Fresh Mediterranean Express8/20/2014
When Fresh Café & Market opened last decade in West Des Moines, they splashed their logo, store and T-shirts with an odd shade of green. Wikipedia lists 21 natural shades of green and 36 additional ones. None seems exactly right, but “Kelly green” probably comes closest. Fresh’s is more like the green on the outer ring of flesh inside an avocado, as light and gay as Starbucks’ and Friedrich’s green is dark and bold. The last couple years, this light color metastasized. It’s become the green of Dragon’s voice recognition software and of several frozen yogurt chains. It’s the featured color at Juice Company. Now, as if the green color wheel had come full circle, it’s the color of choice at Fresh Mediterranean Express (FMX), a new store on Carefree Lane in Waukee that has nothing to do with Fresh Café and Market except for colors, logos, names and fresh food.
FMX is a mom and pop operation (The Atamals) with a happy back-story. Jeni is an Iowa native, and Hassan grew up in a Berber village in Morocco where his mother taught him to cook. They met on a subway platform in New York City where Hassan was working in a deli. They relocated to Iowa, graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and were determined to realize Hassan’s dreams of opening his own café and supporting literacy initiatives like Love in Action Children’s Home in Chapala, Mexico and Polk County Housing Trust Fund.
They call their store a café and market, the latter part of the definition limited to olive oils and Mexican glassware for the time being. The café part is also rather limited, which is not a bad thing at all for a new place. Hummus (blended garbanzos, tahini and spices), falafel (fried ground garbanzos), and salads (mixed greens tasting fresh as a mild Iowa summer) were all offered with pita bread and a choice of homemade sauces and dressings: tzaziki (cold, strained yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, olive oil and mint); tahini (ground sesame paste); cilantro lime vinaigrette; creamy Parmesan; creamy balsamic; and spicy peanut. These were all delightful, the hummus and falafel as good as it gets.
Kebabs of chicken breast were also superb, not overcooked as so often happens to white chicken meat. Beef kebabs were less satisfying, cooked medium but chewy. Gyros (spelled at FMX mysteriously without an “s,” as if the word were not already singular, like many Greek words ending in “s”) was surprisingly good. I was suspicious because I could not smell the magic aroma of this beef/lamb loaf searing around a rotisserie. Instead, the loaf was hard-seared on a flat top and loaded into pita with tzaziki sauce, cucumbers, onions and tomatoes.
Homemade baklava (almonds, walnuts and pistachios baked in phyl lo with honey), fruit kebabs and Thelma’s ice cream bars stood in for desserts. Sweet Moroccan tea and courtesy cucumber water stood out among drinks. Prices were bargains, everything between $3-$8. Parking was close and plentiful. Music played too loud for polite conversation but was turned down on request.
Bottom line — Normally I worry that new places present too large of a menu to be efficient. This is one of the few times when I eagerly anticipate an expanded menu. Hassan said he hopes to begin serving Moroccan specialty dinners this fall.
Side Dishes: H’s Pho, a new Vietnamese café, has opened across Hickman and a few doors east of Fresh Mediterranean Express in Liberty Park mall… In defiance of the theory that cupcakes have jumped the shark, Sunny Day Café opened in Ankeny with seven flavors a day on a rotating basis… Spanish ice cream makers have invented Xameleon, a flavor that changes colors. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Fresh Mediterranean Express 15 N.E. Carefree Lane Waukee, 987-6870 Tues. – Thurs. 11 a.m. -8 p.m., Fri. – Sat. 11a.m. 9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.