Saturday, June 20th, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Sustainable Comfort: Founding Farmers

“Local” and “sustainability” are two of the key buzzwords in the restaurant industry right now, so it wasn’t surprising that Founding Farmers, a fairly new addition to DC’s restaurant scene, seems to live and breathe both of those practices. After reading their mission statement on their website, I was hooked, despite seeing both hit-and-miss reviews on Chowhound:

“The Founding Farmers name represents a combination of ideas: it is a celebration of the land, and the American family farmer; it is a nod to the founding fathers of our country, many of whom owned and farmed land that surrounds Washington, DC; and it is a place where true, sustainably farmed, grown and harvested American foods reminiscent of traditions from across the land are brought to our guests.”

Pig and bird light fixtures

I had made a reservation for us about a week prior through Open Table, and boy, was I glad I did. On a random Wednesday, the wait for a party of two was 35 minutes (recession, what recession?). We should have asked if any tables were available on the first floor, as it was bordered by two sides of windows, and sharing the space with a large bar made the dining area a little more casual. Upstairs, where we were led, was more formal: window shades, casual-cool dark wood furniture, and rounded banquets with some semblance of privacy. There were some rustic touches sprinkled throughout though – a shelf of large coloured jars of fruit and vegetables stood in one corner, while the same tungsten-baring light bulbs as seen in Proof hung from the ceiling. And too cute – water served from old-fashioned milk jars. Our table was known as the “communal table”, a beautifully lacquered piece formed from a section of a single trunk. Though Mack initially resented our placement, when a large, friendly group joined us later that night, we did end up interacting with them throughout our meal, as they asked us for dish recommendations.

Our communal table

The menu was massive, filled with crowd-pleasing comfort food favourites, from chicken pot pie to pot roast to shrimp and grits. Dishes were a little on the pricey side, but understandable given their sourcing of local ingredients. Based on the Chowhound chatter, the baby cheeseburgers (6 for $14) were non-negotiable, and to round off my beef intake for the week, I decided on the farmer’s meatloaf ($16) – it wasn’t until later that night that I realized how much ground beef I had consumed that day. Mack, a sucker for macaroni and cheese, gave their version a spin, which involved handmade macaroni and lobster and gouda-gruyere cheese ($25). Founding Farmers does not serve a complimentary bread course, following in the tail wind of other upscale eateries in the U.S. that charge for a then-necessarily high-quality bread basket. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long for our appetizer plate, with six mini burgers and (a bonus) fries. They were easily the best sliders I’ve ever had – with soft house-made bread that cushioned the patty. The ground-to-order beef had been cooked to medium (slightly pink inside), and the crunch of the sour pickle inside was a nice touch. The fries were great, though slightly too salty.

Baby Cheeseburgers

When our entrees arrived, we knew finishing our meal would be difficult. My thick slice of meatloaf, made with ground beef and mushrooms, was accompanied by two gravies, which helped bring out some of the inherent flavour in the meat. Though the dish itself was very good, by the end of my serving, it became a little redundant.

Farmer’s Meatloaf with Yukon Gold Potatoes and Today’s Vegetable

Mack found the kitchen to have been quite generous with the lobster, but faced a similar obstacle with a very rich dish. He commented that the cheese was a bit like cheese whiz, actually, and was disappointed that there wasn’t any crispy, melted excess on top.

Lobster Macaroni and Cheese

It is worth noting that service was both hit and miss that night – our server was quite eager and attentive, right up until we put in our order. It took us a while to finally get a needed water refill.

As a whole, I applaud Founding Farmers for the concept behind the restaurant, and their commitment to sourcing quality, local ingredients. Something was missing for me, and though I can’t put my finger on it, I know Mack disagrees with me – it was his favourite restaurant experience in DC.

Founding Farmers
1924 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC
(202) 822-8783