Sunday, February 16, 2014

Restaurant Review: Free House

Free House, Berkeley, CA - dinner on January 30, 2014
The Campanile on the UC Berkeley campus
I was at my alma mater, UC Berkeley, last month to attend their Spring Career Fair for my company. There was a possibility I was going to be able to hire an intern for my team and it was a good way to meet some of the potential candidates firsthand. I haven't done college recruiting for several years so it was nice to be back on campus. I was making bets with myself how long it would take before I started thinking to myself, "was I ever this young? Man, I'm old." It wasn't more than half a dozen times. In the first 30 minutes.
I met a number of bright young students, some who seemed more mature than I ever was at that age and others still eager and shiny like a new penny, brimming with the optimism and fervor of youth. I occasionally feel a bit  tarnished myself after - gulp - 20 years in the workforce (not counting 2 years of grad school and a year off for culinary school, eek) so it's nice to be reminded of how I once faced the road they're about to travel on. Alas, if only I knew back then not to take life so seriously or feel that getting a summer internship or a post-graduation job was going to determine the outcome of the rest of my life. It didn't and it won't for these kids either but like me, they'll learn it when the time comes.
Outside Free House
But I really did enjoy the event and talking to more than a hundred students for 5 hours straight. I also enjoyed meeting up with one of my nieces who attends Cal and going out to dinner with her after the career fair was over.  We were trying to decide where to go since Berkeley has such a plethora of wonderful places to eat. When she was listing out options, she mentioned "sweet potato fries" at Free House so I stopped her litany of choices and let the fries be the deciding factor.
The inside
Free House is literally just off the Berkeley campus, on Bancroft. From the outside it doesn't look like a restaurant as it's housed in a stately old building built in the 1920s. Inside, it's got more of an English library feel, sans the books, with the hardwood floor, rafters and fireplace. Or maybe like a ski lodge. Without the snow outside. What is outside is a seating area which is where we opted to dine, made comfortable by a heating lamp.  Although honestly, this was the time when our climate was pretending it was late spring instead of January winter and the temperature was pretty comfortable. No polar vortex here.
Freehouse Grass Fed Burger - $10
As you can expect in Berkeley, Free House also sources locally and their grass-fed beef is from Marin Sun Farms, same as where Bierhaus and Paul Martin's source their beef. My niece went with the burger while I got the Steak Frites. We had decided early on we would also get the sweet potato fries as the appetizer since that was the main reason we went to Free House in the first place.
Steak Frites - $15
Both our entrees were good although I could've done without the red wine shallot butter on my steak. Too sweet and just not my thing. The handcut fries that came with my order were okay, not quite crisp but you can tell they were "real" potatoes without a whole lot done to make them into anything else but honest to goodness potatoes. But it was the sweet potato fries that took up most of my taste buds. They were sometimes crisp, always mealy and just plain good. The kind of good that reminds me why I'm obsessed with sweet potato fries in the first place and why, as my niece tells me, people come to Free House. I can't blame them. If I was still going to Cal, I'd probably put in an order to go for the sweet potato fries on my way to or from class. Every day.
Sweet Potato Fries - $8
For Berkeley, Free House might be a little pricey since most college kids usually eat in the $8-$10 range or less but after working the student crowd for most of the day as part of my job, it was fine by me. And cheaper than many other places I've gone to that didn't have such excellent sweet potato fries.

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