Simple by the Mouthful
By Bill Gerdes
The ceiling fans beat slowly on a Saturday at Farm Artisan Foods and the Haunted Mansion-style candelabras flicker somewhat randomly. There’s no hurry to this creative and quirky downtown Redlands eatery. It’s about the food, the ambiance and an approach to cooking that values time, deliciously fresh ingredients and a love for the process. And, yeah, I know the whole artisan deal has led to fifteen-dollar burgers, overly-complicated spices (why Hungarian paprika?) and several funny skits on Portlandia, but hey it feels right here.
Service at Farm was perfect on the day I stopped by for lunch, attentive yet relaxed, friendly, not faux-friendly. Groovy tunes wafted through the restaurant and my waitress actually asked me if the music was too loud. This question made me feel old but I’m sure that wasn’t her intention. There’s quirky art everywhere and it’s actually interesting, not sucky and for sale to boot.
Here’s what I ate. First, bread. Bread baked on site, crusty bread, made for dipping in a soup or meaty sauce, or for the obsequious olive oil and balsamic vinegar dipping plates one sees everywhere these days. Anyway, the bread at Farm is airy, crusty, and turned out to nicely foreshadow the excellent meal I had coming my way. Bread, like housing starts or unemployment rates, can be a leading indicator of what’s to come.
Next up was slaw. Actually “celery-root slaw and pickles and cucumber kim-chi” to be precise. The kim-chi is a nice refined version of the classic Korean staple, made with artfully pickled carrots, cucumbers and onions. It’s tasty and has a nice semi-sour heat to it, but the slaw is the star here. It’s an elegant dish; the celery roots are perfectly pickled and subtly acidic, with notes of pepper and even a bit of brine that makes this so wonderful. Farm manages to do simple food well.
I finished with another selection off the “Small Plate” menu, the Smoked Pork Belly. To embrace pork belly is to embrace fat, to not hide it, cut it out or pretend it doesn’t exist. Farm does this. The four cuts on my plate were a lovely mix of meat and fat, a fraction overcooked but still full of juice and flavor, and accompanied by a sauce that reinforced the earthy, smoky flavors of the pork belly. The Brussels Sprouts that accompany the dish were also cooked lovingly, each individual leaf falling off to the fork’s touch yet still having a crunchiness to each bite. It’s worth noting that two small plates here with bread make a meal or could be shared as tapas.
So, yes, I like Farm. I’m also chagrined that this is the first time I’ve eaten there. One point to keep in mind about the place is that the menu changes as different ingredients move in and out of season. Perhaps sustainable farming, the Locavore Movement and fresh produce are now passé in Berkley and Seattle. They’re sorely needed round these simpler parts though, and Farm Artisan Food delivers.
Farm Artisan Foods, 22 E. State St., Redlands, (909) 792-1162; www.farmartisanfoods.com. Tues-Sat, 11:30am-9pm. AE, D, MC, V.