Fresco Cafe off the Fayetteville square is a total package | Rock Candy

Fresco Cafe off the Fayetteville square is a total package

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FRESH AND CRISP: Truffle fries are a pleasant start to any meal at Fresco Cafe & Pub. - MICHAEL ROBERTS
  • Michael Roberts
  • FRESH AND CRISP: Truffle fries are a pleasant start to any meal at Fresco Cafe & Pub.

I think my favorite type of restaurants are bistros with small menus, fresh food, and a pleasant atmosphere. Francophile that I am, I want moules frites, good cheese, and bread worth writing songs about. And when in Fayetteville, the new Fresco Cafe & Pub is pretty much everything I want and more. Located just off the historic Fayetteville Square, this is a white table cloth cafe that is still casual enough for a quick lunch. It's the sort of place I wish we had more of in the world, and it's a go-to place for any of you living in or traveling to Northwest Arkansas.

I mentioned moules frites on purpose; this joint does both mussels and fries wonderfully. Handcut fries are done just the right way: Blanched first in low-heat oil and then finished at a higher heat. This two-fry method results in a fry that is tender and mealy on the inside and delightfully crispy on the exterior. Fresco Cafe takes these fries, throws some Parmesan cheese and truffle salt on them and serves them hot and fragrant — and bonus points for the use of salt made with real truffles and not cheating with fake-tasting truffle oil like so many places do.

The mussels come bathed in a wonderful and decadent tomato and saffron broth. Ordering mussels in a landlocked state can be an iffy proposition — in fact, the worst case of food poisoning I've ever gotten was from mussels at a now-closed Little Rock restaurant. At Fresco Cafe, there are no worries about that sort of thing. These mussels are fresh, tender, and full of wonderful briny flavor, and the rosemary bread served with them is a wonderful companion that soaks up all that saffron broth so that not a drop is wasted.

Perhaps the greatest thing I tried at Fresco Cafe was the Fig and Goat Cheese Crostino. Preserved local figs, tangy cheese, a drizzle of honey — put all that on thin slices of toasted French bread and suddenly nothing else matters in the world except savoring every bite. Figs are so fantastic, so versatile and so delicious — I want everybody to put more figs on the menu. I had a fig ice cream from Loblolly awhile back, and I always buy figs from Laughing Stock Farms in season, but these preserved beauties were among the best I've tried.

Fresco has a full lineup of gourmet sandwiches, soups and salads, and I can't wait to make it back to try out more. It's just another strong entry into one of the fastest growing and most exciting dining scenes in the state.


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