With its azure awning, pastel blue walls and pale wood tables and floor, Fraîche, the tiny bakery and café at 815 Noyes St., is as cool and bright as a summer sky.
On a sunny July Saturday, the dozen or so patrons queued in front of the bakery case seem happy to have time to consider their choices. Though they may have come to taste the whoopie pies featured in the New York Times in March, customers have returned for the café's other vivid breakfast and lunch fare.
"Everything is homemade," says proprietor Susan Davis Friedman, who took over the former Kim's Kitchen last September but waited till spring to change the name and revamp the menu.
The glass case is a feast for the eyes, with a look Ms. Friedman attributes to her chef, David Rosenthall. Carafes of iced tea and ginger lemonade garnished with lemon slices sit on top. Inside are wholesome handfuls for el-bound commuters and others who eat on the run: burritos with egg, cheese, avocado, beans and homemade salsa; quiche of the day; croissant sandwiches.
There are platters of scones in several flavors and Cinnamon Bombs, muffin-shaped coffee cakes rolled in cinnamon sugar while warm. And for dessert, there are cupcakes - seven or eight kinds a day, says Ms. Friedman. Her customers' pick is the Retro, a Fraîche version of the much maligned lunchbox favorite Hostess cupcake.
Pastry chef Mary Ann Huppert also makes chocolate cupcakes with raspberry buttercream frosting, lemon with lemon curd filling and her newest creation, dark chocolate filled with peanut butter cream and dipped in chocolate ganache. She fills orders for baked goods and customized cakes as well.
Diners who choose to sit can linger over a frittata du jour or a benedict of poached egg, sautéed spinach and ham on brioche, topped with sunshine-yellow hollandaise. Or they can choose the most popular breakfast, almond-crusted brioche French toast with fruit salad and maple syrup.
Space at one of the sole rectangular or six square tables inside or the two under the awning on the sidewalk can be hard to come by at lunch time. The lucky ones who score a seat can savor sandwiches like brie with Granny Smith apple, arugula and raspberry mustard on a seeded demi-baguette or house-roasted beef with horseradish crème fraîche, pickled red onion, tomato, cucumber and mixed greens on multi-grain.
Each comes with one side, an imaginative flourish like edamame and black bean salad or fennel slaw.
"What you see is what you get. We have a great product," says Ms. Friedman of their made-from-scratch offerings. A former fundraiser and event planner, she had a decade of experience with food and caterers before settling in as an at-home mommy six years ago.
She says her husband, whose business also uses caterers, came home with "this great idea" one day last year: Why not open a catering and café business themselves?
Ms. Friedman knows she has location - adjacent to the el, down the street from Northwestern University, close to downtown Evanston - going for her. She has already adjusted her schedule to her clientele, settling on breakfast and lunch hours (7:30 a.m. till 4 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends) rather than staying open through dinner.
Fraîche has catered some Northwestern events. They are "branching out," says Ms. Friedman, to events like a recent rehearsal dinner and are ramping up their catering menu for fall.
It remains to be seen what the core of the business will be. But for now, Ms. Friedman knows where her heart lies. Evanston born and reared, she says she "wanted to create a place where people like us want to come."
She tells her employees, "I know the people here." This customer, she says, just graduated from Northwestern and is moving to Boston tomorrow. That customer broke his arm. Those parents and children are her neighbors.
"I miss our regulars when they aren't here - I worry about them," she says. "That's what makes it fun."