1 of 4
Photography by Kevin A. Roberts
Porchetta bao, house kimchi and radish sprouts
2 of 4
Kevin A. Roberts
Farmhaus charcuterie board
Farmhaus charcuterie board
3 of 4
Kevin A. Roberts
Farmhaus red snapperBlackened Pensacola Red Snapper, Andouille sausage, house spoon bread, and crystal butter emulsion
4 of 4
Kevin A. Roberts
Gulf Red SnapperGulf Red Snapper, pea cream, English peas, smoked cipollini onions and seared Yukon Gold potatoes
There are charcuterie plates. Then there’s Farmhaus’ take. The butcher’s plate on our visit was a celebration of pork pride, crowding a wooden slab not smaller than the tabletop. Among the offerings: pink leaves of pastrami cured from pork, rosemary-scented slabs of porchetta di testa, a chunky pâté of head cheese, a terrine of smoky, gelatinous pig ear… (Few foods sound less appetizing or are more intensely enjoyable in taste and texture.) Oh, and there was a chunk of fresh cheddar and pungent, runny goat cheese, both locally produced. And don’t forget the bread-and-butter pickles, or the green tomato chutney, or the sweet amber of smoked apple butter…
This, again, was a starter. It’s the culinary equivalent of hooking your palate up to a car battery, a taste of the extraordinary from a kitchen popping out surprises all evening.
Farmhaus consistently makes the hit parade of St. Louis’ best eateries. It has since opening four years ago in an old neighborhood store with its original pressed-tin ceiling. We arrived a few minutes before it opened one night and joined a dozen other diners, all with reservations like us, eager to get things going.
On the day’s menu, there were a couple of dishes big enough to compose a full meal: a rib-eye and a sirloin, both dry-aged. The bulk of the offerings here, though, are petite plates meant for sharing. You’ll want at least three for each diner. Take the meatloaf, for instance: a mixture of Berkshire pork and grass-fed beef, with the hockey puck of loaf swaddled in bacon. It arrives perched on a cloud of mashed Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes, with a spill of tomato-merlot reduction to sweeten the delectable deal.
Then there’s the “breakfast.” It’s assumed legendary status among St. Louis diners. A cube of luscious pork belly is roasted twice: briefly so the skin caramelizes, then slowly again so the fat melts magnificently. Alongside are fluffy corn-flour blinis with whipped maple butter, a pair of maple syrup–sweetened sausages, and a butter-poached egg, its yolk glistening gold. There isn’t an ingredient on the breakfast plate that’s not readily available elsewhere, but what makes this dish and others here so unforgettable is the way they’re matched and manipulated. The pork belly, blinis, and poached egg are all worthy enough to stand on their own—nothing is superfluous.
What seems like the last place for a Chinese classic produces just that…or at least Farmhaus’ version. Local gastronomes are familiar with the fluffy, bread-like bao available in Cantonese-type places. Farmhaus, either deliberately or by happy accident, makes the version of bao popular in southwest China. It’s lighter and doesn’t collapse into chewy stickiness, as Cantonese buns often do. The pillows of bao coming out of this kitchen are superb, inventively wrapped around ribbons of bacony porchetta. An accompanying tangle of tangy house-made kimchi is too salty; otherwise, the dish is tantalizing, simultaneously exotic and comforting.
The fish dishes are outstanding. A stint on the grill brings out all of the meaty texture and delicate flavor of red snapper. On our visit, it was balanced atop fingerling potatoes with an array of English peas, sweet sugar snap peas, and smoked cipollini onions, for a delightfully engaging mélange of taste and texture. Sheepshead is a fish often tossed back by anglers. It’s delightful to see on the menu, prepared like Gulf Coast natives do it, blackened with a prickle of spice and served with a jumble of crawfish tails and andouille, plated up over a bed of savory sweet spoonbread. If you’ve never tried it, you could be convinced that sheeps-head is crab.
Given the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of a menu, we struggled with a wine list that—while nicely balanced—offered few bargains and far too few wines by the glass. At a table laden with everything from house-made potato-chip nachos splattered with fire-roasted red-pepper ketchup to pickled pig’s tongue, it’s impossible to select a wine that’ll meet the challenge. The chardonnay is just right for a red snapper. That bacon-wrapped meatloaf, on the other hand, begs for the splendid, softly tannic 2011 Pride Mountain Vineyards merlot. The place could do with more than 10 wines by the glass. Instead, consider the menu of nearly three dozen regional beers.
A single salad was offered on our visit—and it was remarkable. Roasted local wild mushrooms were mixed with peppery greens and goat cheese, with a drizzle of warm bacon-scented oil. This is one you’ll be reluctant to share with your dining companions. The same goes for the three or four desserts offered each day, including a creative reinvention of a Reese’s peanut-butter cup, a chocolate cup filled with peanut-butter mousse.
Overall, the atmosphere was nicely informal, in a key slightly different than the food. Tables here are so closely spaced that several women next to us shared their bottle of cab sav. And the small bar instantly became crowded, causing those waiting for a table to be marooned on benches in front of the restrooms.
At midday, Farmhaus’ Blue Plate Lunch is inevitably worthwhile. The offerings include the likes of fried chicken, house-made knockwurst, meatloaf, and buttery fried fish.
Many restaurants are hyped. Some deserve it. Farmhaus is one that does.
The Bottom Line: Small plates of deliciously creative combinations are served in an intimate, friendly atmosphere.
Lunch Mon–Thu, dinner Tue–Sat
Average Main Course: $21
Acoustics: What?! It’s noisy, but intimate.
Chef: Kevin Willmann