You know what? Instead of working my way up to this, I’m just going to cut to the chase…. On Friday, I had the best dessert I have ever eaten. At the newly renovated and opened Farmer’s Market Restaurant and Bar right here in the center of Old Towne. It was their Creme Caramel. It was flavored with Asian citrus (I’m not sure what that was but I didn’t care) and honey. It was served in a jar, that had you actually left any, you would beg for the lid so that you could take it home. We all gasped at our first taste….”like butter”, “like gold”, “so creamy”…. I would honestly go back any night and sit at the bar to have it again with a drink. Perfectly balanced between sweet, creamy and downright sensual.
I had lunch here the day that they opened just 3 weeks ago and we all loved every morsel. We couldn’t decide what to order so we just picked a whole bunch of dishes to share. It was fabulous and there are pictures to prove it, the food is beautiful.
I returned the next evening with the Ladies Night Crew and again, we loved it.
On Friday night, my mother took the boys and I for dinner along with Kerry and JV as none of the boys had experienced it yet. It’s very convenient that you can make reservations on Open Table, and we took advantage of that. It was great watching the boys reaction to seeing the inside of the building for the first time since the renovation. “Wow” was used a lot. We have watched it lay empty and dormant for years, only briefly coming to life again as a major part of the set of Lincoln, so it is so exciting to see it fully restored and more beautiful than ever.
We were seated upstairs at one of the big tables. We had the same server as we had on Ladies night and we were genuinely shocked that she remembered our names! Were we that badly behaved that night?! “How can I forget a name like Cherry?” Sara asked. She’s here in the area because her husband is at Fort Lee but she’s originally from Savannah and has the accent to match. Delightful, accommodating and efficient as well as oozing southern charm, she made sure we had a great experience.
We started with a dozen oysters that included Anderson Necks and Ruby Salts. Served in delightful two tiered trays, they were a big hit. For the third time in three visits, we also ordered the mussels with Surry sausage and leeks that were delicious as always. I’m a little obsessed with mussels.
For dinner? Braised Beef Rib for Rory, Salmon with Bok Choy for Ben, Curried Carrot Soup for JV with his new braces (he managed some oysters too), Shrimp and Grits for Cherry and Kerry and really lovely Rockfish with white beans and kale for me. All delicious and beautifully presented. My rockfish was perfectly cooked, delicate, so so fresh and just a delightful dish. Loved it. We finished with an incredible key lime tart along with the aforementioned Creme Caramel, and the boys all devoured gelato.
As a side note, I think their wine menu is thoughtful and very reasonably priced. The bar is also gorgeous and I look forward to going for drinks one night.
There has been much chatter about the menu at this new restaurant. When it was posted on Facebook for the first time, I saw a number of comments like “there’s nothing on this menu that I would eat”, “no steak?”, “people around here won’t pay those prices”…. Everyone has the right to their opinion and to choose where they want to eat, no doubt about that. But I want to challenge some of this chatter and having renovated and opened my own restaurant here, I feel qualified to do so. This space really was a farmer’s market back in the day which totally lends itself to being open to the farm-to-table concept. The food is super fresh and the quality of the ingredients is superior. Just because the menu selections aren’t instantly recognizable, does not mean that they aren’t amazing. I like to use the analogy of going to an art museum, it’s often tempting to just retreat to the familiarity and comfort of the Impressionist Gallery but sometimes you have to challenge yourself to look to explore less well known artwork. You look carefully at the paintings, you read about them, you seek to understand where the artist is coming from and suddenly your mind is opened. The preparation of food is art. It’s the same thing. I personally love to be challenged to pick something on a menu that I wouldn’t ordinarily choose.
It was 20 years ago this month that Steve and I bought the two buildings on Cockade Alley, just steps from the Farmer’s Market. When we announced that we were going to open a British-style pub, we were met with “why would you want to open a place in Old Towne Petersburg? No one goes there”. We were one of four restaurants in Old Towne when we opened in October 2000 and we were two of only a handful of people living above a retail space. Like any new restaurant, we experienced growing pains in our infancy but eventually we found our rhythm. I can’t even begin to imagine renovating and running a 200 seat restaurant but I know all too well about finding the careful balance of maintaining your mission while understanding your market. It can take time for everyone to get on the same page and you have to grow some thick skin!
So, fast forward to 2017 and Old Towne looks very different. Hundreds of people live down here whether it be in historic homes or converted warehouses. Despite many challenges in our City as a whole, we have a thriving Old Towne business community including over twenty restaurants and two breweries and I for one wouldn’t live anywhere else in this region. The significant investment that has been made by Sandy Graham, Tom Wilkerson and Frits Huntjens in the new chapter of this most iconic building, should be applauded and appreciated beyond measure. Be prepared to have your breath taken away by the renovation, it’s exquisite but that’s no surprise when Sandy Graham is involved. Look up to the roof and rafters, look at the light fixtures and decorative accents, admire the gorgeous furniture. We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to dine in such an environment. Frits Huntjens is an award winning chef and his touch is evident in every nuance of this menu and it’s gutsy to challenge us with what feels like a small restaurant menu concept in a big setting. If the menu needs to be expanded or tweaked to accommodate more tastes, I have no doubt it will be, but I like places where the menu is relatively small as it generally means more thought has gone into each dish and it’s easier to maintain quality. They also need to be given some time to find their rhythm, just like people afforded us 17 years ago.
Each new business that opens up here in Old Towne ultimately enriches our City, elevates it, and we all benefit. The Farmer’s Market Restaurant is a showpiece for downtown, a huge new gem that joins a rapidly filling treasure chest of jewels in the city that I’m very happy to call home.