Family Dining: Just Fresh

If your family is anything like mine, you’re too busy to figure out what’s for dinner until about 5 p.m. every evening. So we were thrilled when Just Fresh Kitchen Cafe opened up off Exit 23 in Huntersville because we knew it would offer up convenience, as well as numerous healthy food choices.

Just Fresh occupies a large, brightly decorated space in Torrence Village off Gilead Road. The restaurant is decorated mostly in bright orange and pale green colors, and the company is known for its “green” building principles, which can provide an interesting dinner discussion if your children are interested. For example, the ceiling tile in the dining area and restrooms contains 70 percent recycled content, and the countertops consist of 100 percent recycled glass solid surfacing, free of volatile organic compounds.

Just Fresh differs from many sit-down restaurants because you place your order at the counter and pay for your meal before finding a table. The kitchen is centrally located in the restaurant where your food is made to order. A server brings out your food once it is ready, and services your table for the remainder of the meal. A drink station with soft drinks and iced tea is set up along one wall, but you can also pick up a beer or glass of wine at the order counter if you’re in the mood.

There are a variety of seating options, including booths and tables inside, but the outdoor patio is a favorite for parents of little ones. We settled in at a wrought-iron table right next to a large fountain. The sound of rushing water was the perfect backdrop for our meal.

Our kids both enjoyed the miniature pizza pie so much they didn’t really eat the penne with marinara and parmesan. I tasted a bite of the pizza, too, and found the sauce to be very rich and flavorful. The children’s items come with a choice of apple wedges and chips, juice, milk or a soft drink, and a chocolate chip cookie. Apple wedges as a side are always a hit with our kids. I tried the Spinach and Mushroom Quesadilla on a whole-wheat tortilla, and can also recommend the Garden Vegetable and Tomato soup and Raspberry Fields salad with crumbled blue cheese, toasted walnuts, carrots, raisins and fat-free raspberry vinaigrette. My husband enjoyed his Steak Caesar with freshly shaved parmesan.

Our server made sure to check on us regularly even though we were sitting outside and promptly brought to-go boxes at the end of our meal. We decided to pick up dessert on the way out, but the cheesecake we ordered was frozen. I told the employees behind the counter that it was fine, but they also threw in a free piece of carrot cake to make up for it. The Famous Banana Pudding was deliciously sinful, and the chocolate sauce they gave us in two separate containers with the two pieces of cake was out of this world.

The Chow Down
Dollar deal: Dinner items $6.29-$15.79; Kids’ menu items $4.99-5.99; Desserts $1.59-$4.59
Kid-Friendly: Mostly. Our kids loved dining on the patio.
To avoid a wait, go: In early evening and be mindful of Saturday and Sunday mornings, when the brunch menu is served.
Noise level: Reasonable
Kiddie Fare: Salad, quesadillas, pizza, chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese (add ham for .99 cents) and turkey burgers or cheeseburgers
Parent fare: A small selection of wine and beer as well as a coffee bar
Bathroom amenities: Clean, but no diaper-changing station
High chair/booster available: Yes
Got milk/juice: Yes
Address: 9818 Gilead Road, Suite B-107, Huntersville
Phone: 704-875-0850
Web site: www.justfresh.com

Clean Plate Score: 4 out of 5