good shmeats

one food-loving vegetarian taking New York City's restaurants one plate at a time.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Friend of a Farmer - Union Square

Friend of a Farmer
77 Irving Place (between 18th and 19th)

Walking into Friend of a Farmer (traditional Americana) felt like entering a New England country house, a ski lodge, and grandma's house all at once. Outside, the blustery winter air whipped through the busy streets. Inside, a roaring fire crackled, wood paneling cast a deep amber glow across the rooms, and neat rows of mason jars filled with dried beans sat on shelves above signs that said things like "home is where the heart is." The flowered wallpaper, on closer inspection, turned out to be tapestry. Sitting down at the table I felt settled and calm - how often can one say that with absolute certanity in New York City?

Adding to the initial country charm at Friend of the Farmer was the basket of warm corn bread and chunky apple butter my dinnermate and I were served with our menus. We finished the entire loaf (read: they give you an entire loaf) as if we had just returned from a day on the slopes, famished from skiing on "fresh powder like you wouldn't believe!"

The dinner menu at Friend of a Farmer - perhaps also reminiscent of grandma's house -was heavy on meat dishes including Shepherd's Pie and Chicken Pot Pie (both $16.95), Turkey Meatloaf ($17.95) and Braised Lamb Shank ($21.95). The restaurant also serves lunch, brunch, and baked goods to go.

Scanning the list for options, I settled on a Country Pie ($11.50) and a glass of Chianti. The Chianti was delicious - peppery and deep. The Country Pie was tasty, but more of a quiche than the hearty pie I expected. The buttery crust encased tender broccoli and melted cheese, and was framed with an arc of green apple wedges and a quartered strawberry. The dish also turned out to be an appetizer (the menu was ambiguous, but the price should have tipped me off), but I was already feeling full from the cornbread.

I finished my meal with a slice Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie ($6) that I didn't quite need, but tried because Friend of a Farmer is known for its baked goods. The pie was served with ice cream and sweetened whipped cream. It reminded me of a successful baking experiment my childhood friend and I tried when a batch of Tollhouse cookies went awry: not visually stunning but eat-the-whole-batch good.

My meal was lovely (if somewhat out of my usual price range), but the absence of vegetarian options felt odd. I went to college in Vermont and lived in a housing cooperative that Friend of a Farmer could have modeled its interior design after. Like in many college coop situations, my 16 roommates and I shared both cooking duties and an interest in sustainable living. We took turns cooking vegetarian meals (some of the best food I have ever eaten) for ourselves and the 15 guests who would invariably show up to our cozy, garlic-infused kitchen every weeknight.

So while the decor at Friend of a Farmer felt familiar, I was surprised that there was not a single dish that seemed purposefully vegetarian aside from an out-of-place Penne with Fresh Ginger (which I could have replicated at home for much less than $16.95). "Where were all the roasted root vegetable dishes?" I wondered. "Where, may I ask, was the rainbow chard and kale?"

I was also surprised that neither the menu nor our waiters mentioned the restaurant's committment to using foods sourced from local farmers. Local foods are gaining popularity in New York City and throughout the Northeast (as evidenced by the growth of greenmarkets and CSAs over the past five years.) Friend of the Farmer happens to sit only a few blocks northeast of New York City's biggest year-round greenmarket in Union Square. Coupled with the restaurant's country decor and name, a local foods connection seems obvious. But when I called Friend of the Farmer the following day to ask if they use farm-fresh foods, I received a noncommittal answer of "oh, we do when we can."

Friend of a Farmer offers country charm, homestyle food, and a moment of respite from hectic New York life. Unfortunately, I left feeling a little bit homesick for the real thing.

For more info on organic farming in the Northeast, check out the Northeast Organic Farming Association.


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