At Pure Fare, the erudite, subway-tiled café that sits like a polished-wood museum display just off 21st and Walnut, paying for your food is more than just a work-a-day transaction. Kunal Sehgal, who founded the eight-week-old eatery with his sister and partner, Kriti, sees it as an opportunity to bring nutritional intimacy to the customer/restaurant relationship.
Their online, opt-in My Fare system works like this: Each time you snag a sandwich, salad, juice, smoothie or snack off Pure Fare's shelves (most things are premade fresh, ready to go), they scan the bar code on your standard-issue Pure Fare card, sending that item's stats (transparently displayed both in-store and on the restaurant's website) to your database profile. From there, it kicks out recos designed to balance your diet — and perhaps encourage a return visit. (You're also able to manually register non-Pure Fare foods yourself.)
Need more fiber? It might suggest the cumin-scented, almond- and apricot-studded quinoa salad, which accounts for 88 percent of your daily requirement. Lacking veggie protein? My Fare may nudge you toward the lentil hummus sandwich, crunched up with broccoli rabe and roasted fennel on Baker Street multigrain — that counts for 17 grams' worth.
"We're trying to use food and technology as a way to bridge the online and offline experiences," says Kunal. The system's a big talking point for the Sehgals, who plan on opening additional locations (and eventually a food truck) to capitalize on the underserved healthy-fast-food market. (Kunal estimates 25 to 30 percent of their customers use My Fare cards when making purchases.) But all this high-tech number-crunching wouldn't count for jack if the food sucked. Luckily, it doesn't. Overseen by chef Sarah Ginn, Pure Fare's menu features simple, solid options, priced fairly considering their fierce dedication to local organic produce (Green Meadow Farm and Lancaster Farm Fresh are but two of their purveyors).
Start in the a.m. with a rich NOLA-style iced coffee (they're the only place in Philly serving San Fran's Blue Bottle), a fluffy spinach artichoke frittata or a mini veggie quiche with a crumbly spelt flour crust. For lunch, grab a beet/arugula/feta salad with avocado (a very popular ingredient here) or the 290-cal tuna salad sandwich, proudly trumpeted as "mayo-less." (Mine was bland, but a stingy sprinkle of salt and some Polish mustard — both calorie-free, My Fare! — fixed that.) Wash it down with a peculiar-but-delicious kale and apple smoothie (skip the bitter grapefruit/ginger/carrot juice), then treat yourself to zucchini bread imbued with an awesomely massive number of chocolate chips.
Though Pure Fare largely appeals to the breakfast and lunch crowds, more dinner options are creeping in — though it sounded like nigiri-fan sacrilege on paper, the seafood-free "sushi bowl," with baked asparagus, avocado, carrots, nutty pan-roasted tempeh and ribbons of toasted nori over brown rice, was a winner. And I didn't need a high-tech web platform to tell me the balsamic chicken and broccolini salad tasted good, either.
Pure Fare | 119 S. 21st St., 267-318-7441, purefare.com. Mon.-Thu., 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 8 a.m.-5 p.m.. Breakfast, $2-$6; salads, $7-$9; soups, $4.25; sandwiches, $4-$8.50; entrées, $7.50-$9.