Fresh & Easy: Gourmet Food at Modest Prices

Newcomer Fresh & Easy Neigborhood Market offers delicious take-home meals and ready-to-eat foods, along with some serious competition for its retail rivals.

One of Fresh & Easy’s greatest features is its line of ready-made refrigerated meals. On my inaugural visit to the store, I picked up several tasty items—more on those later.

Fresh & Easy (its  brand name for prepared items) offers multiple product lines and choices, from American classics to impressive ethnic specialties.

Prices are reasonable, and generally fit into these ranges:

• Containers of mixed fresh fruit from $2 to $5 
• Themed salads at $3
• Individual entrees $4 to $7
• Family meals (four servings) $7 to $8

Of course, these are more expensive than cooking from scratch. But they’re cheaper or comparable to fast-food prices, and more healthful.

If customers buy three or more ready-made items from among the meals — soups, pizzas and more—they’ll get an extra 10 percent off all of them.

As I scanned my items at one of the self-service checkout lines, I noticed two microwaves at the front of the store. How nice, I thought. You can warm your food right here.

But I didn’t see any tables inside or in front, so I assume the microwaves are there so busy shoppers can heat up their entrees and bring them home like take-out food from a restaurant.

Here’s what I chose for my at-home taste test for two people: a lemon herb shrimp bowl; an apricot pork tenderloin entree; and a side of roasted beets and butternut squash.

My husband and I shared the lemon herb shrimp as an appetizer. Prawns and cherry tomatoes top a bed of linguine and baby spinach. And a fragrant lemon herb sauce is mixed in.

The dish looked fine to eat chilled, but the packaging indicated a microwave time of 2 to 3 minutes. So we warmed, and it was delicious — firm, sweet prawns, fresh veggies, al dente pasta and mild lemon sauce. Too bad we had to split it.

The apricot pork tenderloin was our main course. To heat, you just pierce the packaging’s plastic film and place the container in the microwave.

The meat was surprisingly moist and flavorful without being heavily salted. Three slices of meat were nestled atop tri-colored couscous—something I’d never tried. 

A slightly sweet glaze was drizzled over the tenderloin, which was topped with small pieces of ripe apricot. The baby asparagus served on the side was tender yet crisp and was accompanied with a dab of garlic herb butter.

My husband and I really like to load up on vegetables (read: I really like to load up on vegetables), and that’s why I chose the roasted beets and butternut squash as an extra side dish.

These veggies were roasted and cubed, then marinated in a little oil and mild spices. We enjoyed it cold, but the dish also would work well served warm.

An aesthetic bonus feature was the transfer of some color from beets to squash, for a lovely ombré (tie-dye) effect. If you serve this dish and pass it off as your own, you’ll look like a culinary genius!

The Fresh & Easy website lists locations for this rapidly growing chain, among them the store at Clayton and Ygnacio Valley Road and a new store scheduled to open April 27 at 31049 Mission Blvd., Hayward.


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