If someone put a gun to my head and asked me where they were guaranteed an excellent meal, ... or else -- I'd have no fear recommending the Farmhouse Tavern. Where most would probably scream out the name of the most fancy shmancy place in town, I would calmly suggest otherwise.
With faux rustic chic all the rage, it's not uncommon to see barn board walls and mismatched plates for a cheap and charming effect. Yawn. But Farmhouse is certainly on trend. Like on the set of Green Acres, its homespun
authenticity will have you convinced you're in a barn off some dusty country road far from the big city. The only thing that could possibly make it more perfect would be hay and cow dung on the floor.
The team responsible for this bucolic wonder is Darcy MacDonell (former GM at La Societe) and chef Daniel Janetos (Buca, The Saint, and in the UK at The Gavroche and The Savoy). MacDonell modeled the idea around the farmhouse he grew up in Alexandria, Ontario. And with pal Janetos in the kitchen, nothing this refined has even been attempted in such casual surroundings.
Janetos, who once worked on a maple syrup farm, feels privileged to be able to source out local and sustainable ingredients from small businesses and farmers, an almost cult-like devotion that also extends to staff. Our server, who doubles as director of community development for Project Humanity, quel surprise, turns his boundless knowledge of every ingredient on the menu into great dinner conversation. It was hard to resist not asking him to sit down and join us. Either they're all smokin' the same weed or they take the bounty of these delightful vittles to heart.
The blackboard menu may not offer much selection, but what they offer is nothing short of brilliant. A ploughman's platter ($24), inspired by a classic choucroute garnie, could double as a decadent breakfast: house made bacon, buttered braised cabbage, pickled duck egg with a runny yolk, in-house strawberry preserve, house made grilled bread, two Glengarry cheeses, a crazy-good in-house honey mustard finished off with smoked oysters -- done in their own smoker of course. No, really.
But the complicated and laborious process to make a pork confit ($10) would have even Julia Child saying, "F this, why bother?" Chef hand butchers different cuts before cooking them in their own fat and lightly working them over with herbs from his garden. The result is a pulled pork-like pate to marvel at. But when it's paired with an inspired salad of Ontario radish, celery, parsley, lemon, and an incredibly sophisticated potato side blended with pork jus atop a swab of honey mustard and a side of onion jam, well, you'll fall to your knees and weep at its beauty.
Light and plump potato dumplings ($19) filled with creamed spinach and a hint of nutmeg share a pretty plate of sautÃ©ed haricots verts, peas, patty pans, carrots and radish greens. It's a delicate dish and a light and refreshing change from the standard cloying cream sauces that too often partner with a gnocchi. But again, it's the labour-intensive FHT burgers ($15) that help explain why there are so few items on the menu. The process begins with Janetos hand cutting each piece of an entire cow. For the burgers specifically, he blends chuck and short rib to ensure these sinful mounds of meat maintain an unctuous fat content of 35%. But there is nothing Big Mac about this beef patty with special sauce and lettuce on a sesame seed bun. Last I checked, McDonald's condiments don't include made-in-house relish.
From turf to surf, Janetos also delivers a fine fish stew ($24). With local whitefish and rainbow trout he orchestrates a architectural tribute to the French-inspired bouillabaisse. Only this stylized version towers so high above a veal base reduction, finished with crispy skin and local fingerlings and celery, that it's visible on Google Streetview. It's as perfect as the apple pie ($7). But apparently perfection is not good enough for Janetos as this dessert didn't make the cut and has since been replaced his mom's apple crumble recipe.
Combining French technique with local ingredients, The Farmhouse offers what many other restaurants strive to do but often come up short. And all by a chef who is just 26 years young. Hate him! You won't find heaping hospitality like this anywhere else where you'll sit for a spell and feel comfortable enough to take your shoes off. There are going to be lineups out them there doors real soon.