Freshii concept is good, execution could be better

freshii green wallfreshii wallI’m always looking for healthier options when it comes to getting food on the go, so the prospect of a super healthy restaurant right off the main road I drive every day was really exciting. The two concerns I had about Freshii when I went to try it with Michelle was that the food would basically be a more expensive version of what I already make at home, and it wouldn’t actually be as healthy as I wanted it to be. And unfortunately, Freshii had issues with both of these concerns.

Freshii dining room
Freshii dining room

In general, everything we got had high and low points (some had lower points than others) and everything had a focus on healthy ingredients. However, everything was also a lot higher in calories than if I had made it myself at home, and everything was also pretty pricy. Don’t get me wrong…if I’m in a pinch and need something to eat, I will definitely choose Freshii over the other options on the west side.

Freshii teriyaki bowl
Freshii teriyaki bowl

Freshii offers soups, salads, wraps, burritos, bowls, smoothies and juices. We got to try a couple different dishes and by far, my favorite was the teriyaki bowl. It has brown rice, broccoli, carrots, edamame, green onions, crispy wontons, chicken and teriyaki sauce. I believe most of the options come vegetarian and you can add tofu, chicken, steak, shrimp or falafel…but another thing to note is that adding a protein does cost extra. The teriyaki bowl has over 600 calories without the chicken…that’s a little high for something that’s supposed to be super healthy. But I did enjoy the brown rice, edamame, al dente veggies and the teriyaki sauce. The bowl was filling and the ingredients were indeed fresh.

Freshii pangoa bowl
Freshii pangoa bowl

We also got to try the pangoa bowl which has brown rice, avocado, black beans, shredded cheese, corn, grape tomatoes, cilantro, hot sauce…and ours had chicken in it. This one was basically a smaller, less flavorful version of a Chipotle burrito bowl, plus their hot sauce was thick and not very flavorful, and their avocado was hard as a rock.

Freshii cobb salad
Freshii cobb salad

The cobb salad looked promising when we started digging in, but the heavy honey dijon dressing and lettuce slightly past its prime did not impress me. In addition to also having rock-hard avocado, it had blue cheese, which I really don’t like.

Freshii smoehouse burrito
Freshii smoehouse burrito

The smokehouse burrito was also a sub-par version of something you could get at Chipotle. It had brown rice, black beans, red onions, tomatoes, corn, shredded cheese and what the menu called “fiery barbeque.” I’m not sure there was even any barbeque sauce on the wrap…and if it was on there, there was nowhere near enough of a flavor to call if fiery. It was basically a brown, mushy wrap with no distinctive flavor…all for more than 730 calories.

Freshii green smoothie
Freshii green smoothie

The other thing that I very much enjoyed was the Freshii green smoothie with kale, spinach, pineapple, avocado and low-fat frozen yogurt. It was surprisingly refreshing and light…and tasted nothing like the green ingredients that were in it. The smoothie has just over 250 calories in it, and I’m told they can add protein powder…which also probably costs more.

FOOD NOTES: I had high hopes for Freshii, but some of those hopes were dashed during my first dining experience. Some of the ingredients (lettuce, avocado) were less than fresh (bad lettuce, rock-hard avocado), some of their dishes are not as healthy as I’d like them to be (the salads) and the prices are a bit high since you have to pay extra to add protein to your meal. The smoothies are good and I’d like to give their breakfast options a try, but their hours are a little limited (they close at 7pm and aren’t open Sundays), so I probably won’t be able to make it back for a while. If you go to Freshii — just ask yourself, “Can I make this at home or get a better version at Chipotle?”

Quality fried chicken hidden in sketchy strip mall

Harold's Chicken Shack
Harold’s Chicken Shack

I have a soft spot for fried chicken. I’m not sure why, because my family didn’t eat it a lot and it’s not something either of my grandmothers ever made for me, but there’s something special about a good crispy fried piece of chicken. And when you pair it with good french fries and coleslaw…comfort food just doesn’t get any better than that. I’ve had some decent fried chicken in Madison, but probably nothing compared to good down-home southern fried chicken. I’m not sure if Harold’s Chicken Shack is the best fried chicken, but it sure is good.

Harold's Chicken Shack
Harold’s Chicken Shack

First I have to start with the location and the rumors. Harold’s Chicken Shack is in the middle of a rundown strip mall by Woodman’s on the west side. I’ve driven past it probably thousands of times, but couldn’t get up the courage to go in because of what I’d heard about it. Many reviewers say the food is good, but there’s a rude guy who sits right by the door and tries to sell you DVDs, and they say people who work there aren’t very nice. When I finally decided to try it out, I was not surprised by the small, slightly dingy restaurant when I walked in. However, I was surprised by how nice the two people behind the counter were. Almost every review online said no one was nice and they felt more like they were bothering them than appreciated customers. I had the exact opposite experience. Both people were super nice and explained the 1/4 and 1/2 chicken dinners to me.

Harold's Chicken Shack to-go
Harold’s Chicken Shack to-go

I do recommend ordering ahead of time, because even after I ordered over the phone and came in 15 minutes later I still had to wait 5 minutes. But that wait is good, because it means my food was being cooked to order and was extremely fresh. Their menu is pretty basic. They have fried chicken, fries, fried catfish and chicken wings.

Harold's Chicken Shack 1/4 chicken meal
Harold’s Chicken Shack 1/4 chicken meal

I opted for the quarter breast meal, which comes with a fried breast and wing, french fries and coleslaw for $5.99. It also comes with two pieces of bread at the bottom of the cardboard container the food comes in, but I did not eat them. The coleslaw was good but the portion size was extremely tiny. The french fries weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were hot and fluffy on the inside, and were seasoned with a good amount of salt and pepper. Th chicken was the highlight of the meal, which is what I’d expect from a chicken shack. It was hot and juicy on the inside, and crispy on the outside. The best part of the fried chicken was that the batter was filled with black pepper. Harold’s Chicken Shack definitely uses black pepper a lot and knows how to do it well. I love black pepper so I really liked the fried chicken batter.

Harold's Chicken Shack
Harold’s Chicken Shack

FOOD NOTES: I needed to look past the sketchy strip mall and reviews of rude employees, and so do you. The chicken was stellar and the sides were definitely quality. Everything could definitely be improved, like a bigger serving of the coleslaw, but the prices 100 percent make up for that. There’s nothing quite like cheap food done well. Make sure you order ahead of time and give them about 20 minutes to complete your order. I’ll definitely be back for their perfectly peppery fried chicken and french fries!