A week ago an unusual advertisement caught my eye. I had never before been dared by a restaurant to eat “heads, feet and tongues” or “various marine cephalapods.” I found this bold tactic in an ad for the Farmhouse Tap and Grill “Wild Edibles” event. I couldn’t refuse a dare, let alone a double dare, to try a plate of wild food. I spoke to the chef, Phil Clayton, to see if I could go behind the scenes during this evening of culinary exploration. He welcomed me into the kitchen and gave me a highly detailed desription of the preparation of each dish and the origin of the ingredients.
I was a little disappointed in the “wild” factor of the food. Having already tried cricket, wildebeest, Rocky Mountain oysters, and pigeon pie, I was hoping for something bizarre like brains, amphibians, or forest insects, or at least a handful of unusual roots and tubers. I understand, however, that not everybody shares my appetite for creepy eats, and the wild edibles menu was certainly adventerous for a gastropub: corned beef-tongue salad, pig’s feet and beans, fried headcheese, and wild foraged mushroom pasta.
I was happy to learn that most of the ingredients were as seasonal, local, and fresh as possible. The origin of every slab of meat and cheese was displayed on the menu: Maple Wind Farm, Brown Boar Farm, Jasper Hill, and so on. I asked Phil what type of supplier he usually dealt with for his local ingredients. He mentioned a long list of farms within an hour’s drive, among them Langis Anctil from Fresh Tracks Game Farm, who supplies the restaurant with rabbit meat and mushrooms foraged from his own land. Not all of the items on the menu were actually wild– I certainly haven’t heard of wild beef cattle running around in Vermont– or local, given that the grilled baby octopus originated in Greece.
This event was one of many themed dining evenings that the Farmhouse has hosted, among game night, seafood night, and vegetarian night. They provide a little color to the kitchen routine, and as Phil put it, “we have the staff and the audience, what is there to lose?” The events also drive sales and volume, turning Wednesday evenings into weekends for the restaurant. The evenings also allow the chefs to apply their knowledge and skills in a more playful and engaging way. They can’t stray too far from the key concept of the Farmhouse, which is to give priority to locally sourced ingredients, prepare simple and honest menus, and serve gastropub fare– in other words, fancy burgers.
Throughout the summer, many of the events will beheld in the outdoor beer garden and will be centered around meat grilled on the massive smoker that resides behind the kitchen. I’ll take a seat among the hops, artichokes, and sage and keep my fingers crossed for a lamb roast.
(Photo of beef-tongue salad)