By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Then: Canned delivery (2009)
Again: Alice Waters's nightmare
Massive jars of carrots, tomatoes and corn make a farm-to-table impression at the entrance, where guests can hang their wraps on tree-shaped coat stands. And judging from the credo on the back of its (plastic-coated) menu, Founding Farmers begs to be viewed as the most conscientious restaurant around. The menu is printed on recycled paper, we're told, and only wild, line-caught or sustainably farmed fish are offered.
But almost nothing I've eaten in this urban barn of a restaurant comes close to what I'd call mindful eating. "Flatbread" translates as baguette slices that aren't even warmed, topped with salami that's thin in size and flavor. Skewered candied bacon is limp and syrupy and the sticky chicken wings need every drop of juice from the accompanying lime wedge to make them palatable. It requires grit to endure the shrimp and grits - a bog with as many sliced cherry tomatoes as shrimp. A seafood travesty called the "showstopper" - built with leathery lobster, soggy battered fish, a heap of noodles and a faint tomato broth - brings lunch to a halt for all the wrong reasons. Hanger steak dappled with chimichurri wins the kitchen points for cooking the meat the way I ask.
The service is pleasant enough, but the pacing is awful; expect to get your entrees a few bites into your starters.
As far as I can taste, Founding Farmers, which has a spinoff in Potomac, upholds two crowd-pleasing principles: Cocktails should be well-made and cookie plates should fit in snickerdoodles, macaroons, gooey chocolate chip cookies and a peanut butter-flavored treat.
At my last sad meal in the light-filled boom box near the World Bank, I compared Founding Farmers to "Ishtar," the colossal box office failure. My glum companion put a finer point on it: "More 'Ish' than star." Agreed.
When the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are your closest neighbors, few other spots in the city have the global power-breakfast potential of Founding Farmers.
But you don't need to be a banker or ambassador to be well fed here: The restaurant's rustic greenhouse aesthetic, with exposed wood and metal beams, offers a homey welcome, as do the country-style hashes, specialty pancakes -- think red velvet and carrot cake -- and a take on the classic Southern fried chicken and waffles.
Parking in the West End can be hard to come by (particularly while rush-hour meter restrictions are in effect), but service is prompt yet unhurried: Leave about 30 minutes from menu to check.
Menu sampler: steel-cut Irish oatmeal, $5; buttermilk pancakes, $7-$9; fried chicken, eggs and waffles, $12.
--Alex Baldinger, April 11, 2012