April 15, 2012

Dine Out Maine: The Fresh Batch: Good food, nice variety in a friendly space

By NANCY HEISER

The Fresh Batch looks like it belongs in a college town, peopled with students hunched over their laptops and nursing their espresso drinks or burritos at any time of day or night.

click image to enlarge

The furnishings at The Fresh Batch combine light wood with a rainbow of bright pastel paint, giving the place a cheerful whimsy. The toddler gym is a nice feature for children.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

DINING REVIEW

THE FRESH BATCH

20 Bow St., Freeport

865-5511; thefreshbatch.com

***

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday; until 8 p.m. Thursday; until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Summer hours will be 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

CREDIT CARDS: All major

PRICE RANGE: $3.49 to $9.99

VEGETARIAN: Yes, and some vegan

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes, many options, including gluten-free baked goods from Wild Flours in Brunswick

KIDS: Welcome and encouraged. Separate menu and play area.

RESERVATIONS: No

BAR: Serves wine, draft and bottled beers, hard cider and a few liquor-flavored gelati. Homemade lemonade. Pour-your-own tap water in reusable tumblers means there's no need to buy the bottled variety and add to the litter stream.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: Spacious, locally owned and radiating a friendly spirit, The Fresh Batch is a casual dining option for locals and tourists. Find soups, salads, hot and cold sandwiches, burritos and egg dishes in a lively setting in downtown Freeport. Homemade gelato, espresso drinks and several vegetarian and gluten-free options make this a drop-in spot to please a lot of palates, but adventurous eaters may find it too tame.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value: *Poor;  **Fair;  ***Good;  ****Excellent;  *****Extraordinary. The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

But the restaurant resides in Freeport, sandwiched between retail outlets just off Main Street. And the clientele ranges from the very young to folks who could be their grandparents and everyone in between.

That's not surprising, given the assorted menu that says the eatery emphasizes local sources and organic products, free Wi-Fi, an indoor play space for toddlers, a spacious arrangement of brightly painted tables, a friendly staff and a central location.

Its website says the food is innovative. We stopped in on two different nights in March to get a sense of the dinner options, and we had satisfying meals both times. But the food was far from original.

Miniature meatballs and lots of pearl pasta fortified a cup of Italian wedding soup. The garden vegetable soup contained chunks of carrots, green beans and summer squash in a tomato broth (cup $3.49; bowl $4.99). Neither soup bore that unforgivable over-salted taste found in many versions, and we were surprised to learn later that the soups are not made in-house. Whatever the source, it's a decent one.

A housemade veggie burger ($7.99) had a black bean base seasoned with scallions and Old Bay. The burger was robust but a little mushy. Nevertheless, topped with lettuce and tomato on a grilled bun and doctored with a little mayo and ketchup, it disappeared quickly.

The reuben ($8.99) -- chunks of corned beef tucked between grilled marble rye, with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing -- wasn't the impossibly overstuffed version from a classic Jewish deli, but it was a fair approximation.

Spinach salad with almonds and dried cranberries was fresh and ample ($7.99), and was served with a delicious and tangy homemade sesame vinaigrette. A spicy buffalo chicken sandwich ($8.99) with bleu cheese dressing was no more than one might expect, but it did not disappoint.

The taco salad special was the winning main dish. A big spread of mixed greens was strewn with mozzarella cheese (I would have preferred something sharper), black olives and a tomato pico salsa, all topped with several warmed slices of mildly spiced but tender beef ($9.99).

My overarching impression of The Fresh Batch's food is that a number of the items we tried could have used more punch. A chili doesn't have to knock you over with heat, but it should have a character beyond tomato (cup, $4.49). A specialty quiche -- we tried their "Fantastico" -- ought to have a distinctive meld that rises above egg, herbs, tomato ($6.99) and Asiago cheese. A homemade pico salsa ought to make one pucker from its piquancy.

Yet so many other things hum at Fresh Batch that it's hard to find much fault. The furnishings combine light wood with a rainbow of bright pastel paint, giving the place a cheerful whimsy. The toddler gym is a boon for parents of small children. A small bowl of fresh fruit comes with the quiches.

"The whole family can eat here and be happy," says the eatery's website, and that mission seems to hold true.

Sides for the sandwiches included a choice of carrot sticks that were hand-cut, sweet and snappy (nothing like those stubs from the plastic bag), homemade pasta salad or standard potato chips. The restaurant lives up to its name, too -- many items are freshly prepared. This includes the homemade, fresh-squeezed lemonade. Go for it.

All this indicates a lot of thought and care behind the scenes. Thank goodness for casual restaurants like this one that pay attention to the call for more fruit and vegetables. Americans can't regularly have "fries with that" without paying the price.

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