Cava

Cava in Fredericksburg offers a ‘build your own’ menu with a Mediterranean twist. Pictured: falafel and grilled chicken served over brown basmati rice and spinach with harissa; eggplant and red pepper dip; tomato and cucumber salad; and spicy lime tahini sauce.

Cava is a fine example of a chain doing food right.

Clearly, market demands from restaurant-goers are higher today. Even if we need fast food, we want it to be good food.

And several chains in recent years have answered the call, and are honestly quite nice.

We can throw Cava into that mix as well.

With a new location right next to Regal Cinemas in Central Park, Cava is, essentially, a Mediterranean-cuisine version of Chipotle. You see the food in different sections, you tell the nice person behind the glass which combination you want, they put it together while you watch and then: deliciousness.

Think tasty spicy chicken and lamb. Warm pita bread. Hummus. Tzatziki sauce. Olives and crumbled feta cheese.

Mmm.

While I had been to a northern Virginia Cava before, this was my first trip to the new Fredericksburg location (hence, this review). I went there with my oldest son and oldest daughter, both home for the holidays.

And Cava proved to be a nice place to dine indeed.

Cava has a clean, modern wood table look. While I like the atmosphere, it honestly is not warm and inviting like a traditional Greek diner or restaurant (in fact, this is a different experience altogether).

So one shouldn’t expect a particularly homey vibe. But it’s modern-relaxed, one might say.

Again, think Chipotle.

One thing that I particularly like about this restaurant is the option of dining upstairs.

It’s warmer and quieter upstairs. Recommended if you actually want to relax a bit and have a conversation.

For the uninitiated, the first Cava visit might be a bit confusing.

There are so many options.

The Cava website notes that, all told, there are “58,978,800 combinations. We counted.”

Now, that may be a fun exaggeration—but maybe not.

Here are some of the questions you’ll need to delightfully ponder:

Do I want greens or no greens in my bowl?

Do I want a bowl at all, or am I feeling a pita sandwich?

Should I add soup?

Do I want lentils or rice?

Which vegetables should I add?

Which sauces should I add?

Which kinds of hummus should I add (there are multiple varieties)?

Etc.

Of course, the great thing about these kinds of places is that you can mix and match in a new way each visit. You can become a culinary Magellan, bravely exploring unchartered territory.

Son ordered the very generous-sized Pita with Harissa Honey Chicken ($8.99 for the pita and the chicken he chose had an extra 99 cent add-on cost).

Into this pita he added, as he put it, “the same things as I would at Chipotle, because I didn’t know what everything was.”

Fair enough. In his case, that included shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and rice.

He loved it. Finished the whole thing, and even gave his father a bit, which was nice. I found it tasty and flavorful and just a perfectly bit spicy.

Daughter went with the Greens and Grain Bowl with falafel ($10.17).

She got the brown rice and added arugala and Super Greens (other varieties of greens include baby spinach, romaine lettuce and Splendid Greens, which incorporates strips of red cabbage).

The falafel was plentiful. She is no stranger to falafel (by the way, she lives in London at the moment and has it often), and declared this really good.

Just looking at her dish made me want to try it. While looks can be deceiving, her very positive comments about the tasty delicate balls of chick peas proved me right.

As for daddy? I went with a bowl, no greens, half brown rice and half lentils, with a mix of braised lamb and grilled meatballs.

This was the home run mixture. Bursting with flavor, and just a tad spicy, this was a truly wonderful meal.

One of the nice things about eating at Cava is the ability to feel healthy while also enjoying a hearty meal.

Like Chipotle, again, this restaurant promotes its social mores in signs on the wall. They also have a unique recyclable line of water bottles—in fact, not a plastic bottle at all as is the norm, but rather a silver biodegradable can of water, complete with an explanation on the can of why they don’t use plastic bottles.

The soda machine was out of order, so both son and daughter got the housemade lemonade, and pronounced it good.

As we were eating, all three of us at different points commented on how great the food was, and that we’d like to come back again.

I call that a win for this new eating spot. Nice quick meal at Cava and then walk to the movie theater.

What’s not to like?

Dave Smalley is a Fredericksburg- based freelance writer, not overly fond of cooking at home, and father of four.

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