Alex: I was just pulling on my pajamas when I got a call from Heather to come try Park Street’s newest locale; Cafe Freda. It was opening night, we’d have the chance to be some of the first to try their fare with our friend Jessica of Jax Vegan Love. They’re located in the little bungalow where Alphadog Grill used to be, mixed in with the row of antique stores. I ended up arriving a bit late, just in time for the appetizer to roll in.
Jessica had ordered a veritable smorgasboard of vegan goodies. The first was the fried tofu fingers. I’m normally not a fan of any dish that takes its name from a part of my anatomy, but in this case I had to make an exception. The breading was lightly smoked and crispy, without being greasy. I don’t usually like tofu, but in this case it served as an excellent platform for their sauces. The best was their barbeque, bringing sweet and tangy flavors to a completely vegan dish. (Heather: I really liked the Asian sauce. Ask your waitress if you can get a sampling of all their options!)
After we’d done some damage to the tofu the rest of the dishes start arriving. Jessica’s veggie curry was splendidly colorful, and tasted just as good! The curry sauce and spices were excellent, but what really made it pop was the mango chutney. The sweet chunks of mango and dates were absolutely incredible mixed in with the more spicy and savory flavors. This was the first curry I’ve had with fruit, and I must say that it really brings a whole new dimension to a traditional dish.
Heather: This was undoubtedly my favorite dish from the evening. Highly recommend!
Alex: I had ordered the lamb gyro, and it was only once I bit in that I thought back and realized that it was no normal gyro. Rather that the strips of fried spiced minced lamb, they used strips of lamb belly. It still had lamb’s unique flavor; except more the consistency of bacon. Thinking back, I don’t think I’ve ever seen lamb belly in a restaurant before so this was a completely new dish for me. The pita wrap was golden brown and tasted fresh out of the oven. They went a little light on the tzatziki sauce, but it was less of a mess than a traditional gyro usually is. It also didn’t overwhelm the more delicate flavor of the lamb belly. I got a side of fries with it that came out just a little overdone and underseasoned for my tastes, but it wasn’t anything that a quick dip in ketchup couldn’t fix.
Heather’s choice was the pulled pork sandwich, which is about as close as you can get to traditional southern food. They included their sauce on the side so we could decide just how much we wanted, which was a nice touch. The pork was tender and delicious, and better than some other places in Jacksonville that specialize in barbeque. I took a few bites without the sauce, and while it was good, it was definitely a better sandwich with a good layer of their homemade barbeque sauce.
Heather: The sandwich was a solid option, topped with slaw, but I would want to try a lot of other things on the menu before returning to it.
Alex: The last dish we had was their vegetable banh mi. The last time we tried banh mi, Heather bit into a pepper that brought new meaning to the words “Asian Spicy”. Thankfully enough, Cafe Freda’s dish was only spiced with rooster sauce, which does have a bit of a kick but went wonderfully with the pickled vegetables. Their bread continued to impress me, with the baguette being just the right balance between chewy and crusty.
We finished off our meal with the ginger snap banana pudding. Banana pudding is always great with a little extra mixed it, like cookies or crackers. They mixed in ginger snaps that gave it a cinnamon and ginger flavor that cut into the rich creaminess. It was a good twist on a traditional dessert, and I’d be very interested to see more sweet combinations.
Heather: We took advantage of the lovely weather and ate out on the patio. The inside of the restaurant is nicely decorated, with pieces that don’t distract from your meal.
Alex: For their first night, Freda’s is very promising. I would be happy to stop by to try the rest of their dishes, especially once they start their full menu. Their motto is “Global comfort food made with local love”, and it really shows in their cooking. In addition, many of their dishes were vegan friendly with enough dishes that were carnivore friendly to make everyone happy. It was great to experience a new place on its first night, and we recommend you swing by for a little bit of your own global comfort food.