Yesterday, I featured Matthew Tetrault, CLAS ‘08 and his return to UConn with the latest addition to Storrs Center — the Fresh Fork Café. The fast-casual eatery boasts an extensive menu ranging from classic café offerings to more unique creations that are completely customizable based on your diet and preferences. A dish starts out with the basic ingredients, and you can then make it vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. With such a wide selection of food, a cozy atmosphere and a sustainable approach to ingredients and materials, I hope the UConn community appreciates the much-needed addition of Fresh Fork Café to campus.
“I thought the café was cute and had a nice calm feel to it. It also seems like it could be a great study spot too,” Celia Chacko, a seventh-semester mechanical engineering major. I visited the café with her and Sruthi Takillapati, a seventh-semester physiology and neurobiology major, earlier this week.
The ambiance is bright and welcoming when you enter. There is a good amount of seating with a divider in the middle for privacy to enjoy your meal or for some quiet studying. The fixtures and art on the wall give the restaurant a modern, but still comforting vibe. A colorful (and long) menu in an aesthetically artistic style sprawls the wall behind the cash register and drink area.
“I traveled all over the world, and that’s why the menu is so varied, with my insurance and finance background taking me a lot of places,” Tetrault said. The menu takes inspiration from other cuisines, such as Tetrault’s twist on a banh mi and a simple pasta dish. “With my wife, we travel with food in mind. We tried to take that back here, with high quality ingredients, but not getting over the top.”
This approach to food is an extension of Tetrault’s first food venture, GBury2Go, which only serves their food to go. Because of this style of operation, he tried to choose foods that were amenable to take out, whereas for Fresh Fork Café, he was able to expand the menu because of the sit-down option.
“I feel like it works well because the college experience is the whole idea of sitting next to someone eating a burger while you’re eating something entirely different,” Tetrault said about the variety of food options. “I think that’s the whole idea, for people with different views, different diets, to be able to come to the same place and just enjoy some good food.”
But what do they actually offer? Good question. The menu includes sections for breakfast all day, sandwiches, noodles, chicken, bowls, salads, sides, smoothies and local coffee from Drumroll Coffee Roasters in Wethersfield. The wide variety makes it easy to select something to order for next time.
Tetrault recommended first-time visitors order the tofu banh mi, seasoned fries, a smoothie or a fried chicken sandwich (if you’re able to eat meat). At first glance, the other choices that stood out to me were the signature grilled cheese, any of the noodles (they all seemed similar to me), the Asian chopped salad, the onion rings, the buttermilk biscuits and mac and cheese.
When I visited Fresh Fork Café at the end of August, I ordered the fried chicken sandwich ($9), an order of the buttermilk fried chicken ($10), seasoned fries ($5), the Singapore noodles ($10) and a strawberry and banana smoothie ($7).
The fried chicken sandwich was all I had heard about and more: the piece of chicken was huge and sufficient, fried to an immaculate crisp with a perfectly savory seasoning. Unlike other bread buns I’ve had that brought down the quality of the sandwich, the bread for this sandwich wasn’t bland at all and had a balanced sweetness to it. The pickled red cabbage provided a nice crunch and freshness, while the spicy mayo was deliciously creamy. The buttermilk fried chicken had a similar fried crunch and seasoning with a spice and was a pretty good price — four pieces for $10. They’ve definitely got their frying down because the fries were perfectly crunchy, and the seasoning was yummy, albeit a bit salty. The smoothie, which they boast is made with only organic fruit —no syrup or ice added, is a bit pricey, but the pure fruit made a big difference in taste, so if you like smoothies, it’s definitely worth a try.
I was excited to try one of the noodle dishes — the options are drunken noodles, garlic noodles and Singapore noodles — and they give you a good amount for $10. As described on the menu, the Singapore noodles come with “garlic, shallot, broccoli, carrots and bell peppers tossed in a sweet chili and tamari soy sauce toped with scallions and toasted sesame seeds.” The vegetables were definitely fresh and abundant, but I was a bit disappointed by the overall flavor. I felt like the noodles were a bit lacking in flavor, which was pretty noticeable with rice noodles. I’m not sure if this is the case with the other noodle dishes, but then again, I can’t expect much, considering they’re not necessarily an authentic Asian restaurant.
This time, I ordered the signature grilled cheese on organic multigrain bread with a sweet chili drizzle, bacon and a blend of American and cheddar cheese. It was a bit pricey for $9, but I thought it a delicious grilled cheese nonetheless, with nice toasty bread, melty cheese and crispy bacon. Takillapati ordered seasoned fries with Chacko, as well as a tofu banh mi with local organic “bridge tofu,” pickled carrots, pickled red onion, pickled red cabbage, cucumbers and sweet chili sauce.
“The fries were perfectly crispy and the seasoning added the perfect touch of flavor,” Takillapati said. “The tofu banh mi was not only a visual delight of tofu blended with carrots, radish and sauce. It was the perfect combo for vegetarians.”
Takillapati already thought of what to add to her order next time.
“If you do takeout, it’s easy to add jalapeños, cheese and other condiments to your liking to add an extra touch,” Takillapati said. “The bread had a wonderful touch of sweetness that wrapped all the flavors together. I loved the trays that they served, as it’s convenient for the customer and the server, no mess.”
Chacko ordered the fried egg banh mi that has the same toppings as the tofu one, but with pulled pork and fried egg instead of tofu.
“The subtle sweetness from both the bread and the sweet chili sauce working their way into the pickled veggies really complemented the savory pulled pork and the fried eggs that had a nice runny yolk,” Chacko said. “It‘s super satisfying and filling.”