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The Frugal Forager: Crossgates cafe has healthful alternative food, drinks

Sunday, February 5, 2012
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— So you’re in the mall, and your choices for a healthy, tasty meal are slim. I’ve made do with the plate of steamed vegetables and rice from fast-food Asian outlets, or just one slice of cheese pizza, which is OK if I don’t eat until the next meal. But now when I’m at Crossgates, I’m headed to Fresh Healthy Cafe.

The cafe isn’t warm and cozy, but it’s clean and bright, with a mango and avocado color scheme that is carried through to the serving ware. The night my friend Lisa and I went, there were more people than you’d think they need behind the long counter doing mysterious things behind stainless steel. There are several industrial-strength juicers in sight, and even a patch of wheat grass with scissors nearby.

The restaurant is at the junction of two minor thoroughfares on the first floor, with Dick’s and a handy mall entrance nearby, which gives it a very open feeling. You’ll have to put together the round tables for more than two people, and your options are “inside” the store, or “outside” in the mall. We chose in.

The menu is posted behind the counter and available in a handy pamphlet form, and there’s a sandwich board with the day’s specials. The first page of the menu is dedicated to a wide variety of smoothies. You don’t get to food you can chew until the bottom of the second page, where you’ll find the healthy breakfast menu. Sandwiches, which can be prepared as panini, a wrap or salad are on the back.

Fresh Healthy Cafe

WHERE: Crossgates Mall, Guilderland. 452-0202. www.freshrestaurants.com

WHEN: 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $27.15

MORE INFO: Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover

Sandwiches, smoothies

We both settled on half-sandwiches and soup, with smoothies too.

“Would you like a fortifier?” I was asked upon ordering my smoothie. I passed, but did accept the card that gave me a free smoothie after I buy 10.

The “fortifiers,” according to the menu, fortify your body and improve your health. And they’re free with every smoothie. Choose from: sniffles blend, brain blend (I know a few people who could use that), bone blend, energy blend, etc.

What’s awesome here is the variety of juices, some freshly squeezed, and the vegan and meatless options.

Now, about that wheat grass juice. It has antibacterial properties, prevents tooth decay, neutralizes toxins, purifies the liver, even removes acne and scars in seven to eight months — as long as your diet is improved at the same time. This is taken directly from their literature. I can’t help but think that the wheat grass behind the counter is just like the stuff I grow for my cats. We passed on the wheat grass. I’m sure it’s wonderful, but I’m not ready for it yet.

The smoothies should not be confused with beverages. They are not. Mine, made with cranberry juice, raspberry sorbet, and raspberries (320 calories), was plainly dessert, and it was wonderful. It was a color I have not seen since candy-apple red paint on a muscle car. Also, it was very sweet, which made me think it had a lot of sugar. Lisa took a sip of her avocado smoothie (avocado, soy milk, non-fat yogurt, etc. — 500 calories) and paused. “It’s really creamy, like eggnog.”

Memorable panini

You pay when you order, and they call you when it’s ready. We each had a paper-lined plastic basket with a bowl and a sandwich, which just fit on the table. The sliced chicken breast, mandarin oranges, lettuce and crispy noodles were squeezed into a panini (450–750 calories) and there was lots of sweet gingery dressing on it. I loved it, and was especially impressed by sliced yellow pepper.

The chicken noodle soup (no calorie count available) was even better. Floating in the crystal-clear broth were noodles, neatly sliced carrots, and bits of chicken. It tasted like it was homemade by a good cook.

Lisa was enjoying her meal just as much. Her chili, made with corn, garbanzo beans and a wide variety of legumes, was “very delicious,” she said, and “super hot.” And her sandwich — Turkey Bacon Avocado panini (370-900 calories) with turkey breast, turkey bacon, cheddar cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato and onion in a low-fat ranch dressing — was “super good.”

We really liked the little bags of real veggie chips that came on the side, sliced or freeze-dried or whatever so that they retain their color if not their flavor; they are just salty enough with lots of variety to keep you interested.

Vegan cookie

I wasn’t expecting much from the vegan cookie (480 calories for two servings) but Lisa calls me a cookie snob. “Hey, this smells delicious,” I said, as I opened the package. I broke off a tiny piece, and took a bite without trying to make a face. It was good, and Lisa agreed. We had no trouble finishing it, and I didn’t miss animal products one bit.

“I feel super-healthy after this,” Lisa said on the way out. We both felt virtuous. We didn’t have leftovers although Lisa brought her smoothie along for the shopping trip. I couldn’t finish mine, and felt bad tossing the rest. I have fond memories of that sweet red treat.

The total for our meal with tax came to $27.15. We were both pleased with Fresh Healthy Cafe and will gladly visit again. At least now there is a healthy choice at the mall. Thank you.

 
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