Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fresca: No Meat!

Today is the two-year anniversary of my being laid off, and if that doesn't call for a celebratory lunch out, I don't know what does.

A reader-turned-friend had suggested we meet at Fresca today and see what they could do for our carnivorous palates. I'm liking how that area of Cary/Addison Streets is becoming quite the little eating destination, what with Acacia, Lamplighter and now Fresca putting down stakes. No telling what might be next and that's good for everybody.

When I walked in, I found a big table of VMFA employees seriously chowing down in the sunny restaurant. They looked like happy eaters to me. My friend had not yet arrived, so I scoped out the little dining room, finding it both cheerful and interesting.

The orange and blue stools are vintage Howard Johnson's (which I found very cool since I remember eating at HoJos as a young kid) and the old neon clock on the wall had real presence.

Ikea's contribution was the light fixtures, natch, since no restaurant can be created in this town without their lighting, as well as the black chairs; the red chairs were yard sale finds and the freestanding booths were blue.

A big purple chalkboard told a tale of meatless goodness and I perused it while waiting for my friend. I had just about decided what I wanted when I heard the pizza recommended to another customer.

Hmm, now that I looked, there was an oven back there; maybe I should reconsider. And then my friend arrived to put in her vote.

I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record but we had to start with soup, in this case mushroom with roasted garlic and wild brown rice. I told her what I'd overheard about the pizza and she agreed that we needed to taste the "chorizo," roasted garlic and red pepper pizza. To round out our lunch we got the Fresca Cobb salad, a collection of "rawish" veggies, cucumbers, avocado, V bacon, cheese and Kalamata olives.

Just as we were being rung up, we spotted the house made lemon cupcakes on the counter and added that to our feast. If they're nice enough to bake for us, we certainly want to taste for them.

31-degree temperature aside, the soup was superb. Full of onions and mushrooms, the broth had a depth of flavor that had us trying to figure out how it was possible that there was no beef or chicken stock in it (we got the answer later when we asked chef/consultant Jannequin Bennett for the secret). Next time: the butternut squash soup.

It's hard to beat the instant gratification of a wood-burning oven, so we were still slurping soup when our pie arrived. Thin crusted, loaded with toppings and with just enough spice in the "chorizo" to keep it interesting, we tucked into it quite happily.

The beauty queen of the lunch, though, was the Fresca Cobb, a large plate of greens and veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots) with a generous helping of avocado, egg, olives and cheese. The accompanying dressing got raves from both of us; it reminded my friend of the stellar dressing everyone who ever visited Grace Place loved and for me, it was creamy without being heavy or fatty tasting.

Turns out tofu is the magic ingredient, along with some oil and dill (other herbs still to be identified), making for a most delicious dressing to coat all those healthy veggies.

Despite the abundance of food, we found plenty of time to talk about how Jews eat, the unacceptability of electric stoves, cookie baking and me being/not being an old maid. Meanwhile, the music ranged from Led Zeppelin to Chicago; I later learned that Arcade Fire had been removed. Pity, I would have loved that. And then it was cupcake time.

This simple little cupcake, generously iced and wrapped in a square of paper, was a throwback to a simpler times. Like the lemon cakes my grandmother occasionally made, it had flecks of lemon peel in it and a sweet icing to contrast with the tartness of the lemon. After the meal we'd just had, a half was just perfect we agreed.

Jimmy Sneed had been buzzing around the room while we ate and eventually he came over and asked us what our story was. "We're just eaters," I told him. He asked if we were meat-eaters, clearly pleased when we said we were.

My friend had taken cooking classes from him years ago and shared that with him (her memory was that he hated green peppers, an aversion I share. They're not ripe, for goodness sakes. Why eat unripe anything?). He still hates them.

We talked about his appearance years ago on Julia Child's program and about the woman herself. He said she never hesitated to say what she was thinking, making me sure that I'd have liked her.

At one point, he grabbed a hunk of salt, handed it to me and said, "Lick it." Fresca touts its Utah salt, but as I told him, "No man's ever asked me to lick his salt before." I licked and liked it. I also learned that bacteria can't live on salt, so it was just fine for my friend to lick it after me (although her lick was much daintier than mine, I noticed).

By then we'd been at Fresca for a good two hours and it seemed wise to get on with our lives, so we thanked the staff and headed out into the cold sunshine.

The meat had not been missed.


  1. I've been buying take-out sides from the prepared foods case every few days since they opened. Tasty stuff.

    The oven, by the way, is worth a closer look. It takes no wood, but it does have a huge gas jet blowing in the back. Sneed is proud to have gotten in one shortly after famous chef, Todd English, bought a few for his restaurants. Read that somewhere.