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Fresh for less 

Price, ingredients distinguish new eatery.

HEALTHY FARE: The tuna sandwich is mayonnaise-free. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • HEALTHY FARE: The tuna sandwich is mayonnaise-free.

A place that calls itself "Fresh" has a lot to live up to, and when we talked to owner Phillip Naylor before the restaurant opened June 1, he was well aware of it. Naylor was inspired by the deli sandwiches he grew up eating, and hoped that his new restaurant in the former OW Pizza location near the Capitol would become a hot spot for people looking for a quick lunch made with great ingredients. After eating there a couple of times, we're happy to say that Naylor and the Fresh team show a lot of promise — and they are living up to the name.

The space has been scrubbed clean and remodeled nicely, with a small dining area in front of a walk-up counter, along with outdoor covered patio seating. It's a simple, attractive space with chalkboard menus and large glass containers of lemon water and tea, and we felt immediately at home. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly, not to mention obviously excited about the food they were serving. That sort of enthusiasm always puts a smile on our face.

The menu is perfect lunchtime fare: sandwiches, soups, pizzas and pre-made salads and a make-your-own salad bar. Don't let that lead you to believe the food is boring, though, because all that we tried was made to order with a unique twist. Everything on the menu is under $10, a price point that is doubly attractive given the ample portion sizes and tasty food.

Fans of having a salad for a meal should go for the Cobb Salad ($8.25), a massive mix of fresh lettuce, chopped eggs, bacon, blue cheese, avocado and roasted chicken. This salad is so huge that two of us shared one and still couldn't finish it — although we certainly gave it our best shot. The shredded roast chicken was a particularly nice touch, as it was still warm and made a nice contrast with the cold lettuce and creamy avocado. Our biggest issue with ordering a Cobb is usually overcooked eggs with gray yolks, so we were particularly pleased with the bright yellow we saw when we tucked in to this one.

That tasty roast chicken is also available in sandwich form, and given how moist and tender it was on our salad, we can't wait to get back and eat it again between two slices of bread. It's one of the best bites of chicken we've had in the city, which we realize is a bold statement given that Gus's is just a few miles away. But fried chicken is one thing, and this lean roasted version is quite another — it's the sort of thing we don't feel guilty about overindulging in.

Perhaps the most unique item on the menu is the tuna salad sandwich ($6.99), and it was with this dish that Fresh really won us over. This is not a mayo-heavy tuna salad like you usually see — in fact, there's no mayonnaise used at all. Instead, we were treated to a mix of tuna, black olives and herbs served on pillowy soft sourdough bread. The flavors were bright and clean, and the tuna was piled so high on the sandwich that we found the price to be a bargain. Even better, each sandwich at Fresh comes with the option of one trip through the salad bar, making this a healthy and inexpensive option for lunch.

Given the building's former life as a pizza restaurant (and with the ovens still in the kitchen), we were not surprised to see pizza on the menu. What did surprise us was how good they are. We ordered a simple 6-inch cheese pizza ($5.99), and were very pleased that Fresh offers a choice of red sauce, pesto or olive oil on each pie. We went with the pesto, and were pleased again with how bright and tasty the sauce was. The crust is crispy and firm, but still light enough to not be overbearing.

Fresh is only open for lunch right now, but on our last visit, staff mentioned that it is expanding into dinner hours this month. It also serves breakfast — including a tasty-looking breakfast pizza that we're dying to get back and try, and has plans for a Saturday brunch menu once full hours take effect. With dinner hours will come an expanded menu, and since lunch was such a winner, we expect that everything served up for suppertime will also be delicious. Fresh sets itself up as a healthy, inexpensive place to eat, and they get high marks from us for executing that plan very well. It's a unique place to eat: quick, tasty — and yes, quite fresh.

QUICK BITE

As part of the ongoing renovation of the former OW Pizza building, Fresh is planning a market space to sell produce. The market isn't open yet, but by the looks of things, it should be very soon.

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