Serious Eats: Chicago
The Vegetarian Option: Farmhouse
I went into lunch at Farmhouse thinking I had done it again. After peeping the menu online and seeing some promising stuff, I figured I had uncovered another one of Chicago's unlikeliest veggie-friendly destinations. You know, one of those craft-beer bars that lures its meat-eating clientele with short rib Sloppy Joes and patty melts, yet caters to vegetarians with thoughtful, satisfying fare that goes beyond the uninspired hummus plates and roasted-veggie wraps of the world. The credentials seemed to be in place; Farmhouse touts itself as a "farm to tavern" restaurant, celebrating the bounty of the Midwest through a long list of local farmers and purveyors. But what arrived on the plate didn't feel like it measured up to the billing.
Take the Farmhouse chop salad ($10) which the menu claimed to include grilled chestnuts, prepared vegetables, Wisconsin cranberries, roasted tavern nuts, and creamy cider herb dressing. That description was mostly true; the grilled chestnuts were nowhere to be found. The other ingredients were fresh and worked well together, but the salad seemed awfully small and basic for the price. The "prepared vegetables" were just greens, radish, scallion, carrot, and cucumber, which, as you can see, weren't really chopped, per se. The one standout was the tangy herb dressing. The Farmhouse chefs make all their own condiments, sauces, and dressings from sratch, and they shined on every dish I tried.
The roasted beet and baby rocket salad ($10) was the better of the two lunch salad options. The peppery arugula and creamy nuggets of goat cheese were delicious—as was the spicy, robust honey grain-mustard vinaigrette dressing—but I couldn't help but feel shortchanged, again, with the portions of toasted walnuts and beets.
I should point out that I visited Farmhouse during Craft Beer Week, on a day the restaurant was offering a related beer special. The place was slammed and seemingly understaffed. Whether that absolves the kitchen of errors like skimping on ingredients, or omitting them altogether (neighboring diners' burgers arrived missing cheese and fried eggs, for instance), is an open question.
I was most looking forward to trying the forest mushroom and poblano pepper Old World grains burger ($10). My server pointed out that the grains in question were arborio rice, quinoa, bulgur, and oats. Sounds like a promising mix, right? But the patty—battered and fried like a croquette—tasted mostly of rice. On the bright side, the whole pieces of sautéed mushroom mixed in with the grains provided a pleasant textural contrast and pop of flavor. But the garlic-mayo-dressed egg bun seemed way outsized in comparison to the patty. And the fries, while crispy, were painfully oversalted—which was a shame, because Farmhouse's smoked ketchup showed remarkable depth of flavor. A lot of it went sadly unused.
I suspect that if I caught Farmhouse on another, quieter day, the experience could potentially be far better. But to be a great restaurant, it stands to reason that the kitchen must execute well no matter how busy it gets.