Back in 2012, farm-to-table was a relatively new concept in Toronto. Showcasing heavy meat-centric, nose-to-tail fare and local produce to an audience not yet versed in offcuts, offal, heirloom vegetables, microgreens and other now mainstream ingredients, was a gamble. And steep learning curve for both staff and diners.
Luckily, Farmhouse Tavern, set in a rustic building at the edge of The Junction, stuck with the movement that’s now a part of our culinary landscape. They’ve been delivering a homey rural Ontario farmhouse feel ever since.
The space, divided into three distinct rooms, is also laid-back, filled with antiques and charming finds - vintage stove set in the middle of the dining room, unique table (rows of license plates under glass) in front. The private dining room in back feels like being at a family cottage.
Abandoning the idea of perusing menus on paper, simply look to the blackboards for daily food, cocktail, wine, and beer and options.
It’s the perfect setting for the seemingly simply, made-from-scratch fare that’s in fact thoughtfully, intricately crafted.
Hyper local and seasonal
Head chef Ash MacNeil came back into the fold in September, but has worked for owner Darcy MacDonell on and off since 2015, working at renowned Toronto east end resto Ruby Watchco and spots in Sun Peaks, British Columbia in the interim.
In the hands of MacNeil and her close-knit crew - cooks Nico Jestadt, Shomari Bertrand, and Henry Wells – the focused brunch and dinner menus have been modernized. Think: lighter and brighter, vegetable-forward, and innovative, with classic dishes still in place - including top-seller Ploughman’s Platter ($25). Portions are plentiful, featuring a bounty of carefully curated items.
MacNeil, one of five brand ambassadors for 100 Km Foods Inc. in the GTA, says, “My foundation is in local. Eating seasonally and locally is best for sustainability, and it forces me to be creative.
The menu changes every few weeks, with tweaks made to dishes more often if need be or stellar ingredients arrive fresh from the farm.
Dishes showcase ingredients prepared with great care: pickled, turned into dust, raw, deep-fried.
Take the Carrot Tartare ($12), for instance. Taking the root veg and having fun with it, the team has created an “ingredient-forward” dish, as MacNeil calls it, using raw heirloom carrots and other fresh vegetables and herbs. The result is not a vegan iteration of the meat dish, but a fresh, herbaceous, novel approach to vegetables. And it’s light and clean enough that you’ll scoop up the entire dish before realizing it was meant to be shared. Oops.
Other vegetable highlights: Gluten- and dairy-free, Vegan Harvest ($18), which is always on the menu. And no, you won’t need a burger after this feast. Recently, roasted acorn squash was filled with a cornucopia of sweet and savoury roots - radishes, celery root, turnip, parsley roots, rutabaga tossed in sherry vinaigrette, topped with purple cabbage. Some are knobby and still have rooted ends attached as if pulled from the earth earlier in the day. The veg vessel, set atop a tantalizing beet purée, delivers an deep earthiness with bright, acidic notes.
And Brussels Sprouts Caesar ($11), with house-cured smoked bacon and biscuit croutons (vegetarian version also available) is one of the best ways to get your greens without having to resort to yet another dreary salad.
Meat of the matter
The menu consists of about 65 per cent meat dishes, with Short Rib Pasta ($20) and Bone Marrow ($15) having made recent appearances.
The marrow is “so fresh I refuse to cook it,” says MacNeil. Instead, the “meat butter” gets brined in salt water for 24 hours, and roasted to order, served with fresh figs, braised cherries, pickled shallots, fresh shaved green radish, and thick slices of broiled sourdough from Mattachioni a few doors down. The pickled ingredients cut the unctuousness without taking away from luxuriousness of it all. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to your mouth. Which is something, because up until now, hasn’t most bone marrow tasted pretty much the same to you?
Meat also happens to be a love of MacNeil’s. Getting in big whole ducks allows her and the crew to create a number of dishes and perfect their butchery – wings and legs are confited, while duck breasts are pan seared as well as cured for prosciutto featured in the Ploughman’s Platter.
Like everything at Farmhouse, ingredients and dishes are meant to be shared, and ever changing and evolving, but thankfully the Ploughman’s Platter is here to stay. The board towers with carefully crated ingredients: Rustic, crumbly house terrine with ground duck, pork, chicken liver, and maple cherries; House smoked roasted turkey breast infused with a gentle smoke, juicy, not dried out at all; Beet pickled soft boiled duck egg; Soft boiled panko crusted duck egg; Dark Side of the Moo cheese; Lindsay goat cheddar; House pickles; Kozlik’s mustard – a perfect balance of protein, acidity, and creamy goodness that will tide you over for the whole damn day.
Brunch, burgers, booze + f-bombs
Brunch has always been banging here. With famous Eggs Benny ($14-$18), vegetarian and vegan options, freshly made cheddar herb scones, it’s no wonder there’s a lineup out the door every weekend.
Booze too, is way popular. The wine list is exclusively Ontario, including the Farmhouse label made with biodynamic, organic vineyard Southbrook Farms. You’ll also find a small cocktail list and considerable local offerings when it comes to beer.
Deals are to be had as well. On Thursdays there’s Buck a Shuck Oysters, and Burger & Beer for “staff pricing.” F*** Mondays happen on Sundays, with hourly specials start at 3pm, dishes crossed off the board as they run out.
Built to last
All these years later, Farmhouse Tavern still draws a crowd. Between the fun, lively atmosphere, local food and drink, and infusion of new dishes and concepts, the restaurant that’s been around for what seems like forever, continues to stand with Toronto’s top spots.
1627 Dupont St.
Text (416) 561-9114 for reservations
Thurs + Fri 5:45pm -10pm
Sat + Sun 10:30am-10pm
For more photos, head to @toronto_restaurants.