If you love cheese shops, bakeries and interesting takes on meats, Farmstead should be on your radar, because it's all three rolled into one. Chef Matt Jennings has multiple first place finishes in the prestigious Cochon 555 whole pig competitions, so any burger he makes is a burger I want to try. It turns out there are different approaches at lunch (a pair of 3-ounce mini burgers on cheesy chive biscuits) and dinner (a single 8-ounce patty on a challah roll). But this is hardly a burger joint. The refined yet welcoming space (and servers) present upscale farm-to-table fare from all of the food groups.
I stopped in on a Saturday afternoon lunch to try their lunch mini burger duo ($13).
Cheesy chive biscuits are the vessel of choice on Farmstead's lunchtime burger. Sounds great in theory, but I had some concerns going in.
Would they be too cheesy? Turns out there's just enough cheesiness to provide some character and complexity, but thankfully this component is not an overwhelming flavor hog. Ditto the chives.
Would they be too crumbly to hold together or stand up to the beef? No and no. In fact, they were surprisingly pliable and simultaneously sturdy, along with a nice bite that offered both crunch and plenty of give.
Would they be too rich? Too dry? A definite no on the former; a borderline no on the latter. I wouldn't say they were outright dry on my visit, but the moistness and butteriness were ramped down from some of my favorite biscuits (Sweet Cheeks in Boston is the gold standard).
Would they be too much for the beef? Now here's where we have a potential problem. On this I say a slight yes in that they were the predominant flavor and texture, but the biscuits were a delightful plus, so I'm okay with that. Predominant, yes; dominant, no.
The pasturized beef patties are small enough that you can't order them medium rare, but the kitchen did a nice job getting the contrast between the grilly, hard shell surface and the still-pink, moist interior. I also like that they're not afraid to use salt, which is just noticeable in some bites and quite spirited in others. The beef itself showed some spirit too, but while I never felt shortchanged, I felt that the beef was more of an ensemble player than star—a billing clearly reserved for the biscuit.
Quite the ensemble here. The tarazuke-shallot marmalade might strike fear into those not fond of mushrooms (tarazuke) or sweetness (marmalade), but I'm happy to report that it blended in fine, adding a deep mushroom flavor dimension (I'm a fan) to the beef without the usual slipperiness (not a fan) and with none of the sweetness that "marmalade" connotes.
I split two orders with a friend, so for cheese, I got to try both the cheddar (a sharp selection from New York) and the smoked Gouda (not so smoky, but rich flavor). Both cheeses got a perfect melt and slid down over the patty in imbalanced fashion. Both cheeses were perfectly fine but did not jump to the forefront as expected—just like the beef and the marmalade. That may sound disappointing, but I keep coming back to that "ensemble" concept. Everything worked very well together as a cohesive troupe, including the leafy, stemy greens that were more of a contrasting element. Bacon ($3 upcharge), tried only on the mini with cheddar, was barely noticeable texturally but well lubed and strong, acting more as condiment than topping.
These burgers carried many moving parts, none of them grandstanding but all of them contributing to the enjoyment of a unified sandwich.
The Fries (and such)
Mere potato fries are mundane compared to the pair of polenta frites included here. They're an acquired taste, but the texture continuum includes the crispy crustiness of the interior to the more delicate interior. Herbs and very coarse sea salt—like baby snow flakes—add some zest to the corniness of the perfectly rectangular package.
A small plate of the Cheesemonger's mac and cheese ($11) delivered on the menu's promise of "molten center and golden, crusty top" but the tighter-than expected rendition didn't have any cheffy tricks or enough lave flow to justify the double-digit pricetag.
The Bottom Line
This unique, very composed burger still had me thinking about it days later, even if I still wasn't sure whether it was very good (my current state of mind), not quite or even better. I like the beef to be at center stage, but Farmstead's mini burgers made a compelling case that this might not always be an absolute requirement.
I know this: I really want it again and I want to try the nighttime version as well. To be continued.
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