by ERIN THURSBY
If you’re a denizen of Riverside, you probably already know about Cafe Freda. It’s on Park Street, at the end of the Park and King strip, across from European Street, near West Riverside Elementary. Even though they’ve just opened and have been quite busy, there’s already a kind of hometown-hip feel to the place.
Chef Brian Freda grew up on the Westside, near their newly opened restaurant. It’s a family affair. His mother, Mary Freda pitches in, wearing many hats, from public relations to prep chef. Servers are cousins and friends, all working towards a comfortable dining experience. All of the art on the wall has meaning to the family, and most of it comes from their own collection. Some of the art is from artists in the family. Other pieces, such as the small Mac Truque in the bar area, are painted by notable artists, local and otherwise.
The food is like home cooking, if your mom had an international palate. Flavors are mild enough to be universal, but savory and different enough to draw in those with a taste for the exotic. Two dishes in particular epitomize their international home-cooking style: their Chicken Curry and their Island Pulled Pork. In the curry, pulled and shredded chicken and the piquant sauce is piled atop basmati rice, balanced by a sweet chutney. This same sense of balance is found in the pork dish. Black beans and rice blunt the spice of the Caribbean flavored pork, with perfectly cooked sweet plantains to round out your taste-buds. Prices for entrees fall into about the $10-18 range, with most items being about $12.
For the prettiest presentation though, you can’t miss with the Tipsy Cornish Hen. The flavor profile here is more traditionalist. Half a Cornish Hen, slow-roasted in local beer, tops an island of sculpted stuffing, surrounded by a moat of dressing and lovely carrots. The skin of the hen is crisp and thin, the tasty barrier keeping the meat moist and delicious.
Less dinner-oriented meals, such as their duck nachos and the white-bean fondue, are already getting shout-outs on the web. Their sandwiches are in the $7-9 range. Like the rest of their menu, you’ll find down-home selections such as the North Carolina pulled pork sandwich and the burger, as well as more international options such as the Banh Mi or the lamb-belly gyro (featuring the flavors of Morocco).
Vegans and vegetarians will find representation on the menu, sometimes in surprising places. There’s a vegetarian alternative to wings in their smoked, battered and fried tofu fingers, offered in the same sauce choices as the wings. Other veggie items include their Asian veggie roll, falafel and veggie curry.
Once they get the restaurant where they want it to be, they plan to expand into catering off-site. They’ve been a bit slammed because they’re new, but they’ve got all the ingredients for success: servers that seem happy to be there, a friendly atmosphere, tasty food and well-curated but unstuffy décor.
by ERIN THURSBY