The Riverside restaurant scene has really exploded in the last 9 months with Corner Taco, Hawkers Asian Street Fare, and Cafe Freda all opening up shop to rave reviews. Just opened this past September, Cafe Freda is a small family owned restaurant. Cafe Freda is owned by the Freda family, hence the origin of the name. Momma Freda runs the front of the house while her middle son is the chef. The restaurant is located on Park Street in a quaint old house with a wonderful front porch for outdoor dining. They offer “global comfort food made with local love”. The restaurant itself simply screams Riverside. Having grown up in Jacksonville it absolutely embodies what I think of when I think of the Riverside neighborhood. I think older houses with character, neighbors that know each other, and great front porches for sitting and enjoying a beautiful Florida afternoon. Having met Mama Freda on our visit, I imagine the Freda family is one I’d enjoy spending the afternoon with shooting the breeze drinking sweet tea on the porch. Not only that, but when we finished the sweet tea I’d reckon we could head inside for some amazing global home cooking. If you’re a vegan and my little southern fairytale doesn’t work for you don’t worry they got you covered as well.
Food: We started things off with white bean fondue- cannellini beans, goat cheese, fresh herbs, and olive oil drizzle. The menu says the fondue comes with grilled flat bread. When it arrived it came with sticks of fried bread that tasted a bit like French toast sticks. Actually, more than a bit like French toast sticks. Eating the fondue with these sticks made it such a heavy starter. The waiter did bring us grilled flatbread when we asked and the dish was much better with the flatbread. The fondue was decent but not something I’d order again.
The other appetizer we tried was duck nachos ($10) – duck confit, hand cut tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, topped with fontina cheese, adobo sauce and cilantro creme. These were really good. The sauces were good complements to each other. The flavor of the duck was great. There was a good amount of duck. Overall this was a great dish.
The first entree we dug into was the Asian pork ban mi- house pate, fresh cilantro, pickled daikon, carrot, cucumber, and sriracha mayo. We ordered the mayonnaise on the side then added a small amount ourselves. If you’re not familiar with bahn mi it’s basically a Vietnamese style sandwich on a baguette. This sandwich was pretty spicy. It was also pretty delicious. If you like spicy food you’re gonna love this sandwich. The pork had plenty of flavor. The carrots and onions paired nicely with the pork and added a crunch that took the sandwich up a notch in my book. I opened the sandwich and couldn’t really find the pate. There’s a chance it was mixed in with the meat. If it was I couldn’t tell.
I order loaded baked potato soup nearly every time it’s offered on a menu. Naturally when I saw it on Cafe Freda’s specials board I couldn’t resist. I normally expect it to be pretty thick. This one was a bit thinner. I’m of the opinion that thicker is usually better with this particular kind of soup. It was decent but not nearly as rich and buttery in flavor as I’d prefer. There are better options at cafe Freda. Skip it.
The absolute star of our meal was the cassoulet($15)-duck confit, sausage, and white beans topped with buttery herbed bread crumbs. If you’re not familiar with Cassoulet take a peek at this wikipedia link before you read on http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassoulet This dish was almost like a country stew layered with tasty vegetables and white beans mixed with delicious pulled duck and covered with buttery bread crumbs. On top of all that 4 slices of wonderful sausage crowned the dish. For me this dish had the wow factor I always look to find at a new unique restaurant. Gourmet went dancing with country cookin’ and this dish was born. I know the unfamiliarity with cassoulet may keep some folks from giving this a shot but trust me when I tell you that you don’t have to be an adventurous eater to enjoy this dish.
The last dish we tried was the macaroni and cheese. If you’ve read our reviews you can tell we’re big mac ‘n cheese fans. This mac ‘n cheese was really really good. It was a side item so it came out in a small ramekin. The macaroni noodles were thicker than usual and covered in a layer of cheddar cheese that looked as if the chef had flambeed the cheese. The dish had a fabulous smokey cheddar cheese flavor. It was great mac ‘n cheese and a nice deviation from the norm.
One of few disappointments of the meal was being told twice that a dish we ordered was unavailable. One of the dishes we were told was unavailable was the Cornish hen. We’re told the menu will be changing soon and the Cornish hen as well as a few other dishes will be coming off the menu. This may also explain why a couple of the dishes came out a bit different than they were listed on the menu. If this was the biggest disappointment of our meal Cafe Freda is doing pretty darn good.
Service: We walked in and were greeted warmly and seated promptly. I ordered a soda and my dining partner for the evening order an Oberon beer. The waiter poured most of the beer into the glass then stopped pouring with about a quarter of the beer left in the bottle. He then swirled what was left at a nice medium pace. When asked why the need for the swirl, he explained that with unfiltered beers taking time to swirl the bottom of the beer helps to make sure you get all of the yeast from the bottom of the bottle. It was nice to have someone knowledgable paying attention to detail and making sure we got the most of it. The service overall was very good. Our server exuded passion for Cafe Freda. That’s always a big plus.
Cafe Freda’s motto is “Global comfort food served with local love.” In our experience that motto shows in everything they do. Dining at Cafe Freda allows you to have a meal that’s out of the ordinary yet not so much so that you’re gambling on whether you’ll enjoy your meal by ordering something new. Each dish is a bit different than what you’re used to, while generally not throwing flavor profiles at you that are significantly out of the average diner’s wheel house. In our opinion, if you’re anywhere near Riverside Cafe Freda is a must try!