An Omnivore reader, Steve Harper, and five friends visited the new Farmstead 303 Friday night. Steve filed the following report. Please keep in mind that the restaurant had only been open a few days when he visited.
"The Decatur dining crowd obviously knows how to welcome newcomers, as the place was packed. This was only the fourth day the restaurant had been open for business, and, as our waitress entreated when we inquired about the hour-long delay in receiving our entrees later in the visit, the staff's first Friday night serving experience.
"That delay sums up my overall sense so far about Farmstead: it may end up being great -- the vision seems to be updated Southern cuisine with a sustainable farming flair -- but the elements -- both service and food -- are not yet all in place.
"My starter, a bowl of corn chowder with a floating toast round covered in butterbean puree, was just all right flavor-wise, though the butterbean crouton thing could be adapted into an excellent appetizer on its own, I think, with its mix of creamy and crunch. Occasional strong bursts of pepper were the most favorable mention for the chowder's flavor itself; chewing through the stringy bits of something nearly inedible in there the least.
"An app receiving favorable mention by the table for not being too fried (I tried one tasty bite) was the four triangles of fried blue cheese grits topped with "tomato gravy." I heard neither approval nor disapproval for the fried chicken liver bruschetta. (Bad critic! I should have pinned 'em down, though three bites on a seven-dollar app might have struck me mute, too, I guess.)
"Entrees are priced in the $14-$24 range, comparable for the area. I chose the $17 Georgia mountain trout entree, as I was interested in the beet pancake and horseradish sauce (maybe not in the same bite!). That pancake was the star of the plate: picture wonderfully gingery, sweet deep purple hash browns. The fish was cooked just fine and was flavorful, but I had to refamiliarize myself with the menu while writing this to even remember that the white stuff on the plate was intended to be horseradish. (I think it was just a cream sauce.) The promised pecans were AWOL, and spinach was instead some other green, a garnish rather than a substantive healthy veggie addition.
"Other plates on the table were the fried chicken, meatloaf, wild Scottish salmon, and the roast duck breast, which my friend polished off handily with positive comment. We were going to try the Banana Split brulee dessert until our server explained it was not an actual creme brulee, but a seared banana alongside the ice cream dish. No thanks!
"The bar has a decent, if small, selection of beer on tap -- nothing to rival Brick Store just up the hill, but that would be a tall order, indeed. I had Sweetwater IPA. A friend's cosmo got a nod of approval. There are a few Southern cocktails (Pimm's, a julep) on the list, as well.
"There was a considerable delay in the food getting to the table without reassurance from the staff (until pressed), as I mentioned. This was a kitchen problem. At one point, I looked around the room and no one was actually eating anything.
"Until Farmstead 303 has a chance to iron out the kinks, I think it is hard to estimate what its contribution to the already-amazing downtown Decatur dining scene will be. So far, it seems the concept is ahead of the execution."
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