There is no farm on Flatbush Avenue,” said the man when I called for a cab. In a way, he was correct.
Flatbush Farm, an eatery and bar in Park Slope, is as much a farm as Disney Land is a cultural center. Sure, it has the organic produce and a couple of tools hanging over the bar. But a farm? No way. Not when the waitstaff is this city chic and the interior this quirky. The food is rustic, but farm grub it is not.
I knew the name was meant to be cheeky the moment I entered. The restaurant section of the property (there’s also a bar — or “bar(n)” — with a separate entrance) is ringed with black wainscoting. The floor is black, too, and quirky odds and ends that look as if they were culled from the home of an eccentric uncle are arranged artfully over the black bar.
And no farm girl ever looked like the soft-spoken, striking manager Melissa Kallsen, either. That is, unless long braids have been traded for bald heads (Melissa’s scalp is tattooed with a gorgeous, swirling morning-glory vine).
In July, owner Damon Gorton revamped the former Bistro Saint Marks, starting with the bar side. Once the kitchen was functioning, Gorton hired chef Eric Lind (formerly of Lutece, Osteria del Circo and Bayard’s), who created the dinner menu in September.
Lind set the tone for the cooking: hearty, informal fare that references Eastern Europe, Italy, the U.K. and even rural America. But last month, Lind moved on, leaving his sous chef, Stephen Browning (also of Bayard’s), to oversee the kitchen.
Browning has nixed a couple of his predecessor’s dishes and tweaked a few ingredients, but the spirit of the food — and cocktails (such as the “Mo’ Stomy,” a bracing mix of ginger juice, ginger ale, dark rum, mint and lime) — remains the same.
None of the fare is particularly light, which is fine for appetizers and entrees. But heavy desserts brought a thud to the end of my meal on my first visit (a layered crepe affair in particular tasted like it was iced with mud). My second dinner at Flatbush Farm though, included delightful finales.
The goat cheese panna cotta has evolved from an overly tart pudding badly matched with a crown of sour cranberries. Twice proved to be the charm for the dessert. Its acidity was mellowed and tender raspberries added the necessary sweetness. Rum and segments of orange cut the richness of a slice of pleasantly bitter chocolate terrine while pistachio nuts added a bit of crunch. A spicy, warm walnut cake was lightened with a scoop of tangy whipped creme fraiche.
There’s a dish on the “Start it” section of the menu that defines the casual-yet-sophisticated cuisine here. Take a bite of the lush, pan-fried chicken livers and your teeth pass through a crusty, well-salted exterior into a juicy, soufflé-like center. The saline quality is set off by halves of sweet, silky, slow-roasted onions. A bit of frisee in creamy mustard dressing pierces the liver’s richness.
Slices of warm braised tuna belly were paired with tart pickled onions, arugula and slow-cooked navy beans in a sprightly dressing. The slight acidity of the sides added just enough oomph to the mild, beefy taste of the fish.
Slow roasting deepened the flavor of a rich butternut squash soup. Small chunks of the vegetable, its edges caramelized and its interior buttery, added textural interest.
I’d skip the limp spaetzle with mushrooms in a blah broth, for a couple of the sublimely fresh raw oysters. They’re served icy cold and perfect as is, but a bit of cocktail sauce with just a hint of horseradish didn’t hurt.
After tasting the pappardelle with stringy, flavorless wild hare ragout, I surmised that pasta isn’t the chef’s forte. He has a way with poultry, though, such as his “duck choucroute.” A large leg of the house-smoked game sits over tart sauerkraut that serves as a foil for the lush, fall-off-the-bone meat. Slices of moist breast with a brittle cloak of skin possess the same deep, dark-meat intensity as the leg.
As succulent as the bird is, it’s nearly upstaged by chunks of potato sauteed, then deep-fried, in duck fat. You’ll need several miles on the treadmill after downing this one, but it’s worth every artery-clogging bite.
Half a chicken cooked in a cast-iron skillet is crisp-skinned and moist. Creamy grits that accompany the bird needed salt, but spicy collard greens go a long way to brighten the dish.
I have two small complaints about Flatbush Farm: On a Sunday evening when the restaurant was busy, the wait between the appetizers and the entrees dragged. I assume that will be resolved as Browning settles into the kitchen.
And there are the glasses. I don’t care how “down home” a restaurant is, wine gets demoted a notch when it’s poured into a tumbler. (You can ask for an appropriate glass if you don’t find this serving style charming.)
When the cab driver noticed the huge red florescent Flatbush Farm sign he snickered. “A farm?” he said. “Right,” I replied. “And we’re a couple of ranch hands.”
Flatbush Farm (76–78 St. Marks Ave. at Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope) accepts MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $14–$20. The restaurant serves dinner daily. Brunch is available on weekends from 10:30 am to 3 pm. Subway: 2 to Bergen Street. For more information, call (718) 622-3276 or visit www.flatbushfarm.com.