Jane Stern: Harvest time at Newtown’s Farmhouse restaurant
“Been there done that” is what a grouchy restaurant critic mutters to herself. Sometimes it seems that there are about 10 restaurants in our state, at least when people talk to me about where to eat the same old names get thrown out. There has to be others.
The answer is yes, and I just found one. It is the Farmhouse in Newtown. Maybe Newtownians are familiar with this place, but it was new to me. I had gotten blasé about “farm to table” places, seeing a list of all the gardens and farms the kitchen buys from is no longer exciting or a guarantee of excellence. Given what an animal lover I am, I hope the next “farm to table” place has a live chicken, a pig or a cow next to my table.
I liked the Farmhouse from the minute I entered. It was a weeknight yet the place was filled, the conversations at the bar and the tables jovial. All in all, the atmosphere was wonderful. I was seated immediately and the waitstaff brought menus right away. This kind of service does not make me feel rushed, it seems as if the lights are on and somebody’s home. There is nothing worse than sitting at a table and being forgotten.
At the Farmhouse, once I was given the menu I found it a bit confusing. Dishes are categorized under names like First Harvest and Second Harvest, The Fish, Raw Bar etc. I decided that just because I did not get the sequences doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get the food I wanted. I ignored the categories and just ordered.
A waiter brought a bread basket and butter. There were three different kinds of rolls, all good, warm and fresh. Nice touch!
Call it telepathy, but a reader of mine had send me an email earlier in the day asking, “Whatever happened to duck a l’orange?” It made me think of all the great, once-popular dishes that are never seen on any contemporary menu. Call it hoodoo or chance, but there on the Farmhouse menu was duck ala orange, a modernized version with less gloppy sauce than the original.
If I have one fault as a professional eater (only one, Jane … really?) it is that I often order the same favorite dishes time and time again. I was in a strange mood, so I decided to call a halt to this at the Farmhouse. I decided to order dishes that most people hate! That would include liver and Brussels sprouts. One rarely sees calves liver on a menu these days (one exception is the wonderful Zingara in Bethel) so I asked for it. To start, I ordered liver part two; pate de foie gras. Brussels sprouts came with the calves liver (of course it would!).
I also ordered a crab cake. Recently I have had a string of bad luck with crab cakes. I had eaten about five awful versions at expensive restaurants in Fairfield County. For me a bad crab cake is 90 percent breading, a ton of Old Bay Seasoning and a minuscule drop of crabmeat. I would not induct the Farmhouse into the crab cake the hall of fame, but it was large and meaty and nothing to sneer at.
I could have not ordered better. The pate de foie gras was a small slice of served on a slice of brioche toast. The pate sat on top of a grilled pineapple slice with yuzu marmalade. I have never had this combination before, and it was absolutely delicious.
43 South Main St., Newtown
The calves liver came with mashed potatoes
I asked for a dessert menu, but instead my server came with a tray bearing seven different desserts. Except for a large deep circular pastry of chocolate mousse, I could not identify what I was looking at, so I reverted to my tried-and-true method. I simply pointed at two of them. One of them was delicious (sort of a cheesecake pie) and the other not so much. It looked like a cobbler of sorts and I have never grasped the idea of what makes a cobbler great. To me, they seem like wet coffee cake, but if you a cobbler fancier, give it a try at the Farmhouse.
My check came quickly (I asked for it, I was not rushed) and everyone I walked past as I was leaving had a genuine smile on their faces. What a nice experience.
All in all, the Farmhouse was a great surprise: delicious food, comfortable seating and dishes you will not find elsewhere. I will be singing its praises.
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, co-authored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series.