The Farm Downtown in Beverly is a stripped-down, less rustic version of The Farm Bar and Grille, headquartered in Essex MA. There's no sprawling backyard, outdoor dining or cozy bar area here. Instead, a bare bones room consisting of a few tables, an ordering counter and an attractive farm mural get the job done simply and comfortably. A sprinting pig carving adds a little class to the base of the counter; a silhouette of the same appears on every table. There's no table service, but orders paid for at the counter are cheerfully brought to the table when ready.
The Farm Downtown's menu is a similarly stripped-down version of what's at the parent restaurant. The barbecue is limited to babyback ribs and a pulled pork sandwich, both offered a la carte (as is everything on the menu). There's also a hot roast beef sandwich, a haddock sandwich, hand-packed Angus burgers (smaller than at the flagship but more configurable), a few different wraps featuring mostly chicken and vegetables, fish tacos, fish and chips, fried wings, nachos, mozzarella sticks, quesadillas, chili, soups, salads and fries (plain or loaded with chili, cheese, guac, jalapenos or sauces). Sandwiches are offered in junior and super sizes.
My young bride and I hit The Farm Downtown on a Saturday night. During our stay we were the only ones there.
We didn't order appetizers as such, instead sharing two sandwiches, ribs and fries in a single course.
Burger: Knowing I was going to be splitting it, I went with the super size ($6.25), which turned out to be two patties on a standard bun. The dual patties, uninspired beef composition, soft bun and overall simplicity reminded me of Five Guys Burgers and Fries. This burger was marginally juicy and marginally satisfying with the fresh bun, but needed a little ketchup for flavor. With toppings available at 25 cents each (even bacon), I can see this being a go-to item down the road. It's a burger that's a step up from the fast food chains but not quite a splurge or a gourmet reach.
Pulled pork sandwich: Mounds of heavily sauced meat spilled out of the pulled pork sandwich ($6.25 for super) when cut. Normally I'm cautious when approaching such oversauced meat, but I had relatively good memories of the pork at the Farm, so I went in with gusto. Chalky. That's the word I kept coming back to, even when I tried to clear the memory banks and take another bite with a fresh start. Texture was much closer to overtender than ideal, but not horrific. Despite being heavily sauced, the underlying meat had a dryness to it that may have been the cause. Maybe I caught them on a bad night, but this off tasting pork didn't seem fresh and didn't have any smoky flavor, though the meat did have bark and seemed smoked. Standard procedure for pulled pork that needs some help is to put more sauce on it, but that card was already played. I took a few bites and moved on. Did I say it was chalky?
Ribs: A half rack of babyback ribs ($11.95) was thin of meat, lightly coated with a dark sauce and a little dark under the sauce. Someone looking for fall-off-the-bone ribs would be disappointed by the half rack that hit my table, because the meat was pretty stiff. I'm guessing the texture (dry, super sturdy) had more to do with storage and reheating than undercooking, especially since these ribs are touted as slow smoked for 12 hours. There are convincing reheats and obvious reheats, but this was a really obvious reheat.
Again clearing the memory banks, I tried to forget about the texture and just taste the meat with no preconceived notions, and I liked how it tasted. There was some good pork flavor in there, heightened by rub and probably smoke. So based on flavor, I see some real potential here. But ultimately, the skimpiness and rigidity were hurdles that were just too high to clear when assessing these ribs as a whole.
Barbecue sauce isn't available on the table but is pre-applied in full force to the pulled pork and ribs. It's dark, sweet and a little more generic than what I remembered at The Farm in Essex.
Fries: Fresh cut fries ($2.50) were probably the best thing I tried that night. Long, thin and nicely seasoned, they were very crisp outside and incredibly soft inside, causing them to droop when lifted out of the boat. I still liked them, but rigidity would have been much more welcome here.
The Bottom Line
A quick burger and fries here while setting expectations accordingly isn't too far fetched, but I'd save a serious rib splurge and even a simple pulled pork sandwich for a more worthy contender.
I can see someone thinking I have a vendetta against The Farm: after not receiving their Essex flagship restaurant all that warmly, I enjoyed The Farm Downtown in Beverly even less. On the contrary, I see a lot of potential in both places and am rooting to see it fulfilled. But so far, I've come up dry like the ribs. In talking with the counter person, I learned that there's more expansion planned this year, with another two units on the way. Maybe The Farm should focus a little less on expansion and a little more on execution, because with some better decisions and a little more focus, this could be a winner.
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