When my Los Angeles-born-and-bred friend suggested Founding Farmers for our first reunion since she fled chilly DC for La-La land, I’ll admit I thought she had bought into the West Coast health obsession and was trying to convert me to the Church of Organic Bullshit. From the moment I stepped through the revolving doors into the downstairs dining room and was greeted by the precious hostess until the moment I wedged my overstuffed self out those same doors–any preconceived notions I had about organic fine dining were entirely dashed.
I really have to tip my hat to Founding Farmers’ founding fathers for their total commitment to the concept: they’ve managed to become the first restaurant in DC, and the first full-service, upscale-casual restaurant in the country, to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification. You would think that you’d pay dearly for their wholehearted devotion to farm-to-table and organic ingredients, but I’m happy to report that their prices were shockingly low. Small plates average about $7 each, but each decadent bite packs a punch that will leave you slightly daunted at the prospect of an entree. The main courses are similarly reasonable considering the hearty portions and willingness of the competent and friendly waitstaff to pack it up. Cocktails are on the spendy side, hovering around $11, but if the abstemious offerings are any indication, I’m sure every sip is its own special paradise.
I was pleasantly surprised when our server placed a large menu in front of each of us: when it comes to menu options, more is usually more, and in the case of Founding Farmers, there’s truly something for everyone. Fried green tomatoes were served with a signature “Green Goddess” sauce of avocado, garlic, and mayonnaise that tasted like it was prepared by Demeter herself. The lobster mac and cheese was so tart and rich that after three bites, we were each leaning back in our seats, rolling our eyes and moaning since the sheer hedonism had robbed us of our verbal skills. Each luscious word describing the drinks on the cocktail menu was intoxicating—I laughed out loud at the blurb below “Death in the Afternoon”: “‘Pour one jigger of absinthe into a champagne glass. Add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.’ -Ernest Hemingway.” Were I not struggling through the second fortnight of a teetotalling month (cleansing myself of the indulgences of the month prior) I would have happily followed Papa Hemingway’s advice. At least Executive Bar Chef Jon Arroyo would have, as each alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink on the menu is made to order with all-natural ingredients. I opted for the hand-shaken iced tea sweetened with agave and brown sugar, while my friend chose the unsweetened version. We both agreed that mine was the better choice, and worth the $4 no-refill price tag for the perfect blend of fresh and sweet every time.
The decor was modern without being chilly, comfortable but never sloppy: soft light radiates from cotton-swathed cloud lamps and from white and black ceramic birds. I felt as though I had walked into an incredibly chic farmhouse, perhaps one that Anna Wintour would live in if Conde Nast acquired Town & Country. Recycled wood interior and silo-shaped booths absorb sound so even at capacity the noise was never distracting. Jarred fruits and vegetables line the walls both upstairs and down, but an especially sweet touch was the faux graffiti scrawled on the bathroom walls. Instead of the usual “Tiffany <3s Chad,” patrons of Founding Farmers can ponder rules of etiquette while washing their hands in a trough-like ceramic sink (fully automated, natch) or using the incongruous but totally appropriate cutting-edge hand dryer. Those wasteful paper towels are so very 2008, or hadn’t you heard?
By: Leeza Papalanis