Delivering a quick bite that doesn’t lead to obesity and diabetes is all the rage in the fast food world these days. Chefs Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi, the team behind the forthcoming Loco’l, have been hitting the headlines with their efforts, and now so has the healthy frozen-food brand, Amy’s. Amy’s Drive-Thru is that company’s first retail location to make it to market, having recently opened an organic, vegetarian concept restaurant in the North Bay’s Rohnert Park.
Delivering a quick bite that doesn’t lead to obesity and diabetes, has been hitting the headlines lately. The likes of chefs, Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi’s, who are behind Loco’l, and ‘healthy’ frozen food brand, Amy’s, have both come up with concepts.
Rohnert Park isn’t exactly a destination for San Franciscans looking for a weekend getaway, but it’s a perfect pit-stop if you’re heading to Healdsburg or points further north. Just a hop, skip and a jump from the 101, Amy’s Drive-Thru has been designed to challenge preconceived notions of a fast food joint. The restaurant’s exterior has been built with “upcycled” materials, including wooden siding, and boasts a water tower and a growing roof, while the interior is light, airy and lofty — all exposed wood beams, high ceilings and fresh white paint. No Formica, fluorescent lighting, or nasty ceiling tiles here.
But what about the menu? If you’ve ever bought a frozen dinner from Amy’s, you’ll know that an earthy couple — Rachel and Andy Berliner — started the company in 1987 after the birth of their daughter, naming it after her. Still a family-run business, Amy’s has grown to 1,600 employees and is built around creating food products that taste homemade and only use organic, non-GMO, vegetarian ingredients. That sensibility has been extended to the menu at Amy’s Drive-Thru.
From mac ‘n’ cheese, to chili rice bowls, pizzas, salads, burritos, veggie burgers, and secret sauces, the menu feels like a natural extension of the company’s brand. Food comes in cardboard. Straws are made out of paper. Milkshakes are available made with dairy or non-dairy, and seemingly everything on the menu is available gluten-free. Prices range from $2.69 for a single burger, no cheese, to about $8 for a fully-loaded salad.
The proof, as they say, is always in the pudding. The chili cheese fries ($3.49) were a big hit with younger diners, while the brown rice chili bowl ($3.89) felt like a healthy, comfort-food choice for adults. The lettuce-wrapped, gluten-free veggie burger was probably the least memorable — perhaps not surprising given the lack of bun and wheat-based grains — but it still filled a hole. Diners at the adjacent table — teens who looked like they’d be more at home at McDonalds — raved about their mac ‘n’ cheese and pizzas. The main trick here seems to be getting you to feel good about eating what you’d ordinarily think of as junk food, and frankly it might still be worthy of that label — no calories, sodium levels, or other details are published anywhere.
Overall, the food tasted enough like fast food (extra umami, slightly heavy on the sodium) to give you that sense of having indulged in something slightly forbidden, but at the same time, it tastes healthy enough that you don’t leave feeling guilty. And the place was mobbed. The drive-thru line was jammed, the queues inside long but quick to move. If you’ve spent the day wine-tasting and need something to soak up all that lovely grape juice, this is just the ticket for the drive home.
Amy’s Drive-Thru, 58 Golf Course Drive West, Rohnert Park.
This article first appeared in SF Weekly.