29 August 2009

the farmer's table

dining date: 08.22.09 
eatery: the farmer’s table on the corner of commercial street and dana street 
web: the farmer's table
pricing category: definitely not cheap – probably one of the more expensive brunches you’ll find in portland 
guest critic: just the three of us
overall grade: C+
the lowdown:
- the farmer’s table is “the new mim’s.” although, we hesitate to call it that, since we never actually ate at mim’s…or any of the other restaurants that have been in that location for that matter. and there have been quite a lot of them in the past several years. in fact, the lore around these parts is that that location is actually cursed for restaurants…
- if you live in portland, be ready to suddenly feel like you’re a visitor in your own town, as this restaurant is smack in the middle of tourist central.
- being the savory-leaning brunchers that we are, the thing we loved most about this place is that there was not a single sweet breakfast item on the menu. no pancakes, no french toast, nada. we approve of this decision.
- we all appreciated the variety of local meats on the menu, and thought it was very nice that they mentioned all of the farms by name in the food item descriptions.
- pretty great people-watching opportunities from either of the two street-side outdoor patios. the plethora of table umbrellas was also greatly appreciated on this blazing hot and humid august day.
- we’re sad to say that our service was not quite what it should have been. while our waitress didn’t drop the “f-bomb” all over us (like our pal over at the frog and turtle), she barely spoke to us, was fairly unfriendly, never once asked how our meal was, and generally made us feel like she was doing us a favor by waiting on us. overall, none of those are good attributes for a server at a restaurant where you could easily drop at least $20 apiece for eggs and coffee.

- they do have a full bar in the restaurant…although none of us tried a bloody mary or mimosa.
the food

the benny girl
- the eggs benedict with smoked salmon, tomatoes, red onions and hollandaise, homies and tea
- grade: C+
"as a “born and raised” local portlander, i generally try to avoid commercial street like the plague in the summer – it’s just a little too crowded for my taste. but since having brunch on a saturday greatly limits your restaurant options, we decided to brave the tourists and give the farmer’s table a whirl. we did go adorned in disguises, however, in case any die hard becky’s fans from down the street happened to recognize us. so, my old roommate once said that oppressive heat and humidity is like walking around inside of someone’s mouth. gross, yes…but also a totally accurate description. well, the day that we ate at the farmer’s table was just that kind of day. and at first, i thought that maybe my experience at the farmer’s table was being tainted and skewed by the fact that hot and humid days make me very crabby and turn my brain into mush. but no – when it struck me that i was actually looking forward to leaving the restaurant and venturing back out into the sticky city air, i quickly realized that the fact that i loathe humidity had little bearing on my not-so-great mood while dining…the farmer’s table can take full credit for the crappiness of my experience. as we mentioned in the above low-down, our service was so sub-par that we didn’t tip 20% or more for the very first time since the inception of The Breakfast Club. (trust us, the 18% tip that we left instead is making quite a statement in our minds!) i don’t need to go into detail about our server – you probably get the gist from the above description, right? we tried to give her the benefit of the doubt at the beginning and chalk it up to either being very tired, very hot, or very hungover…but i”m sorry – no amount of fatigue, disdain for heat and humidity, or booze the night before is an adequate justification for basically throwing a customer’s plate at them or forcing your patrons to telepathically speculate the meaning of your non-verbal communication! and you know, i would’ve let some of that slide if the food had actually made up for the poor service. when you look at the menu, you assume that the prices (benedicts ranging from $12 - $14, “the usual” breakfast is $9) are directly proportionate to the quality and taste of the food, right? well, about two bites in, i realized that the prices were actually directly proportionate to the cost of rent for that location. i got the distinct impression that the price i was paying for eggs had more to do with my scenic view of the harbor than with a creative and tantalizing taste for my palette. there were two pluses about the dish: the english muffin was tasty and grilled nicely, and the smoked salmon was delicious. but that’s it. the hollandaise was so sparse that i couldn’t even taste it, the homefries tasted like mcdonald’s french fries (sans grease), and the worst part was that i was basically served two hard-boiled eggs on top of muffins. the yolk was completely solid. even my “over-hard” compadre acknowledged that poached eggs are not supposed to be like that. over-cooking a poached egg is a sure-fire way to ruin a benedict…and a bad benedict makes me very grumpy – particularly one that i’m spending $14 on. grr. the tea presentation was alright – the mini spoon that came with the honey was actually the highlight of my meal. sad, no? overall, my experience at the farmer’s table was highly disappointing. people who come to portland for the first time may be blinded by the great scenery on the picturesque commercial street and be more accepting of a barely mediocre brunch, but if this restaurant wants to make it through the winter with us mainers, they really need to step it up…a lot."
the usual
- brie, mushroom and pepper omelet with toast and homefries, coffee
- grade: B-

“world's smallest omelet. let me just start right there. i know that these days people are counting their pennies and wondering why they never registered those rusty pickups in their front yards in anticipation of cashing those clunkers in for the big bucks, but this was one doggone tiny omelet. i realize that the price of eggs has gone up, and i guess there's a slim chance that the chickens are shrinking, but for a nine dollar meal, crack a few eggs. my fillings were fine, (though i always feel that cheese selection shouldn't really count as one of your omelet fillings), the mushrooms and brie were both delicious. the coffee was terrible, and my mug yawned emptily as the minutes ticked by between refills. the toast was reasonable, well toasted and moderately buttered. my homefries needed to be dowsed in salt, pepper and ketchup to even remember what they stood for. dry chunks that looked like they'd been lazing about under a heat lamp all morning, sweating out whatever makes potatoes delicious. a sorry state of affairs, especially considering the price tag. i probably should have ordered a bloody mary. regardless of the lovely waterfront views and the architecturally interesting building, these prices are rampant. and you already know all about our server, who i felt a bit sorry for initially, but got over it when she begrudgingly dropped off our food and abandoned us for the rest of the meal. i suppose everyone has off days. and finally, the name 'the farmer's table' conjures up images of a bountiful harvest, of careful selection of ingredients, of support for the local guys sweating it out day after day to bring us delicious meat, eggs and produce. i saw none of that while brunching at this restaurant, save the couple of local cheeses given shout-outs on the menu. it's summer in maine by golly, by and large the easiest time to bolster menus with piles local veggies and to remind eaters of where that food comes from. i realize that this may just be an assumption on my part: i know that many restaurants in maine operate in much the same way, and that i don't give them the crap i'm giving this one. i guess i just mistakenly thought the name meant that the restaurant was serving food from a farm, not from a box shipped in from peru. i would love to see this restaurant pull through and succeed, though only if they step up the food to match the prices. even i, orderer of the cheapest menu option of all time, don't mind splurging on something truly lovely from time to time. just not on dry taters and mini-omelets. wee-ow.”

wild toast
- coffee, omelet with tomato, brie, and mushrooms, rye toast, homefries

“… zucchini, cucumbers, pattypans, oh my! beets, onions, leeks, oh hi! … asparagus, oh no! you’ve gone by! truly, a wonderful time of year we have. so many options, so much to work with. the sun was shining, the umbrella just right, the salt from the ocean mingling with out-of-stater’s old spice and the aftermath of their friday night. and then upon perusal there seemed to be a shocking revelation…this farmer’s table was a table set in either canada or queensland, peru or sysco's shoe. how and why? where the!? what is asparagus doing on my menu!? this is august. yes asparagus is still growing but it is a veritable jungle of ferns and froth. a massive fortress of 6 foot tall exploded foliage….not something easily tucked into an omelet. (especially an omelet from this joint….read on) so i ordered an omelet (ok, so you didn’t have to read on that far), which included tomatoes (in season, but badly hurting due to the crazy rain which you all know about and the blight that decimated 90% of the crops around here), mushrooms (which were very good) and brie (locally made). along with this came homefries and toast (i opted rye….obviously) and what else did i order? come on loyal fans, i know you know what you know i know which I know you know and that is that i ordered coffee. my daily choice (I know coffee isn’t a local option, but I am reasonable and can make some exceptions) was presented. unfortunately, as “The Usual” agreed, the coffee was on the terrible side. next came our meals. let me just touch upon this little itty bitty thing…i’m sure our server is a very nice person, pays her parking tickets before she gets the boot, possibly was a winner of a “teen who cares” award, uses a nice conditioning product, calmly listens to each side of an argument before coming to a decision, wears flip-flops in all showers, not just the local Y, drives a tofu-combustible compact, ….what i’m trying to say is i’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt. but she did go something like this “hhuurrrumph(ff)” when she went to set down some food. that was a little unfortunate. the other unfortunate thing is this: i live here in maine, i've felt the tough economy, i've been aware of the fact that my dollar isn't going quite as far as it used to, and this was illustrated in my omelet. yes loyal fans, my omelet. are the chickens toughing out the slow economy too? did their eggs get smaller due to the whisperings of an economic downturn and the dirty “r” word? or is the farmer's table in cahoots with a pullet farm? whatever the explanation, my omelet was under...weight? malnourished? or did I hear someone say “one low self-esteem omelet coming right up!” “wild, whacky new craze sweeps through the old port, have you tried the mini-omelet?” “you should of bought it when you saw it at the farmer's table (only if you bring an extra egg to slip onto your plate when the server isn't looking)”, “if I had a nickel for every time a penny was tossed into the ocean i'd have a enough money to buy a breakfast at the farmer's table.” “hello, do you like my hat? no I do not, goodbye, goodbye.” (ok, that's a line from a great children's book called go dog go by P.D. Eastman) back to breakfast. my homies tasted like old french fries. not like they were actually made from real potatoes from real farmers from real farms on a country road near you. but rather, from a frozen bag from sysco. my toast was uninspired but fine. my omelet, what little there was, was pretty good. light on the brie, and gone before you know it. (kinda like the server who was not really to be seen.) so this is my advice: become a venue for local food from farmers in the area. serve local bread from down the street. get better coffee. keep the location and the prices but make it worth the prices you are charging. the farmer's table, you are young. resilient. “babies bounce” is a phrase i like to say (i do not advocate this and certainly do not recommend you try it). you could be so good. and you owe it to yourself and the city of portland to be outstanding and inspiring.”


Matt Powell said...

I could not agree more. Had brunch there earlier in the summer. Indifferent preparation and indifferent service.
If they don't care, why should we?

I'm not even the slightest bit tempted to try another meal there

Anonymous said...

Ditto. I had dinner there about a month ago. My meal was overcooked, the portions were small, the waitress had an attitude and it was expensive. Even with the $25 coupon from restaurant.com, it was way overpriced. I'm never going back either.

Kate said...

Oh dear, that is toooooo bad, as you mention, their concept has so much potential.

Kate said...

It seems y'all have gotten busy again, but I am looking forward to the next installation of the breakfast club!

Max said...

what's your email address? I'd like to send you restaurant/foodie information about upcoming events and programs! Thanks!

Kate. said...

hey breakfast club, come back, i miss you!

The Breakfast Club said...

Dear Max: Our email address is portlandbreakfastclub@gmail.com -- we'd love to read the restaurant/foodie event info you have!

And to the two Kates: Thank you for your support! We miss reviewing as much as you may miss reading our reviews. As you probably read, two of us live in Mass now...but keep an eye out -- we promise we'll surprise you one of these days with a review when we're all in town!

Cheers, TBC