Everything You Wanted to Known About FreeFoods NYC But Were Too Cheap to Try
Clearly I wasn’t going to win the free lunch for a month from FreeFoods contest with the essay I wrote (although surpringly they included one of my quotes in a list of their “submissions,” even though I never technically entered it), so I probably won’t be eating at the super expensive upscale organic deli owned by Matthew Kenney anytime soon. (Many have commented that it tastes good, but I just can’t bring myself to spend the money.) But I know there are a lot of vegetarians, and organic food enthusiasts (it’s not all vegetarian stuff) who can afford it, and lucky for those people Kathy YL Chan (from A Passion For Food) was willing to take a hit for the team, and eat her way through the FFNYC menu. Here is her report… (those who get offended by overpriced healthy food, avert your eyes now.)
Full disclaimer: I am a pork lover, I am a foie gras lover, and prefer my bread toasted with melted lard smothered over the top. I eat dessert till no end, and then chase it with a beer or two. But every now and then, it’s rather interesting and fun to delve into the vegan world. Hence, my report on FreeFoodsNYC (which is not entirely vegan, or vegetarian for that matter.)
The new FreeFoods NYC is exactly what we don’t need in this economy: very fancy-smanshy, very-expensive organic, vegan, and raw food version of a standard Midtown deli. Regardless, it’s pretty tasty and I’ll confess to a growing addiction.
I’ve been coming here a few nights each week, picking my way around the absurdly priced $14 a pound cold buffet bar, the $8.50 smoothies and $7 slices of pie. I’ve tried to find a single item here that could be considered a bargain, or at least a very good deal. But alas, it seems I have nothing for you now.
But if you have a curious mind, and are willing to splurge for your midday meal, head for the buffet bar. There are a handful of interesting items, my favorite being the Raw and Vegan Tomato Lasagna. Two layers each of Pignoli Ricotta, Pistachio Pesto, and Sun Dried Tomato Sauce. Nothing like your typical lasagna, but nice change from the norm. The flavors are quite intense, the tomatoes, extra tomato-y, and the pesto, extra pesto-y. You get my point. That tiny wedge there cost me $8.
The “pizza” here is also raw and vegan. It’s made from an extra crunchy and thin flaxseed and herb crust. Topped with macadamia “ricotta,” spinach, tomato, and basil. I have no idea how they get the “ricotta” to be the way it is, but I sure wish they would sell the ricotta alone by the pound. I’d be happy smothering that on a baguette.
I find the vegan food here more enjoyable than the non-vegan dishes. The Portobello “Piccata” is an almond crusted Portobello mushroom wedge with arugula, pomegranate, and parmesan. It was cold and greasy. Deep-fried foods should never be served cold. Throwing pomegranate seed on top was pretty, but didn’t benefit the dish overall.
An unlisted special one night were little dumplings. The wrapper was made from coconut, very odd and somewhat enjoyable with it’s slightly chewy and distinctively coconut-y nature. Filled with chopped peanuts and a handful of herbs, it danced on the line of sweet. I prefer pork in my dumplings.
The sandwich, soup, and tossed to order salad bar runs adjacent to the cold buffet. I’ve eaten my way around this section at the FreeFoods NYC on 45th last spring, but a lot of my old go-to’s, like the roasted winter vegetable sandwich, and a slow roasted tomato manchego soup are no longer there. Current sandwich prices run between $10 and $20 (!!! Granted, the $20 is for a lobster club, but still…). Salads are $11.75, and soups are $5/cup and $7.75/bowl.
For dessert, I often go with a smoothie. The “Curious George” is a fun one, made from bananas, cacao beans, young coconut, espresso, and cashew butter. I suppose it could totally be a meal on its own, but I subscribe to the belief of why eat less when you could eat more?
Go for the “Goji Groove” when you’re in a citrusy light mood. A blend of goji berries, mango, orange, young coconut, and cayenne. Ask the lady behind the counter to be extra generous with the cayenne pepper – it gives the drink an awesome kick. The smoothies are on the liquidly end, and since I prefer them super thick, I pop the smoothie in the fridge for a hour to solidify up.
I was not as big of a fan of the Raw and Vegan Pumpkin Pie as Harry but it was surprisingly reminiscent of pumpkin considering it was a NO PUMPKIN pumpkin pie. The pie was light, loosely packed, and aggressively flavored. Perhaps it was to compensate for a lack of pumpkin. The ingredients? Cashews, Pecans, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Thyme.
There are only two desserts in the refrigerated section, the “Pumpkin” tart and a Chocolate-Hazelnut Tart. I shall get around to that one.
One thing to avoid: the sweet loaves. Pictured above is the Caramelized Banana Bread with cinnamon sugar and cacao nidbits. Like all else, it’s severely overpriced at $3.75. The only difference is that this does. Not. Taste. Good. At. All. Dry, and dusty, the banana is faint, the cinnamon-sugar unidentifiable, and the cacao pieces simply misplaced in such a loaf.
Cupcakes are a better bet, though tiny and just as pricey as the loaves. The Pinot Noir-Chocolate with Salted Caramel Glaze is a dark and chocolaty two-biter. A fine way to end the meal if you’re feeling just a touch too healthy after all that raw and vegan business.
The loaves and cupcakes are placed next to the cash registered along with cookies and macarons. I’ve yet to have the cookies and macarons… perhaps I shall make a return trip tonight!
By the way, there always seem to be samples (of the dessert sort) to the right of the cash register. What I like to do is grab one sample when I walk in, and have another while they ring up my food, and a third right before I walk out the door. It makes me feel just that little bit better for eating such overpriced food.
Free Foods NYC (Two Locations)
- 150 E. 52nd St. (btw. Lex+3rd), 212-371-1945
- 18 W. 45th St. (btw. 5+6th), 212-302-7195
Photos and post by Kathy YL Chan