Earlier this week I visited a vegetarian café in Des Moines, Iowa called Fresh Café & Market. Most of the menu is vegan, and the vegetarian items have a vegan option (i.e. Daiya instead of cow’s milk cheese). Fresh Café & Market is easy to miss, as it’s tucked on a side street in West Des Moines in a building that looks more like an office building or dentist’s office than a restaurant. It shares the building with the School of Classical Ballet & Dance. Once inside, though, the space is cute and well lit with that wonderful, tell tale smell of raw restaurants. The scent of smoothies and wheatgrass fills the air like fresh cut grass on a sticky, summer day.
There’s a small bar with 50’s diner-style chairs and several tables for group dining. The menu options of salads, soups, sandwiches, juices, and smoothies are clearly labeled vegetarian, vegan, raw, soy-free, and wheat-free. As an added bonus, any salad can be a wrap or vice versa. Patrons order at the counter and then meals are brought to the tables.
Their soups are always vegan, and when I was there broccoli cheddar was the offering of the day. The cup of soup was a light starter to the meal, with large chunks of broccoli. The soup was thinner than I’d typically expect with a strong flavor of nutritional yeast. Luckily, I’m a big fan of nutritional yeast, and so that wasn’t a negative. I think adding some pureed potato or cauliflower would give the soup a pleasant added oomph and body.
For the entrée I had their raw pasta made with spiralized zucchini in a tomato sauce topped with a pesto of basil, mixed raw nuts, nutritional yeast, garlic and olive oil. The zucchini-based pasta is served on a large bed of spinach.
Finding a dish like this in the middle of Iowa is such a boon. Surprising as it may sound, I rarely order salads at non-vegetarian restaurants. It seems that in meat-centric restaurants, they count on flesh or animal-based cheese to be the highlight of the salads. The actual vegetables can be on the meager side with iceberg or romaine lettuce, a few shreds of carrot, and maybe a couple of cucumber slices. This raw meal was the opposite of that. The flavors were fresh and vibrant, and twirling zucchini around my fork gave the meal body. I liked how the spinach wilted in the sauce as I ate it, breaking it down, and soaking it in flavor.
My husband ordered the Roasted Sweet Potato & Wild Rice salad and had them make it as a wrap. Large, roasted chunks of sweet potatoes and wild rice were tossed in spices and served with spinach in a tortilla. My husband was surprised that the roasted sweet potatoes and rice were served cold since they are cooked ingredients, but enjoyed it otherwise. (They mention in the menu that all wraps can be toasted upon request, and that would probably warm those cold ingredients.) Although it wasn’t mentioned in the menu, they added hummus to the wrap, which he liked a lot and felt it unified the wrap in terms of flavor.
I’m sure we’ll be back to Fresh Café & Market on a future trip to Des Moines. In the middle of Iowa, it’s exciting to find this kind of truly healthy fare. True to its name, the vegetables popped. That said, if you’re in a rush, be aware that everything is made to order, and there can be a bit of a wait. (For more options of vegan-friendly restaurants in Des Moines, check out this post.)
Fresh Café & Market is located at 1721 Twenty Fifth Street Suite 110, West Des Moines, Iowa. Their hours are Monday-Thursday 11-7, Friday 11-5, and Saturday 11-3.