Restaurant review: Freshii

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

I wanted to eat healthier, so I went to a fast food restaurant. That's not just an attention-grabbing opening sentence; it's the truth. Welcome to the new Freshii in Dublin.

Founded in 2005 in Toronto, Canada, and currently claiming 200 restaurants in 15 countries, Freshii (pronounced Fresh-ee) is a rapidly expanding chain specializing in quick, plant-based meals. It's the kind of ambitious operation that's big on corporate culture, as evidenced by its elaborate website.

There, you can read about Freshii's "mission" ("eliminate the excuse that people don't eat well"), how dining at Freshii equals "energizing," and how the company is eco-friendly, "growing at a faster pace than Starbucks," courts millennials and is aggressive on social media.

You can also read about - and watch videos of - Freshii's young, photogenic, media-savvy CEO and founder Matthew Corrin, who has appeared on numerous TV shows, includingUndercover Boss.

When you drop into the Dublin shop, you'll see a bright, contemporary space with a backyard-style arbor, blond wooden tables, plastic greenery adorning a wall, a fake fireplace and photographs of plants presented like the periodic table of elements. You'll hear relentlessly upbeat pop music.

When ordering at the counter, you'll be selecting from customizable soups, salads, bowls and burritos (using multigrain tortillas). This generally results in a reshuffling of the same ingredients to riff on classic Southwestern, Asian and Latin flavor combinations.

Fresh, healthful drinks are offered, such as the Carrot Zinger ($6; carroty and refreshing, but with scant evidence of the advertised apple and ginger) and the tangy Freshii Green smoothie ($6), a thick and "creamy"-tasting winner in which pineapple, avocado and low-fat yogurt make it easy to drink your vegetables of kale and spinach.

Those beverages aren't particularly inexpensive, and neither is the $9 bowl of chili ladled atop brown rice. But it's a big serving - and it's zesty, thick, peppered with veggies (corn, carrots, celery, chickpeas, pinto beans) and topped with avocado plus surprisingly unobtrusive little broccoli florets.

Like all Freshii items, the Spicy Lemongrass soup ($6.50) arrives ready-to-go even when dining in. That's convenient, because leftovers of this Thai-style (tom yum-esque) soup are inevitable with the veritable vat of it you get. My serving was certainly spicy - and filled with vegetables and rice noodles - but instead of lemongrass, it tasted strongly of shiitake mushrooms. Verdict: not bad.

I wasn't a big fan of the salads I tried - although fresh and served with decent-enough dressings, I found they delivered less bang for my buck. But the Cobb ($8.50; with not-crisp bacon bits, blue cheese, corn, avocado and tomatoes) is fairly filling and the Buffalo ($7.50; with shredded cheddar, celery, carrots, hot sauce and "Greek yogurt-ranch") is fairly flavorful.

Most items are meatless, so if you want chicken in your Buffalo dish, you must tack on pulled strands for $2. Other modestly apportioned supplements: diced tofu ($1.50), pulled turkey ($2), soft, cumin-y falafel ($1.50) and tender, stew-meat-like beef cubes ($3.50).

The latter worked nicely in the relatively bulky and satisfying Tex Mex burrito ($7.25; $10.75 with beef). Sporting ingredients that are sweet (corn), spicy (salsa) and rich (avocado, cheddar), it's one of the better items I sampled.

For the best values, though, I suggest trying the bowls, such as the gratifying Buddha's Satay ($7.25) with rice noodles, crisp wonton strips, carrots, cabbage, broccoli and a spicy, gingery peanut sauce. The best thing I tried here was definitely the Mediterranean bowl ($8.50). Quinoa, field greens, feta cheese, good black olives, cucumbers, red onion and a romesco-type sauce (I recommend adding falafel) combine to offer routine-fast-food-eclipsing flavor, texture, color, heft and, most important, healthfulness.

Freshii Dublin

6745 Avery-Muirfield Dr., Dublin