By the time Brick Farm Tavern opened for business last Thursday (11/19/15), the reservation book at this long-awaited Hopewell restaurant, brought to you by the folks behind Double Brook Farm and Brick Farm Market, was already full for the next several weeks.
But the bar there, which has its own menu, operates on a first-come, first-serve basis, and so two nights later I and my husband, Bill, headed over. I was careful to make it there at opening time – 5 p.m. – in order to be assured a perch at the 12-seat bar. By 5:20, every seat was taken, both at the bar and at the hi-tops in the adjoining lounge. Ten minutes after that, the barroom was SRO. Joshua, our server, told us that the restaurant’s been slammed like this from the start.
I can see why. In October, when I interviewed Chef Greg Vassos and GM Mike Lykens for this preview in the Princeton Echo, they hoped to achieve a marriage of fine dining with “unpretentious, comfortable service.” Mission accomplished, at least in terms of Joshua (who, btw, is in the background below, and who also works at Agricola in Princeton). He was the personification of grace under pressure.
Vassos and Lykens also promised that the restaurant would put to use of every kind of meat, egg, fruit, vegetable, herb, etc. produced at Double Brook Farm, supplemented with that of nearby farms. So I went local with my cocktail, of which the bar features 5 house creations, each $12. I chose La Manzana, a refreshing, balanced blend of Espolon reposada tequila and Lillet with Terhune apple cider, lime, and house-made hay salt. When I inquired about that last, Joshua took the time to describe how it’s made and to give us a sample taste. (It is fleur de sel, smoked ’til black, over hay.)
The wood for the bar, btw, was reclaimed from the nearby estate of Charles Lindbergh, and newly crafted. (A fuller description of this American farm-to-table restaurant, including its owners and the handsome, circa-1812 farmhouse that is its home is included in the above link to my Echo story.)
I’m impressed with the wine-by-the-glass selections, which lead off with interesting and unexpected choices, including Arneis from Piemonte, Kerner (a cross between Trollinger & Riesling) from Alto Adige, Prieto Picudo from Castilla y Leon, and my husband’s choice, Giel Pinot Noir from Reinhessen.
The bar’s food menu is short, smart, and appealing, as you can see. As is the trend, it lists ingredients only – giving equal billing to each, with zero descriptors about preparation. Instead, servers are tasked with sharing helpful but painfully detailed explanations.
Word to the wise: Tuscan-fries-showered-with-pecorino. Cut thin and short, brined, fried in plenty of oil, salty, and addictive. If I had one wish, it would be that they were sprinkled with Pecorino throughout, not just on top. The smoky housemade ketchup is a match made in heaven.
It’s possible that just about every ingredient in the Double Brook burger – save the compte cheese and salt – is from the restaurant’s farm or, like the bun, made at Brick Farm Market. This helps explain its $18 price tag. But the burger’s so decadently good that it renders both provenance and price moot. Even though the menu says it’s accompanied by pomme frites, those Tuscan fries showed up. No complaint here.
When the Lamb Bolognese arrived, I thought the portion looked skimpy. But the dish is so rich and satisfying, and so loaded with thick coins of lamb merguez sausage, that it suffices. The short, thick, ribbed tubular pasta appeared to be fresh and housemade, and was cooked more al dente than customary. (I prefer it that way, but I suspect others may not.) I can’t say I detected distinct flavor from the strands of calendula (a type of marigold), and although the sausage itself suffered from too much salt, it wasn’t enough to deter me from finishing the dish with gusto.
Meanwhile, the folks next to me raved about their chicken wings and the Brick Farm charcuterie – a gorgeous, generous platter and a bargain at $14. For dessert Bill & I shared pumpkin mousse on praline shortbread. It’s topped with maple ice cream and hay salt foam and garnished with stewed and geleed cranberries. All the flavors were quite muted, though, so we wished we had opted instead for the only other choice: the pecan dessert, which Joshua had earlier informed us was the staff’s favorite. (Lesson: Always listen to a server you trust.)
By the time I was sipping a perfect espresso, the crowd at our backs had grown even larger (and hungrier) and Bill & I fantasized about how much we could make if we auctioned off our seats to the highest bidder. That, alas, would run counter to the friendly, comfy-yet-refined vibe here.
It’s something akin to magic when a restaurant is in total alignment with what the surrounding community craves and supports. Although it’s still early days, that seems to be exactly what I witnessed throughout the restaurant’s warren of charming dining rooms. This, despite the many fine establishments right within tiny Hopewell (The Blue Bottle and Brothers Moon, to name just two) and in nearby Princeton (Agricola, Elements, Mistral, etc.) As I overheard one returning (returning!) customer remark to Joshua, “We are glad you’re here.”