“Every day is a fresh start” is a phrase that carries seasonal weight as we careen toward a new year.
Yes, we’re nearing a period when resolutions are made to shed a different kind of seasonal weight. But the reason I cited the aforementioned, implicitly hopeful, “fresh start” quote is because it’s part of a cheery, but knowingly heartfelt, mural that graces the Downtown building housing a standout operation: Freedom a la Cart Cafe + Bakery, whose premiere in April made a troublesome year a little better.
Although the “cafe + bakery” is new, Freedom emerged about a decade ago as a food cart (thus a la “Cart”) that raised money for and employed survivors of human trafficking. Freedom’s compassionate mission hasn’t altered, but it’s evolved from a rotating cart and popup eatery with limited fare to a lovely cafe with a compelling selection of creative, delicious and skillfully prepared bakery items, coffee drinks and brunch-style dishes.
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Fans of excellent Emmett’s Cafe will notice overlaps here with good reason. Both places developed their menus — which could be characterized as forward-looking yet steeped in crowd-pleasing tradition — with the help of consulting chef Lara Yazvac Pipia. Consequently, both places frequently sneak healthful ingredients into imaginatively conceived bowls and sandwiches that feature a dynamic interplay between numerous components.
Stepping into Freedom’s pretty space with its relaxing atmosphere, muted tones, white bricks and paint, plentiful live plants, stylish lighting fixtures and uncommonly warm counter service, you’ll likely notice customers enjoying an egg and sausage sandwich. You should enjoy one, too.
Freedom’s signature rosemary breakfast sandwich ($8.50) might not be not huge, but it’s hugely satisfying. Inside its aptly described “fresh baked croissant bun” (flaky, crinkly, slightly sweet, terrific) were rich ingredients — omelet-esque egg, blistered provolone, aioli, nifty house-made rosemary-lemon sausage patty — leavened by arugula, herbs and citrus.
Beautifully griddle-toasted sourdough bread plus molten cheeses (Swiss, cheddar and goat) plus house habanero-apricot jam add up to the grilled three cheese ($8.50), a sandwich that shames most of its milky ilk.
The snack-sized trout toast ($8) looked like a food magazine cover photo. With crisp pumpernickel topped by a creamy feta spread plus a bit of smoked fish accented by microgreens, sesame seeds and a perfect poached egg, it tasted good, too.
Prefer something more substantial and indulgent? I found the Don’t Judge Me ($9) — roasted chicken, two aiolis, potato chips, arugula and melted Swiss inside toasted, good ciabatta-like bread — to be guilty of first-degree deliciousness.
Ditto for the hearty and healthful, if misleadingly named, breakfast bowl ($11). Sure it had an egg — another on-point poacher — but this hefty and impressive assembly of lemony hummus, zucchini ribbons, white beans, microgreens, herbs, risotto-evoking “cheesy farro” and Caesar dressing-like flourishes screamed “lunch” to me. I look forward to tasting it again.
With its tapioca-esque blueberry chia pudding, apricot jam, tangy Greek yogurt, pie filling-like stewed blueberries and, for elevating contrast, crispy first-rate granola, the blueberry chia bowl ($9) says “antioxidant-rich breakfast” just as it whispers “nutty, not-too-sweet dessert.” Heed its call.
And believe your eyes as you gaze at the array of beautiful treats stashed behind glass. Because from dark chocolate chip with sea salt cookies (cookies are about $3) to croissants whose elegance might be teased by a doughnut-style glazing or chocolate and cayenne, to bacon-scallion-Parmesan scones (pastries and croissants are about $3.75 to $4.50) they taste as good as they look.
And since a few days remain until the new year begins, why not treat yourself to several worth-the-splurge, Freedom baked delights? That way, you can end an often sour year on a sweet note, and still get a fresh start to a seasonal weight-loss resolution come 2022. However your cookies crumble, though, here’s hoping you have a very happy new year.
Freedom a la Cart Cafe
Where: 123 E. Spring St., Downtown
Contact: 614-992-3252, www.freedomalacart.org
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays
Price range: $8 to $12
Ambience: relaxing, cheery and pretty little cafe with muted colors, white bricks and paint, abundant plants (some in tableside vases), stylish lighting fixtures and warm counter service
Children’s menu: no
Liquor license: no
Quick click: Crowd-pleasing baked goods, sandwiches and bowls are often elevated by creative, elegant and healthful touches at this cafe with charitable underpinnings.