By Thomas C. Pavlik
I wouldn’t have known about Café Fresca but for my wife giving me a heads up that she had seen several positive reviews on Facebook for the place. Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t advertise much or because it’s located in the Bicentennial Building, occupied by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Café Fresca is open to the public and worth a visit.
Café Fresca’s space is in the front of the building just as you enter the doors off of Washington Street. It’s a relatively small, but comfortable space. Daily specials are posted on the wall – the day we visited was sloppy Joes and soup for $9.99 – and on the strange piling placed just inside the door.
Visitors order at the counter. Paper menus are strategically placed and there’s a large sign behind the counter. The compact kitchen behind the counter appeared clean and well-ordered. Drinks, condiments, napkins and utensils are self-service in a neatly kept area adjacent to the counter.
Café Fresca’s breakfast menu is comprehensive and available throughout the day. Offerings include pancakes, omelets, breakfast burritos and breakfast pizzas. Prices range from $6 (biscuits and gravy) to $9 (three-egg omelet).
Lunch items include hot and cold sandwiches, wraps, burgers, a daily soup and salads. The Facebook page is kept up-to-date and reveals a variety of soups (such as taco soup, potato soup, lobster bisque, gumbo and stuffed pepper soup) and specials (such as shrimp tacos, chicken Philly, shoes and po boys).
Prices are reasonable for the quality and size of the offerings and run mostly $8-$9. Drinks are $1.50 (bottled water) to $2.25 (soda fountain drinks). All lunches come with chips and a pickle. Fries can be substituted for chips for an additional $1. There are also baked goods (which appeared homemade) that cost between $2 and $3.
We visited on a cold and rainy day just before the lunch hour got going. We saw a few familiar faces who did not work in the building, but the majority of diners appeared to be state employees. Things really got swinging around noon. Despite the lunch rush, Café Fresca was able to keep up, and nobody appeared to have an inordinate wait.
Given that my wife made the suggestion in the first place, I invited her to dine with me. She’s a big fan of breakfast, so she ordered the breakfast burrito. I opted to start with a cup of chicken dumpling soup and the turkey club with fries.
Once food is ready the order number is announced, and guests pick up their food at the counter. Our food came out at the same time, which was greatly appreciated.
The breakfast burrito, called The Paul, was $8. It was a warm flour tortilla stuffed with chorizo, egg, potatoes and Monterey jack cheese. My wife was pleased with the dish. We both commented favorably that it was generously sized. I managed a few bites and enjoyed it, but thought that it could have been elevated with some salsa. But then again, I think most dishes can be enhanced with a spicy note. She commented that she would order it again.
My soup was obviously homemade, and the dumplings were not overly heavy. It was also well-seasoned and not overly salted, unlike many other places that are afraid to be aggressive with spices. Café Fresca knows that the right amount of salt enhances flavor.
Café Fresca made it hard to choose between the turkey club ($8) and the BLT ($8, double it up for $2 more, add egg for $1). After some internal debate that always drives my wife nuts, I went with the turkey. It came on toasted artisanal bread and contained turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo and both Swiss and cheddar cheese.
I prefer turkey carved from the breast over the lunch meat-style, and the lack of the carved variety was my only real complaint. There are few places that offer up the carved variety of club sandwich, so Café Fresca is far from alone in that regard The fries were also well-seasoned and crispy. I didn’t eat them all, so the offering size was generous.
We had a brief discussion with a friend who was also dining there. He commented that he’d been there before and always enjoyed the food. He also explained that Café Fresca was run by the folks who operate the Carriage House – which goes some way to explaining why we enjoyed our lunch. Good people equals good quality.
Address: 320 West Washington St., Springfield, IL
Hours: Monday – Friday 7a.m. to 2 p.m.
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