Fresa's Chicken al Carbon
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., June 8, 2012
Fresa's Chicken al Carbon915 N. Lamar, 428-5077
Open daily 11am-10pm
Repurposing the old Back-in-a-Flash drive-through photo finishing building as a drive-through chicken place - well, it's just a super creative, great concept. The original idea came from Margaret Vera, who worked with partners Larry McGuire, Tracy Overath, and Tom Moorman to develop the restaurant and get it open this spring. Fresa's is rather like El Pollo Rico or El Pollo Regio: charcoal grilled chicken accompanied with grilled onions and jalapenos, beans, rice, and tortillas, served picnic-style. But unlike the chain grilled-chicken places, Fresa's is using humanely raised, pastured chicken from Peeler Farms in Floresville, Texas. It is really heartening to see restaurants using humanely raised meats because, honestly, 15 years ago it was taken for granted that it just couldn't be done. No one, it was assumed, would be willing to pay the difference in price. There has been a long, slow change in consciousness about factory-farmed meats, and Austin has become a city that is clearly willing to support businesses that choose not to serve them. An uncooked pastured chicken costs between $15-18, depending on size; once you take that into consideration, the prices at Fresa's are more than reasonable. You actually could not make this food at home for less, which explains why Fresa's has been frantically busy, nonstop, since the day they opened.
So busy, in fact, that they were forced to temporarily close for one day a week because Peeler Farms couldn't supply chickens fast enough. "We were getting 700 chickens a week, but we needed 800," explains Vera, who runs the day-to-day operations. "We had to shut down on Mondays until the farm could catch up."
Fresa's makes two kinds of chicken dinners: The No. 1 is an achiote and lime seasoned grilled chicken, served with Mexican rice, charro beans, and half a lime. The No. 2 is a fresh oregano and black pepper seasoned chicken, served with jasmine rice, black beans, and half a lemon. Both dinners come with plentiful grilled onions, a large (and extremely hot) grilled jalapeno, red and green salsas, and fabulously fresh corn tortillas. The Half Chicken Meal is $14 and feeds two while the Whole Chicken Meal is $24 and feeds four or five. Both chickens are seasoned beautifully, succulent, and flavorful (only be sure to squeeze the lemon or lime over them to cut the grease). The outstanding difference between the No. 1 and the No. 2 is the rice and beans. The Mexican rice has more flavor than the plain white rice, and the charro beans are light years ahead of the plain black beans in both flavor and complexity.
Notable side dishes include the Mexican Street Corn, served with housemade aioli, cotija, chile and lime zest ($3), which is absolutely amazing – by far the best version of this dish I have had; a New Potato Salad with chipotle and cilantro ($4), and Grilled Vegetables with cilantro and lime ($5). For those who aren't interested in buying a chicken dinner to take home, Fresa's also makes individual-serving sandwiches and salads (all $8). In addition to a well thought out selection of wine and beer, they make aguas frescas (horchata, watermelon, and lime, $2.75, or $7 for a half-gallon) and "Margarita Kits" ($8), which consist of a half-gallon of lime or watermelon juice with extra limes and salt, should you wish to mix up a few margs when you get it all home. They also offer their own ice cream made from pastured eggs ($5 a pint) in Mexican vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and mint chocolate chip.