Freshii, a restaurant chain that is at once fast food and health food, could make Jared the Subway Guy change allegiances.
It’s been reported that Jared Fogle, the Subway spokesman who lost considerable weight eating a Subway sandwich diet, has gained some of the weight back. Maybe he needs to get on the Freshii bandwagon. If Freshii were on my side of town, I would.
Freshii’s founder, Matthew Corrin, opened the first store, then called “Lettuce Eatery,” in Toronto in 2005 when he was 23. There are now more than 100 locations in 60 cities and 12 countries worldwide, with a few hundred in development, company spokeswoman Mia Jacobs said.
Local franchisee Jack Magee opened the Madison Freshii in a new space across from West Towne Mall in November. The spot was once a TGI Friday’s and then hosted a series of other restaurants.
Freshii food is surprisingly filling, and the best part is that you are guaranteed to feel good after eating it. You may wish some of it were more delicious, but it’s a noble trade-off.
The menu is made up of wraps, burritos, quinoa bowls, salads, soups, frozen yogurt, juices and smoothies.
Smoothies are problematic in a lot of fast food joints and coffee shops, many of them made from syrups instead of fresh fruit. Freshii’s are the real thing and you pay a premium for that. At $5.99 for a one-size-fits-all 12-ounce beverage, it’s not the largest smoothie, but it tastes better than most.
Kimoanh Nguyen’s Natural Juice food cart on Library Mall is the best source of green smoothies in Madison, at least in warmer weather. Willy Street Co-op East eliminated the winning Sweet Greens juice (apple, kale and parsley) from its juice bar menu, but they’ll still make it if you ask.
Freshii’s green smoothie, meanwhile, with kale, spinach, pineapple, avocado and frozen yogurt could be in that elite category, and is a great, pulpy combination. The powerhouse smoothie with pineapple, mint, coconut milk and frozen yogurt, ever so slightly missed the mark of tasting as good as it should have with those ingredients.
Another vaguely Asian item missed the mark completely.
The spicy lemongrass soup ($6.49) had tasteless rice noodles, and a smattering of cabbage, carrots, mushrooms and cilantro. Some seemingly out-of-place chunks of fresh tomato were also bobbing around. I ordered it with tofu for an extra $1.49 and was glad I did, since the tofu cubes were abundant and tasty.
The thin flavor of the broth couldn’t carry the soup and only made me wish I were in a Thai restaurant, any Thai restaurant, enjoying some tom kha.
The soup, even though we were eating in, was served in a thick, plastic to-go container that was twice as big as necessary. An employee walked by while we were eating and commented on how soup portions are large enough to take half home. If only it were good enough to want to eat later.
Much better was the metaboost wrap ($7.99) filled with lettuce, spinach, kale, mango chunks, carrots, edamame and almonds. Goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette really perked it up. And ordering it with Freshii’s moist, flavorful falafel ($1.49) transformed it into one memorable falafel.
There doesn’t seem to be much difference between the wraps and the burritos, except that the wraps are cold, the burritos warm. The Bangkok burrito ($6.99) also makes quite a meal, filled with brown rice and crunchy vegetables. The whole wheat tortilla tasted a lot better than other versions I’ve had and had grill marks on the outside from spending about 30 seconds in a panini press.
The peanut sauce on it had a kick with a tendency to sneak up on you and pulled all the ingredients together nicely.
Chicken (an additional $1.99) added a lot to the burrito, but the contrast between the warm meat and rice and the cool veggies took some getting used to.
The Buddha’s satay bowl ($7.24) also featured peanut sauce, but just a hint. My companion ordered the bowl, which had rice noodles, crispy wontons, and assorted veggies that he assumed would be cooked, but were essentially raw. I had a couple of bites and it didn’t really speak to me. I don’t think it spoke to him either.
Magee later told me that the dish creates some confusion because most customers expect cooked vegetables.
Freshii doesn’t stir-fry or steam the vegetables because then they would lose some nutritional value, he said.
“I think if everybody were to eat every meal here it would go a long way to solving the obesity epidemic that’s sweeping the county,” said my friend, who is a physician. “You couldn’t get fat.”
He applauded the healthy ingredients and preparations, but was critical of all the plastic used in the packaging, even for those dining in, while a slogan on the wall reads, “Let’s be good to the earth.”
When I asked Magee about all the plastic-ware he said that the type of containers Freshii uses are Earth-friendly.
Jacobs, the company spokeswoman added that they are made from a variety of corn, potato and other plant fibers. I still feel that food eaten in the restaurant should be served with reusable plates and bowls.
The Freshii environment is contemporary, bright and roomy with a periodic-like table of vegetable and other healthy foods on the wall. Another part of the wall hosts a synthetic hedge that almost begs you to go over and touch it.
Freshii marks an encouraging trend in fast food.
It’s a rare place where those in need of a quick food fix don’t have to leave with feelings of regret and self-loathing.