I was in Washington D.C. and my flight back to Los Angeles was leaving in less than three hours; I was faced with a tough choice, should I chance missing my flight to try one of the hottest restaurants on the Washington D.C. Beltway? My fellow foodie friend from D.C. was urging me, “Tom, listen we can squeeze it in, if you call yourself a foodie, you have to try their food before you leave!” After that double-dog dare, my inner foodie was telling me, go for it Tom! Who know s when you will be able to try this restaurant again? So what restaurant would even make me consider missing my flight? Founding Farmers. If you are in Washington D.C. for the inauguration, consider trying this place, if it literally a couple blocks from the White House.
Founding Farmers is a looking glass into the psyche of the Washington D.C. community. Behind the community’s nouveau global chic exteriors, they are “granolas” at heart. The community places a premium on sustainability, locavore movement, organics and supporting craft family farms. It is no surprise to me that these are the same values that Founding Farmers places on its business model. The restaurant was founded on the premise that food lovers should enjoy a meal sourced from the best products that are seasonally and regional whenever possible. This means you will find that a many of their ingredients coming from local family farms. When local is not possible, they actually pay carbon offsets. The restaurant itself is owned by a Farmer’s Union who represents 42,000 family farms across the United States. The members of these farms ship fresh ingredients to the restaurant daily. The name Founding Farmers, refers to the fact that the United States was actually founded by actual farmers; I bet George Washington made a pretty mean Brussels Sprouts dish.
The interior of the restaurant is modern, with smooth lines, glass panels, and open space. Although when you look more carefully at the decor, there is an obvious homage to farm life with industrial lights, mason jars with pickling vegetables, and reclaimed woods used for the tables. The décor feels like a farmer boy who moved to D.C. and modified his style to become Farmer-Chic.
Just like the attitude and décor of the restaurant, the food is a combination of classic farm house supper and modern D.C. style. The dishes are rustic, ingredient centric, yet they are prepared with a sophisticated technique and presentation.
Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, Pickled Red Onion Flatbread
Expecting a fancy pizza? Guess again. The dish is actually deconstructed so that the individual ingredients get their own spotlight. The bread is a thick-cut chiabatta that is “Flat Fried” on a grill with extra olive oil, resulting in a crispy crust and soft interior. The tomatoes, goat cheese and pickled onions are all served in separate ramekins to encourage tasting the components individually and then together in concert. My favorite component of the dish was the farm fresh goat cheese. Due to the season, the cheese was high in butterfat and the taste was absolutely incredible.
Late Harvest Salad
This salad was rustic. yet balanced in flavor and textures. The Late Harvest salad is made with spinach, Belgian endive, balsamic onions, apples, egg, bacon, blue cheese, barrel aged sherry vinaigrette. I liked how the proteins balanced with the bitterness of the greens and tangy vinaigrette. This salad was nicely done and full of flavors. Even the snobbiest of meat eaters would like this salad.
Three Cheese Ravioli
I love from scratch pasta due to the freshness and flavor intensity of the dough; Founding Farmers nailed their preparation. The center of the ravioli was made with three types of local cheese, white beans, and pesto. It was topped with sautéed escarole, roasted artichokes, and pesto. The pasta was fluffy then there was a perfect ratio of pasta to fillings. Although this was my friends dish, it didn’t stop me from stealing three of her ravioli.
Chicken and Waffles
Founding Farmers does this dish so well, they blow the socks the best Los Angeles Chicken and Waffle houses. The major difference is in the fresh ingredients. The chicken is literally slaughtered within 48 hours of arriving on your plate. Sorry to use those terms, but this is a Farm to Table concept restaurant and chicken comes from a farm not the frozen food aisle. The chickens used by the restaurant is “all natural” and raised in a “stress free and open” environment, which results in a better flavor. Stress hormones tend to toughen muscle meat and introduce off flavors.
During preparation, the chicken breasts are dredged in their buttermilk before being floured and battered, then pan fried. This was some of the best fried chicken that I have experienced. The waffles are extremely fluffy, with a golden crisp exterior and gooey hot interior. The plate was served with some house made ac and cheese, that would make my mother envious. The plate was served with real maple syrup, salsa and a whipped butter cream sauce.
My Final Thoughts
I barely made it on my flight, but I am very happy that I was able to experience the culture of the city through its cuisine. This restaurant has been extremely popular and has attracted hungry dinners from all parts of the Washington Beltway. My friend told me that her and her husband waited over 2 hours the week before and still couldn’t get table. I asked several other customers what drew them to this restaurant? Some customers said it was their all-natural and farm to table approach and others said it was the hip place to try; although, everyone agreed that Founding Farmers makes some of the best food in the city. I agree. Like I said in the beginning of the blog post, if you are in Washington for the President’s Inauguration, don’t be tempted by the tourist traps, try to eat were the locals eat!