book in public about trying to not do a thing while doing the thing, which is a very specific strain of failure I hope never to witness again.
HoneyBrains seems like a great place to take someone if you want them to get a general impression that you have strong feelings about GMOs, and it does seem like it’d be a soothing destination for yuppies on their way home from therapy improv. I mean this as a compliment.
I wore my winter coat during my meal because the room temperature was around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. I personally did not enjoy wearing my coat inside but I have read that shivering helps you lose weight, so maybe this was part of the plan. Many of the other patrons kept their coats on, and all the employees wore beanies and other hats, except for a tall, thin, young man who had no hat but wore a pair of Doc Martens which had illustrations of Timberlands on them. Yes — he was wearing boot-themed boots. His shift ended before I worked up the nerve to ask him where he bought them. If anyone knows anything about boots that have boots drawn on the boots, please let me know; they were so cool.
Ranking: 1 pair of boots that have drawings of boots on them
HoneyBrains has a single bathroom of above-average quality, with a fancy Dyson hand dryer. Here is a photograph in case you have not encountered one yet:
A word of warning: Sticking your hands in front of it and holding them there — classic hand-dryer style — won’t work. One must place the hands directly under the dryer and then slowly move them back one inch to activate it, in a little wet-hand dance. Instructions were placed them above the dryer, but I still spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to use it. The future is grim.
Ranking: 2 wettish hands
Would you return?
I would not come to HoneyBrains again to sit and have a meal, because it was too cold and the food was not good. But the coffee met my expectations, so I’d pop back for that. If I ever need to buy someone raw honey, I would certainly return, as they had many different varieties on sale. It was the best and only raw honey bar I’ve ever seen.
If everything were actually zero calories, obviously I would return, and also the HoneyBrains founders would be geniuses.
Did it fix your brain?
Part of me wants to be harsh on HoneyBrains, because it wasn’t good, and also the whole “we’ll make your brain healthy” thing seems like a stretch. But it’s a new, family-owned business, so I’ll say: It’s fine.
It’s the Himalayan Salt Lamp of restaurants — pleasant in a useless, bougie way, but not to be taken seriously. It’s about the performance of wellness, a cafe soul-twin of SoulCycle. Apart from the honeycomb thing, the aesthetic is “upscale Jamba Juice” and, to be frank, the food is “upscale Jamba Juice.”
Just don’t go there with the hope that you’ll stave off Alzheimer’s by ingesting organic quinoa.