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


  • A) Far to prinky for my taste.

    B) Yet another example of why it’s really not possible to serve high-quality food at affordable prices from a midtown storefront. The fixed costs simply don’t allow it. You’re either going to cut the quality or send the price to the stratosphere.

    Carts are the vanguard of good eats in NYC.

  • How can “Two layers each of Pignoli Ricotta, ” be vegan? Though it look tasty.

  • @Mamacita: The ricotta should be in quotations -> it was mock “ricotta” Thanks for catching that! :D

  • I’ve never had a bad dish from the salad bar. That said, I don’t think I’ve stayed under $13. The cup of soup, while good and comes with a small piece of bread, is nowhere near filling enough to make a meal out of. The juice drinks are great but as mentioned, usually ring up around $7. If this place was 1/2 the price I’d eat there almost every day.

  • Not one single pic above looks appetizing. In fact most have the visual appeal of wet cardboard or a roof shingle. Although I could be convinced to try the Goji Groove if they put some rum in it and added a bacon strip stirrer.

    I await crucifixion by the vegan posse

  • @wayne: INFIDEL!!

    I agree. Too $ for me, and everything looks kinda blah, to boot.

  • Jesus, I wouldn’t have paid those prices even when I was making twice as much. Even midtowners have their limits!

  • I’d rather eat a Walgreen’s sandwich.

  • I think the Pignoli Ricotta might be made out of pine nuts, so… its ‘ricotta’, rather than actual cheese. I just don’t understand why you need to make vegan pumpkin pie with no pumpkin in it, when you can totally make delicious vegan pumpkin pie *with* pumpkin in it quite easily.

  • 14 dollars will get you a pastrami sandwich from katz… I’m just sayin… 1 lb of melt-in-your-mouth pastarmi, vs crap dug out of the ground…. not a hard choice.

    (sorry vegetarians, this post is not for you)

  • The Base of that Vegan pizza looks like it made from the same stuff that fell from the Ceiling of Desmonds Tavern…in the last but one Mamacita bar revue.

    If i ever ate anything from this place….as this free range organic fairtrade vegan its good for the colon bollocks….well…it have to taser a homeless person on the way back to the office…to to ying my yang.

  • I am going to wait until the big corporate farms and food companies go vegan and organic…..it will not be sustainable for the planet…but then it will be healthy and cheap. Can’t wait.

  • This report just makes me miss the F&B Gudtfood that used to occupy the space all the more.

  • Maybe after every animal and lactating woman has left the Earth, I will try this place…

  • The pumpkin thought occurred to me, too–I presume it has to do more with the “raw” than the “vegan.” I doubt raw pumpkin is particularly digestible. Though why you’d value raw food so highly you would rather eat mock pumpkin than the real thing is a mystery. It’s really only the kind of thing I can imagine eating if you were totally committed to a raw diet, and…where are those people in NYC?

  • Sarah – They live underground to keep their pasty skin away from the sun’s poisonous rays, eating moss and muttering to themselves, coming out only to leave abrasive blog comments

  • and they are collectively named: Gwyneth Paltrow!

  • The wild salmon with the pomegranate and shiitake from the salad bar is one of the tastiest bites in Midtown. Sooo tasty. I buy a portion of that to supplement the salads I bring from home. All in all, not so much money for such quality

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