Aside from its distinctive flavor palettes, food has more abstract emotional appeals to the senses as well. Dessert tastes like joy. A giant chunk of meat roasted over an open flame tastes deeply, primally, invigorating, like surviving a plane crash or the thrill of the hunt itself. There’s a reason mashed potatoes are called “comfort food.”
The grub at Fresh Thymes Eatery tastes healthy, like tiny, delicate chunks of life. Perhaps that’s a bit hyperbolic. But it’s still the general thrust that one is getting at with clichés like fresh and zesty, that it taps into some evolutionarily honed survival sense that says, “Put this in your mouth; it’s the opposite of poison.”
The lunch counter that runs lengthways through most of the space is loaded up with a deli-style rotating daily selection of salads and meats, made with high-quality ingredients and prepared in ways that subtly highlight their natural flavors instead of drowning them in spices. A slaw made of carrots and daikon dressed in a light sesame oil was a crunchy delight, and a lightly roasted asparagus walked a line between tender and crunchy, and avoided the heavy blahness that can come with a chef phoning in their asparagus duties.
Though the salads I sampled with my counter plate (one protein and two sides for $12) were not specifically adherent to the raw foods diet, their understated preparation expressed its appeal. Were carrot sticks and kale the world around that effervescent and lively, I might consider ditching my hot plate.
But that impulse could also go the other way from tasting the tender strips of braised skirt steak that came with those salads. It was prepared with the same nuance, and managed to capture that same wholesome emotional vibe despite steak’s origins being decidedly more savage than carrots’. If that’s the flavor that comes from gently applying fire to a cow’s tuccus, then I’m ready to swear allegiance to Prometheus.
Fresh Thymes likes to tout that its menu is entirely gluten-free, which is especially nice as it still manages to offer some gluteny standards like flatbreads, sandwiches and pasta, especially when you got away from the lunch counter and into the fixed menu.
The burger is made with grass-fed beef and dressed up with avocado and caramelized onions for $12.50. The Big Mac (adult-sized mac and cheese, $8) is a gooey delight that can be augmented with a rogue’s gallery of accoutrements for an extra $1: roasted tomatoes, house pesto, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, seared greens, green chili sauce, skirt steak, roasted chicken or bacon.
But even those heavier items manage to capture the airiness that is endemic to the rest of the menu.
Fresh Thymes Eatery rounds its offerings out with a few baked desserts.
The Magic Bar (a piece of shortbread layered with caramel for $3.50) was especially good.
While the prices at Fresh Thymes Eatery are a little too high for a regular lunch spot on a reporter’s salary, it’s going down in my little black book as a joint for those days when you’re overcome by that “not so fresh feeling,” and damnit, you just need a truly stellar carrot.