Photograph by Alma Shaw
Lisa Hemenway's return comes at just the right time
By Katrina Fried
"It's good to be back,'" says Lisa Hemenway, the beloved Sonoma County chef and restaurateur whose new food emporium, Fresh, marks her return from a nearly 10-year hiatus in the retail food business. Her most ambitious venture yet, Fresh features a full-service restaurant, organic market, take-out deli, pizzeria, bakery, wine bar and coffee house all cohabiting under one 7,800-square-foot roof.
Fresh is clearly a labor of great love for Hemenway, a veteran and darling of the Santa Rosa culinary scene since opening her first restaurant, Lisa Hemenway's, in 1983. (Polka Dots, a retro diner in Railroad Square, and Lisa Hemenway's Bistro in the Town & Country Center followed.) Inspired by the food halls of Europe and the hawker stalls of Asia, Hemenway wanted to create a marketplace devoted to local and organic food that offered customers a range of casual dining options and shopping experiences.
She initially had her heart set on an even larger building in Railroad Square in which she planned to lease space to multiple vendors, but when that deal fell through, she adjusted and simplified her vision to suit the slightly smaller, less-central location she now occupies in the former Skyhawk Village Market. There's a flicker of disappointment in her eyes when she shares this story with me, but it vanishes almost instantly as she goes on to describe with modest pride how every detail of the finished store's modular design has her aesthetic stamp on it.
Despite its cavernous proportions, Fresh feels far from impersonal or industrial. There's a human touch evident throughout the store, from handwritten produce signage that names local farm sources to the artisan-crafted wood wine bar. Indeed, Hemenway enlisted family and friends to help with some of the final fixes, like sewing a smart black-and-white-striped awning that hangs above the coffee station. The resulting design may feel a bit unpolished by too-sleek corporate design standards, but it is undeniably friendly and welcoming.
Fresh's 40-seat restaurant and nine-stool bar occupy the center of the spacious hall, and offer eat-in breakfast, lunch, mid-day and dinner menus featuring Hemenway's farm-to-table fare and beer and wine on tap. In warmer weather, seating expands to an outdoor patio that overlooks Skyhawk Park.
Surrounding the restaurant are a variety of takeaway stations, the largest being a French-inspired market area that includes local organic produce, cheeses, dairy products, gourmet snacks, homemade sauces, fresh pasta, pantry essentials, grass-fed meats, fresh poultry and seafood, frozen goods, fresh flowers and a dangerous aisle called "Quench Your Thirst." The aisle features local and global wines and beers, any of which can also be purchased without mark-up to enjoy at the restaurant for a small service fee, making their wine list one of the most wallet-friendly in town.
A 40-foot-long deli case brimming with Hemenway's signature salads, prepared foods and a wide selection of charcuterie spans nearly the length of an entire wall. Made-to-order sandwiches, warm and cold, are also available for takeout, the star of which is surely the grilled Rueben on seeded rye with caramelized onions and organic sauerkraut—it does a New York deli proud. Box lunches, fitting for a vineyard picnic or lunch at your desk, can be ordered ahead of time or on the spot, as can the popular wood-fired brick-oven pizzas. And to satisfy those caffeine cravings, Flying Goat Coffee is served expertly at the coffee counter, along with various French pastries, muffins, cakes and pies—all baked in-house, of course. (A slice of Hemenway's Parmesan apple pie might be worth a visit alone.)
For the upcoming Sonoma County Restaurant Week, Fresh will be offering two special three-course prix fixe dinner menus. Nineteen dollars buys you an organic market salad, a cozy plate of meatloaf with mashed potatoes or turkey pot pie, and a homemade cream puff for dessert. For an extra 10 bucks, you'll have your choice of stuffed mushrooms or baked brie with garlic jalapeno pepper jelly to start, followed by either grilled salmon or savory skirt steak, and a slice of lemon cheese pie.
"There are really three ways to eat here," says Hemenway. "You can buy the ingredients to cook yourself, you can buy food pre-made to reheat at home, or you can sit down and dine here." This approach is as business-savvy as it is customer friendly—"Chop once, sell three times" is Hemenway's motto.
Fresh, 5755 Mountain Hawk Way, Santa Rosa. 707.595.1048.
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