With its unique architecture, and its prime position on Commercial street, Farmer’s Table has to be one of the most attractive restaurants in the city. I don’t mean that glibly – regardless of what dining establishment has its home there, the building itself always enticed me. “Come in, eat here,” it seems to say, “with architecture this interesting the food must also be interesting, no?”
And so, one beautiful spring-like Sunday in March, having realized much too late in the day that everyone’s clocks had been set forward except ours, hungry, wishing for some comfort food, my family treated ourselves to brunch at The Farmer’s Table.
The Farmer’s Table has become fairly well known as a labor of love created by 2007 Maine Chef of the Year Jeff Landry, and in particular for being at the very forefront of the farm-to-table movement, encouraging the use of local, organic, and sustainably harvested ingredients. They make a point, on their menu, to highlight which ingredients are locally sourced. On their website, they proudly state “You don’t need a lot of ingredients, just the right ones” and everything on their menu hews close to that motto. The downstairs dining room is cozy, and does feel a bit like eating your meal in a traditional farm kitchen, with giant windows letting in the eastern light and providing beautiful views of the Port of Portland and of Casco Bay. There is also a smaller upstairs dining room (which I didn’t see) and in the summer their patio is always full of merry diners enjoying a meal in one of the most unique spots in the city. we had actually hoped to visit for Restaurant Week, but with a small boy our opportunities to dine out in the evening are a little limited. Brunch – especially as our day was getting a very late start – seemed like the next best option.
Probably the highlight of my meal was the Haddock Chowder ($8). I love a good chowder – all that cooked-all-day creamy goodness, tasty chunks of meat and veggie all co-mingling their flavors until everything in the pot becomes tender and buttery – but because I’m allergic to seafood my opportunities to eat chowder out and about (especially in Portland) are few and far between. (The lack of places in this city where you can get a good corn or vegetable chowder is one of my pet peeves, actually, but that’s another post for another day.) The haddock chowder was perfectly cooked – each ingredient had achieved a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness while still retaining their basic structural integrity and individual flavor profiles. The dish was amazingly rich, and half-way through the bowl the flavor became almost too buttery, but the judicious application of a little pepper brought everything back into balance and left me warmed through and satisfied.
My son, who is five, had two eggs scrambled (with cheese), sausage, fries, and toast ($9). I was very pleasantly surprised at how family-friendly the Farmer’s Table was, actually. We were absolutely not the only family there with small children, and just after we were seated the waitress quietly mentioned to me that although they did not have a kid’s menu per se there were several items that they’d be happy to cook in a kid’s portion. My kid, though, loves his eggs, and I was pleased to see him completely devour virtually everything on his plate (including a very grown-up sized glass of milk). Although the menu said he’d be getting home fries, he actually was served regular french fries, which was fine with me and a big hit with him. His eggs were perfectly cooked, light and fluffy so they stuck to the fork and were easy for him to eat.
My husband ordered the Classic Eggs Benedict ($9), and here is where things started to go wrong. First, they brought him the wrong plate. Even after the right plate arrived, he was fairly underwhelmed. Eggs Benedict might be his favorite food in the entire world. We’ve ordered it at more restaurants in more cities than you can imagine and this (according to him) was decidedly average. He was very disappointed at the “stingy” (his phrase) amount of hollandaise on the dish, and his overall impression was that the entire plate was very dry and and overemphasized the bread and potatoes, when he wanted the eggs and the hollandaise to be the stars of the dish. It didn’t help that more than half his plate was taken up with an enormous serving of french fries (again, a change from the home fries advertised on the menu). The fries were good, but would have been more at home complementing a hamburger than this breakfast dish. The edges of the bacon and the muffin were burned, and the whole dish felt more than a little overcooked. They did the hard part – the poached eggs – really well, but fell short on the easy parts. One more spoonful of hollandaise and about one minute less on the grill probably would have fixed the dish.
My entree was our biggest disappointment, and in retrospect I should have stopped after the chowder. As we were scoping out brunch menus on line, my husband and I had both zeroed in on the Mac and Cheese ($12) made with Pineland Farms onion-garlic jack cheese and a unique (handmade?) spiral macaroni. Even as the dish was served to us, it looked mouth-watering, with the dusting of toasted breadcrumbs on top, carefully balanced on the plate with a fresh and light side salad. My first bite, though, was disappointing – the pasta was fun to eat but pretty much flavorless. I wondered if it was just a case of the cheese sinking to the bottom, and dug around in the bowl to find a particularly cheesy bit. Still nothing. Bland. I handed the dish to my husband, wondering if perhaps the vinaigrette from the salad had just overpowered my taste buds, but he came to the same disappointing conclusion: the mac and cheese was simply flavorless. Perhaps there was a hint of onion and garlic (or a sharp bit of jack cheese) in there somewhere, but we never found it. Given that we’d both been looking forward to this – that we had, in fact, cheerfully argued a bit about who would get to order it – the unexpected failure of this dish was all the more profound. I wanted it to showcase the sweetness of the onion, complemented by the tang of the jack, but the flavors simply were not there. I ate it, but I’ve honestly gotten more pleasure from boxed cheese and macaroni.
One other thing I found odd: they brought in their flag and stopped serving brunch at 2pm, despite the fact that both their Facebook page and their website say they’re open for brunch from 9 am to 3 pm on Sunday. The dining room was packed when we sat down at 1:30, and after they ended seating at 2 pm there was steady stream of people coming in the door, all expecting to be seated and all turned away. It actually made me check my watch a few times, because we had forgotten to set our clocks ahead and I wondered if they were having some time-change-related closing time snafu.
All in all, as a local, I don’t it’s likely we’ll have brunch there again. Our total bill (before tip) came to more than $44 (and we didn’t even get anything from the bar) which feels fairly high for a Sunday brunch for two adults and a five year old. Were I a visitor, though, I would probably give it a little more leeway. The food is beautiful, filling, mostly satisfying, and does serve as a good showcase for local ingredients. The Haddock Chowder was perfectly done, and bears out their reputation for doing fish dishes particularly well. As a family, our meal was comfortably upscale, and I was particularly pleased that they took my son seriously as he ordered for himself, and made it a point to interact directly with him, and not look to me to make choices for him. His scrambled eggs – the most basic and prosaic of foods – were also perfectly made, to the point where even he (at five) was remarking how “really good” his meal was. (And trust me, if you can impress a five year old with food enough for him to remark on it, that’s a big deal.) They did a great job showcasing local ingredients and the food did have a real Maine country flavor to it — nothing we at would have been out of place at my own grandmother’s table.
The Farmer’s Table is located at 205 Commercial Street in Portland, facing the water. You can visit their website and peruse their menu, or Like them on Facebook. You can also read a number of reviews on Yelp or Urbanspoon.
Distance from the Maine State Pier: three-tenths of a mile straight down Commercial St (about a six minute walk).
Still can’t find them? Here’s a map.
This post is part of the Blog-o-Rama project, in which Portland based bloggers coordinate posts on specific topics from time to time. The theme for March was “Chowder” and you can read other posts on this topic by clicking the Blog-o-Rama link or by visiting From Away, The Blueberry Files, Vin et Grub, or Edible Obsessions.