Debut of high-performing Freedom a la Cart Cafe + Bakery one light in a bleak year

Crowd-pleasing baked goods, sandwiches and bowls are often elevated by creative, elegant and healthful touches at this charitable Downtown cafe

G.A. Benton
Rosemary breakfast sandwich with a coffee at Freedom ala Cart on Spring Street Downtown. (Photo by Tim Johnson)

The phrase “every day is a fresh start” carries seasonal weight as we careen toward a new year. 

Yes, we’re nearing a period when resolutions are made to shed a different kind of seasonal weight. But the reason I cited that aforementioned, implicitly hopeful “fresh start” quote is because it’s part of a cheery but knowingly heartfelt mural that graces the Downtown building housing a standout operation: Freedom a la Cart Cafe + Bakery, whose April premiere made a troublesome year a little better. 

Although the “cafe + bakery” is new, Freedom emerged about a decade ago as a food cart (thus a la “Cart”) that both raised money for and employed survivors of human trafficking. Freedom’s compassionate mission hasn’t altered, but it has evolved from a rotating cart and popup eatery with limited fare to a lovely cafe with a compelling selection of creative, delicious and skillfully prepared bakery items, coffee drinks and brunch-style dishes.  

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Fans of excellent Emmett’s Cafe will notice overlaps here, and with good reason. Both places developed their menus — which could be characterized as forward-looking yet steeped in crowd-pleasing tradition — with the help of consulting chef Lara Yazvac Pipia. Consequently, both places frequently sneak healthful ingredients into imaginatively conceived bowls and sandwiches that feature a dynamic interplay between numerous components.

Stepping into Freedom's pretty space, with its relaxing atmosphere, muted tones, white bricks and paint, plentiful live plants, stylish lighting fixtures and uncommonly warm counter service, you’ll likely notice customers enjoying egg-and-sausage sandwiches. You should enjoy one, too.

Breakfast bowl at Freedom ala Cart on Spring Street Downtown. (Photo by Tim Johnson)

Freedom's signature rosemary breakfast sandwich ($8.50) might not be huge, but it’s hugely satisfying. Inside its aptly described “fresh baked croissant bun” (flaky, crinkly, slightly sweet, terrific) were rich ingredients — omelet-esque egg, blistered provolone, aioli, nifty house-made rosemary-lemon sausage patty — leavened by arugula, herbs and citrus.

Beautifully griddle-toasted sourdough bread plus molten cheeses (Swiss, cheddar and goat) and house habanero-apricot jam add up to the grilled three cheese ($8.50), a sandwich that shames most of its milky ilk.

The snack-sized trout toast ($8) looked like a food magazine cover photo. With crisp pumpernickel topped by a creamy feta spread, plus a bit of smoked fish accented by microgreens, sesame seeds and a perfect poached egg, it tasted good, too.       

Prefer something more substantial and indulgent? I found the Don’t Judge Me ($9) — roasted chicken, two aiolis, potato chips, arugula and melted Swiss inside toasted, good, ciabatta-like bread — to be guilty of first-degree deliciousness. 

Ditto for the hearty and healthful, if misleadingly named, breakfast bowl ($11). Sure, it had an egg — another on-point poacher — but this hefty and impressive assembly of lemony hummus, zucchini ribbons, white beans, microgreens, herbs, risotto-evoking “cheesy farro” and Caesar dressing-like flourishes screamed “lunch” to me. I look forward to hearing from, and tasting, it again.

Pastry at Freedom ala Cart on Spring Street Downtown. (Photo by Tim Johnson)

With its tapioca-esque blueberry chia pudding, apricot jam, tangy Greek yogurt, pie-filling-like stewed blueberries and, for elevating contrast, crispy first-rate granola, the blueberry chia bowl ($9) says “antioxidant-rich breakfast” just as it whispers “nutty, not-too-sweet dessert.” Heed its call. 

And believe your eyes as you gaze at the array of beautiful treats stashed behind glass. Because, from dark-chocolate-chip-with-sea-salt cookies (cookies are about $3) to croissants whose elegance might be teased by a doughnut-style glazing or chocolate and cayenne, to bacon-scallion-parmesan scones (pastries and croissants are about $3.75 to $4.50), they taste as good as they look. 

And since a few days remain until the new year begins, why not treat yourself to several worth-the-splurge, Freedom baked delights? That way, you can end an often-sour year on a sweet note, and still get a fresh start to a seasonal weight-loss resolution come 2022. However your cookies crumble, though, here’s hoping you have a very happy New Year.

Cookies, pastries and coffee at Freedom ala Cart on Spring Street Downtown. (Photo by Tim Johnson)

Freedom a la Cart Cafe

123 E. Spring St., Downtown