The Farmer’s Table
205 Commercial St., Portland
In the seven years since I moved to Portland, the pale-yellow brick building at the corner of Commercial and Dana streets has housed no fewer than four different restaurants — five if you count the two different owners of Mim’s. It certainly looks like a good place to operate an eatery, with its waterfront location and sweet upstairs/downstairs twin patios, but for some reason the building seems cursed.
That obviously hasn’t dissuaded chef/owner Jeff Landry from trying his hand at righting this damaged battleship. Prior to opening The Farmer’s Table this March, Landry already had a solid résumé. He’s manned the kitchen at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport and worked as the executive chef at both Cinque Terre and, most recently, Eve’s at the Garden. So when I found out he had taken over the old Mim’s space, I figured it was worth checking out the weekend brunch.
My wife, 5-year-old daughter and I dropped in on a recent Sunday, shortly after noon. We were immediately led to one of several empty tables (the place will undoubtedly fill up earlier once tourist season begins in earnest). Our waitress brought two cups of strong, dark coffee before I had finished taking off my jacket. Good sign.
Taking advantage of the late hour, I cheerfully requested a Bloody Mary, my favorite afternoon, non-caffeinated, brunch beverage. It arrived a few minutes later garnished with two giant green olives completely submerged in the drink, so only the wooden skewer showed above the surface. If I may borrow a “phrase” from the tweeting vernacular: WTF? Garnish aside, the drink was a sad specimen. The horseradish overpowered all the other flavors. I pushed it aside and turned my attention to the menu.
The offerings leaned heavily toward the lunch end of the brunch spectrum, with dishes like a cider-braised pulled pork sandwich ($10) and mussels with chilies, Shipyard beer and garlic ($8) vying for my attention. But since this column is called the Breakfast Serial, not the Lunch Serial, my options were somewhat limited. There were a handful of breakfast-type items on the menu, including create-your-own omelets ($10) and a classic eggs benedict ($10).
I chose the “oscar benie” ($12), an eggs benedict made with Maine peekytoe crab and asparagus. It was, in a word, outstanding. The sweet crabmeat and light, lemony hollandaise complemented each other perfectly. The asparagus was fresh and crisp; the eggs were expertly poached. Even the English muffins were top shelf. And the accompanying home fries were absolutely righteous: simply prepared, crisp cubes of lightly salted potatoes — nothing more, nothing less. My wife had to order her own side of home fries lest she eat all of mine (which our marriage vows strictly forbid).
The Farmer’s Table had no sweet dishes. No pancakes, no French toast, no crepes — not even a muffin or a croissant, at least not on this particular day. My daughter was initially disappointed, but gamely agreed to try the fruit bowl. Of all our meals, this was by far the least appealing. The granola was soggy, the tart, plain yogurt had separated, and the overall effect was pretty underwhelming given the $9 price tag.
On the other hand, my wife’s sweet potato corned beef hash ($12) was definitely a winner. Diced sweet potatoes, onions and large chunks of brisket (sourced from Caldwell Farm in Turner) came with two eggs — again, poached to perfection — and rye toast. The waitress couldn’t recall which bakery the bread came from, only that it was “around here somewhere.”
We left The Farmer’s Table full and in good spirits. There are still a few kinks Chef Landry’s team needs to work out, but I’m confident they’ll get there. I’m also hopeful he’ll change up the menu as the seasons change, and maybe include something for those of us with a penchant for maple syrup.
The Farmer’s Table is exemplary of the ongoing trend toward upscale-yet-casual restaurants that focus on simple preparations of local ingredients. The prices are a little high compared to some similar options around town, but I suppose you’re paying extra for the location — perhaps to hedge against the curse.
— Dan Zarin
The Farmer’s Table serves brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.