Which made my surprise at the latest addition to his food oeuvre — Frenchie Fresh — a fun and novel sensation. First, the restaurant seemed to spring up almost overnight without the usual advanced fanfare accompanying a de Cavel venture. Secondly, Frenchie Fresh is an entirely new concept for de Cavel’s repertoire: a fast casual French-American sandwich/streetfood shop located in a strip mall.
“Fast casual” eateries have become the modern American diner, sans the nostalgia. They allow patrons to sit and eat at a table, not in a car, but they’re still quick enough to accommodate a busy family looking for a quality meal minus the time commitment of a waitstaffed restaurant. De Cavel has made an addendum to the term fast casual and refers to Frenchie Fresh as “fine, fast casual cuisine.” That’s a fair assessment, and the location in the Rookwood Exchange perfectly caters to the aforementioned families looking for quality and brevity in the same spot. (And the parking space is gloriously expansive for those on the go.)
My lunch date (my mom) and I got confused and entered through the restaurant’s porch door — the front is slightly hidden in plain sight — but once inside, the menu is displayed on boards above the register, like at Panera, and your order is taken by an employee behind the register. The menu is pleasingly arranged by categories: Soups, Salads, Mac & Chez, Create Your Own Masterpiece (burgers), Sandwiches, Chef’s Choice, Sides, Kids’ Meals and Desserts. There’s clearly a lot to choose from and it’s slightly awkward that you’re immediately thrust into the line as soon as you walk in, but thankfully there are also nice paper menus close at hand. We sat down while we browsed and decided what to order — and there are no bad choices.
I ordered the Sloppy Jean ($9.50), described on the menu as “like mom made but ‘French’ and served with a side of ‘Frenchie Slaw.’ ” The sandwich also came with Frenchie Fries, seasoned with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and truffle. The pile of fries was beautifully browned, crispy and creamy and perfectly seasoned. My only qualm was the lack of provided ketchup, although in France you’d be more likely to find mayo, so it’s hardly a reasonable offense.
The side of slaw was quite small but crunchy and delicious. The sandwich’s “sloppy” filling was just right — sweet and savory — and the toasted bun was speared through with a cornichon, an unexpected highlight. I also ordered a tropical mimosa, and it was tasty but there was little alcohol, which may have been a good thing because the cups are generously sized and ice isn’t required.
Although you won’t see booze options listed on the menu, Frenchie offers wine, local beer, mimosas and even tiny liquor mixers for the fountain and bottled-glass sodas.
My mom got the bahn mi ($9.50), listed as the “veggie version of Vietnamese sandwich,” with crispy tofu, pickled veggies and sprouts and a plain Mac & Chez. Even the “plain” version of Frenchie’s Mac & Chez is not plain — it comes with penne pasta, leek, celery, mushroom and a creamy béchamel sauce. It was creamy and flavorful and the pasta still had bite. I could have eaten a plate of it on its own (which you can do for $7-$11, depending on the add-ins, which run the gamut from seafood and truffle to hot dogs), but in this case I was glad to try the bahn mi, also a triumph but with more mayonnaise than I’m used to.
My mom kept asking, “Is this tofu?” because it was so succulent and textured. For vegetarians, it’s always nice not to feel like an afterthought at a restaurant, and vegetarian diners will not feel second-place here.
The servers, though not assigned to any particular table, are always coming and going and politely asking if they can take empty baskets and cups. We didn’t have to budge as our requests for ketchup (sacre bleu!), more salt and a pile of napkins were all obliged.
For dessert we had to try the pot-du-creme ($4.50), but the creme brûlée and profiterole “ice cream puff” were hard to pass up. The pot-du-creme was more than enough for the two of us to share after our filling meals, and even one bite of the dense but fluffy, deeply chocolately dessert would have been a satisfying end. There was even a lovely splayed strawberry on top.
And, should you decide that the American way — order, stuff your face, get out — isn’t your own and you’d like to sway more toward the “fine” French café lifestyle, outdoor tables and booths inside make lingering a tempting option.
GO: 3831 Edwards Road, Norwood; CALL: 513-366-3960: INTERNET: frenchiefresh.com; HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.