Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sustainability is the green plate special at Founding Farmers


This past week, I was fortunate enough to get a sneak preview of an exciting new addition to DC's restaurant scene, Founding Farmers, which offers an upscale, yet straightforward take on "green" dining with a heartland slant. Inspired by the fresh bounty of America's family farmers, Chef Graham Duncan cooks up homemade classic American dishes, with a focus on sustainably sourced and locally grown ingredients wherever possible. The sleek, yet casual setting complements the restaurant's commitment to sustainability - the space is LEED-designed, and has been designated a Certified Green Restaurant.

With an expansive menu spanning a wide variety of farm-grown fare, Founding Farmers will satisfy an impressive range of eco-conscious appetites. From Oysters Rockefeller to Farmer's Meatloaf to Maine Lobster Rolls to the Fresh Ground Frisco Burger, the menu winks and nods at a whole host of regional food genres and traditions. It's an aptly representative hodgepodge of American tastes for a restaurant located in the heart of the nation's capital, just blocks from the buildings where politicians and lobbyists debate and vote on legislation like the 2008 Farm Bill, among other things.

Founding Farmers is actually owned by a collective of more than 40,000 American family farmers, often referred to as the North Dakota Farmers Union, a group devoted to the economic and social well-being of farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.  The emphasis on farm-grown ingredients is of particular interest to me, given the battered condition of America's family farms.  Just days before my meal there, I had finished reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma," Michael Pollan's elegant exploration of the contemporary eater's complicated relationship to the food on his or her plate. Pollan examines how our changing food landscape has impacted family farmers, specifically how the rise of fast food has created a demand for the efficient and automated mass production of dextrose and starch products. The consequent industrialization of the planting and harvesting processes has created such a surplus of supply that low corn prices can't support farmers working at a sustainable, human scale.

It's against this backdrop that restaurants like Founding Farmers remind us of the pleasures of slow food versus fast, the value of community (guests can choose to dine at communal tables and share family size portions), and the sheer deliciousness of food that has been handled with a careful human touch. And it is delicious, indeed. My Southern Pan Fried Chicken was a beautiful golden crisp on the outside, and moist and tender inside. Served with a creamy white gravy, and a funnel cake waffle, the dish is a clever riff on a dish with deep roots in America's culinary history, but also conjured up happy memories of the Iowan county and state fairs that dotted the summers of my youth. I can't wait to go back again and try the Bacon Lollis: Nueske's bacon with a glaze of cinnamon and brown sugar. I'm also excited to try dishes like the 17 Vegetable Salad, handmade Ricotta Ravioli, the Prosciutto, Fig, and Mascarpone Flatbread, and the herb-rubbed Pork Tenderloin with a honey apple glaze.

The large, multi-level space (designed by CORE architecture + design), employs playful touches (bird-shaped lighting fixtures, fuschia-colored accents) combined with an urban farmhouse aesthetic where stainless steel fixtures blend seamlessly with handcrafted wood tables. An expansive bar area houses Founding Farmers' innovative bar program, where Bar Chef Jon Arroyo proffers small batch brewery beers and bourbons, organic and biodynamic wines, and 'chef-crafted' cocktails, like The Constituation (a heady combo of Plymouth Gin, chamomile, blueberries, lemon, and ginger liqueur). No green detail is overlooked at Founding Farmers; among the many sustainable touches, menus are printed on recycled paper using soy-based ink, and the interior was painted using low and no-fume paints.

The fantastic food and whimsical decor at Founding Farmers make for a fun experience. So fun, in fact, that it would be easy to dine there without thinking too hard about the people behind the food, without thinking too hard about the plight of our family farmers, and without thinking too hard about what's at stake for our rapidly disintegrating culinary traditions, not to mention (at the risk of sounding pedantic) the health of our bodies and our planet. Perhaps we do fun things like dining out because we want to escape, if only for a couple hours, from our worries, and from a world in which it's exponentially easier to obtain a Big Mac than a health insurance plan. But as restaurants like Founding Farmers hope to remind us, perhaps we shouldn't have to escape at all.

Good to know:
Founding Farmers is located in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) HQ2 building at 1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, at the corner of 20th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW. It is easily accessible via Farragut West or Foggy Bottom Metro stops on the Orange/Blue lines.

Thanks to Jennifer at SPIN DC for the deconstructed logo image and other assistance with this article.

4 comments:

ibendorf said...

Wow, the menu looks fantastic, and with a huge variety of veg-friendly items, too. It's great to see another green-conscious restaurant in DC. Can't wait to try it the next time I'm in the district!

Jennifer said...

For people interested in sustainability, I wanted to let you know about a new green networking event, Eco-Tuesday.

It's a monthly networking event, which brings together sustainable minded people from all areas of business. It started February of 2007 in San Francisco and has grown it's way across the country.

You'll meet professionals from all areas of the market. It's a place where information, contacts and ideas are passed in a casual atmosphere. Did we mention 2 for 1 drink specials? Yes, it's a laid back affair with some structure. This month's speaker will be John Friedman, Vice Chair and Board of Director for the Sustainable Business Networks of Washington.

Where & when?
Tuesday, October the 28th
6 to 8pm, at Tabaq Lounge
(near the U street/Cardozo Metro Station)

You can RSVP for this FREE event at:
http://ecotuesday-october28-dc.eventbrite.com/

Bring a friend and enjoy some drinks and sustainable conversations!

If you have any questions, just let us know. Looking forward to it.

Regards,
Taylor Martin & Jennifer Kaplan
EcoTuesday Ambassadors

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