Fried Chicken, Vegetable Jambalaya, Pecan Pie with Soft Whipped Cream
Occupation: Fashion Writer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: farmerbrown
Reviewed farmerbrown: Sunday, December 14, 2008
While the trip down Mason Street to Turk isn't always the most pleasant, farmerbrown is like an oasis once you step inside and off the gritty streets of the Tenderloin. The slightly inconspicuous restaurant is warm and inviting, as is the staff.
Jay Foster, the co-owner, has created a menu of soul food-inspired dishes using local produce. He heavily supports African-American farmers and focuses on using locally grown, organic and sustainable foods. Everything is always fresh and has remained consistent in the two-plus years I've been going there.
The service has always been fantastic. Just on my last visit about a week ago, they were out of tofu for the veggie po'boy (my absolute favorite entree there). The server saw how bummed I was and said, "Dessert's on me tonight!" What a nice touch. I ended up getting the vegetable jambalaya, which I hadn't had in quite some time -- it was delicious -- followed by the best piece of pie ever made, and I don't even really like pie! The pecan pie is TO-DIE-FOR, no joke. Not only do I feel this way, but my whole party that night said the same thing.
Considering the fresh ingredients, excellent service, and great ambiance, the price is just right for everything, and they have an amazing brunch on Sundays with live jazz -- $15 all-you-can-eat buffet!
If you're crazy enough to drive downtown on your visit, there is a parking lot next door for about $10 or so. It can get fairly loud, so it's not necessarily the right place for a romantic dinner or intimate evening, but it's perfect for groups and parties. My boyfriend and I took his little sister and a bunch of her friends here for her 21st birthday, and it was perfect: casual, high-energy, and so much fun. She absolutely loves pie, so we bought her a full pecan pie after dinner, which she loved. I think I may even do my birthday there in '09…
Occupation: English Professor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Shanghai Dumpling King
Reviewed farmerbrown: Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Our farmerbrown night began as all things should, with a round of excellent drinks: pear brandy sidecar, blood orange Bellini, Meyer lemon margarita. The sidecar was the best I’d ever had. Whereas most bars rim the glass with seven pounds of sugar, mine had just a light dusting on half the glass, which allowed the pear brandy to sweeten the drink instead and maintain the drink’s subtle tartness. It was perfect. The margarita was also amazing -- lemony, just sweet enough. My friend Hansel raved about his Bellini. I don’t drink Bellinis, but if he says it was a great Bellini then it was a great Bellini.
We split the sweet potato steak fries and the spare ribs for appetizers. Both were excellent, but we were surprised (and dismayed) by how few fries were on the plate. After some math, we realized each fry was roughly 40 cents each. Are we in the midst of the Great Sweet Potato Famine of 2008? If not, then they should double the amount.
For my entrée, I ordered the chicken fried steak. For almost twenty dollars, I expected an excellent piece of chicken fried steak, but then I wondered: what IS excellent chicken fried steak? Is it not, after all, merely pulverized beef dressed in crumbs? Certainly. The magic, then, must come from the gravy, and farmerbrown’s was somewhat disappointing. A mushroom gravy that was under salted. Wanting flavor, I asked for extra gravy, believing that bland gravy would become less bland by adding…more bland gravy. No, not quite, and so my generous portion of chicken friend steak (it was huge) remained so -- I ate about half. The side of roasted broccoli and cauliflower was decent, though they tasted more steamed than roasted.
Hansel had the fried chicken, which was very good (though not necessarily better than other good fried chicken in the city). The side of collard greens were cooked well, the taste of vinegar just enough. But the mac and cheese was disconcerting, rust-colored and odd in flavor, tasting neither of cheese nor macaroni. It seemed to be its own thing; what that thing was, however, was unclear. For a soul food place, the mac and cheese -- and the gravy! -- should be much, much better.
My friend Kiki had the gumbo. It was slightly under seasoned. But the accompanying biscuit got an A+. My friend Tad had the jambalaya. He enjoyed it very much, and after one small bite, I actually found it to be the most flavorful of the entrees. Then, dessert. The pecan pie was excellent, and the persimmon bread pudding was good, though I didn’t quite notice the persimmon-y taste, come to think of it.
Service was good, but my one (odd) criticism is that they were too efficient, super-quick with each course; it was like being waited on by The Flash. The fallout was that we had to drink our 2nd cocktail while eating our entrée (which denies the cocktail its proper stage time), and that our $200 evening at farmerbrown took all of ninety minutes.
I enjoyed the atmosphere. Pleasantly dim, good music (though a little loud at times. Chaka Kahn’s “I Feel For You” seemed particularly blaring). I liked the arrangement of tables, how some were out in the open, while others were tucked behind and between half-walls and random panels. And I was struck by the wall-sized photo adjacent to our table, one of an African-American woman speaking into a microphone, with a "Folsom" street sign in the foreground. Pure San Francisco, and a good reminder of farmerbrown’s commitment to the Bay Area. Their mission is to, “[support] local and African-American farmers, using organic, biodynamic, and/or sustainably raised foods, and beverages whenever possible.” For that reason -- and for the pear brandy sidecar -- I’d be glad to go back.
Occupation: Electrical Design Engineer
Favorite Restaurant: Caesar's Italian Restaurant
Reviewed farmerbrown: Tuesday, December 16, 2008
This restaurant was a “challenge” because of the location and atmosphere (old San Francisco). Parking was available: meter street parking or in a private lot for $10.00 next door on Mason Street.
The atmosphere was very unique, old and dark (black interior) with ten-foot character pictures by a special artist with single lit candles on each tables. We arrived early at 5:20 pm and decided to have a cocktail at the bar. We found two areas of selection: a special cocktails menu and a limited bar selection (including beer and wine).
The décor was nothing special, a large picture window facing Mason Street, and the back of the bar was bottled liquor on glass shelves.
After a cocktail, we were escorted to our table next to the cooking and serving area and given a four-page menu with a metal cover. Also, our waiter said that they had two specials: the first was chicken and dumplings with angel biscuits and the second was breaded catfish with southern greens. I ordered a second cocktail and my fiancé ordered wine, and we began reviewing the menu. The busboy brought us a basket of six small round corn bread muffins with butter. Our waiter returned with the drinks, and we began ordering a three-course meal:
Course #1. Sweet potato steak fries with an aioli. (Shared)
Course #2. My fiancé ordered the fried chicken with macaroni and Tillamook cheddar cheese, and I ordered the chicken and dumpling special. We also ordered two side dishes, southern greens and mashed sweet potatoes.
Course #3. Dessert: Sweet potato pie (shared) with a cup of Ritual Roasters Coffee.
The portions were average size and the food arrival for each course was about ten to 20 minutes each. My fiancé really enjoyed the fried chicken (real southern cooking and not greasy), but the mac and cheese was just OK. (She didn’t finish the mac and cheese.) On the other hand, my chicken and dumplings were very tasty with the angel biscuits.
The best part was the dessert: The sweet potato pie with soft whipped cream!!!!
(We should have ordered two pieces, it was the best pie I have ever had.)
In summary, the food was, at best, okay, however, we would not return because of the un-nviting location and atmosphere.
Recommendations to friends and family for soul food: just average & a bit pricy.