Optimistically Cautious

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Warm and Inviting: Free Press Bistro

Dickson and I met up after work today for a quick bite to eat. He insisted on something "warm" (what can I say? He's an articulate one), and I suggested the Free Press Bistro (10014-104 Street).

Until recently, the restaurant belonged to the Original Fare collective, a group of independently-owned eateries in the city. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Natasha Shekhter-Chapman, one of the proprietors of Free Press, distributed in the November 2006 Original Fare newsletter:

"Our concept is to do non-processed panini's. What I found with panini's is that most of them are processed, generic food. Whereas here the chicken is roasted, the pork is pulled. Everything down to our desserts we make here. For us it is about non-processed, unique, healthy, incorporating all different aspects of the world. You look at our menu and we've got Thai and Vietnamese, and then we have the French, the Cajun, kind of all over the world but combining them all into a very basic thing. Everybody loves sandwiches."

I'd been there once prior, almost a year ago, on a similarly blustery day, but wasn't too impressed with the food at that time, however. Just a stone's throw (okay, maybe more like a punt) away from Bay Station, it's in quite a convenient downtown location.

The restaurant was cozy and inviting, and even more so as the dimmed lighting brought out the warmth in the earth toned walls. Non-obtrusive vintage newspapers accented the dining room, a theme continued on their colorful menus. While I wasn’t a huge fan of their furniture (clunky metal and tacky pink), the calming ambiance somewhat made up for it.

To start, we ordered the intriguing Chip Butty, an apparent spin on a British pub classic, with fries and mozza grilled between Ciabatta bread. For our main plates, I went with the Chicken Parmesan (breaded chicken, tomato sauce, mozzarella), while Dickson chose the Free Press Club (chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, bacon).

The Chip Butty came soon enough, and my, it may be my new favorite sandwich. The combination of french fries and melted cheese encased in crisp Ciabatta tasted heavenly and had it been served with gravy instead of a lemon dill aioli, it could have been considered a 'poutine sandwich.' Come to think of it, perhaps I should add a panini grill to my kitchen wish list.

As for our entrees - the chicken in mine was a tad on the dry side, but using ketchup for dipping, it wasn't too noticeable. The star of the sandwich was indeed the bread. Dickson wondered if they baked it on-site. Based on their interview excerpt above, I'd hope so. Lastly, the fries were of the shoestring variety (which I normally dislike), but I didn't mind them on this occasion.

While I'm happy to say I had a good experience this time around, I may have to return to see if they can remain consistent with both the service and the food.

Restaurant interior

Cool menu

Chip Butty with Lemon Dill Aioli

Club Sandwich (with a dollop of ketchup because Dickson couldn't wait to dig in)

Chicken Parmesan

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