The Farmhouse restaurant is not normally open on Monday nights, but the place was lively on the eve of the winter solstice, serving samples of food, wine and beer from its new winter menu in a free public event.
With a farm-to-table philosophy, The Farmhouse and its Chef Javan Small are committed to serving the freshest local products, and therefore the menu changes seasonally. The winter menu will be featured Dec. 21 through March 20.
The Dec. 20 event was called a vernissage, which is a French term for a preview of an art exhibit. Guests were able to view more than a dozen paintings by local artist Fran Ward Ackley, whose work is hung throughout the various dining rooms of the Farmhouse. The art displayed will remain for the duration of the winter menu, and is for sale.
This was the second vernissage. Management plans to host the event quarterly, introducing a different artist each time it switches to a new seasonal menu.
Because dinner was not being served, Chef Small had the opportunity to relax and mingle with guests. On a vernissage night "a lot of local people come in who may not have tried us before," he said. "We tease them with the new dishes."
As visitors stepped in from the cold, servers offered warm mugs of okra chili with a homemade corn muffin, which happens to be a vegan dish. Although the restaurant offers a variety of meat and seafood, it focuses on also having vegetarian cuisine available. "It's good to see repeat customers who are vegetarians," Small said. He is excited to try to make things taste good without animal fat or animal protein.
Guests had the opportunity to sample wine from Vynecrest Vineyards and Winery in Breinigsville and beers from Stockertown Beverage. Beverages from both suppliers had been on the menu in fall and received a very good reception from diners, according to general manager Jolene Mirenna. They will remain on the menu.
At the fall vernissage, about 150 people stopped by in a three-hour period, Mirenna said, and after one hour last night at least 50 had come, so it was on track to be another successful event. "Any time you can get your product in front of the public, it's a good thing," she said. "It's a good way to bring in the locals. They dig it."
Patrick Halloran entertained with Celtic music and storytelling.
Chef Small explained that he designed the winter menu with interesting plays on typical hearty, home-style dishes. For example, instead of regular meatloaf, there's goose meatloaf, grilled rather than baked, and served with gravy made from mushrooms from northeastern Pennsylvania. "I try to get as much as I can from local suppliers," Small said, "and make sure we're supporting local businesses."
After a fall season without beef on the menu (Small was being adventurous, and few diners minded the omission), he has added a beef dish with his special touches--beef tenderloin with a ground espresso/cumin rub, served with grilled polenta and seasonal vegetables.
Dinner prices in the upscale restaurant range from $13 to $38, with most entrees under $30. It also offers a small plate option, with dinner prices from $8 to $16.
The Farmhouse serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday and a new Sunday brunch.
There's a sign by the driveway on Chestnut Street about brunch, and "people are catching on," Small said. Yes, you can get eggs any style (all from a local farmer) and bacon (exceptional local bacon), but Small will always make sure there are dishes that go beyond the usual diner fare.
Small arrived at The Farmhouse in August. Most recently he worked for Hyatt Hotels in Cambridge.
Farmhouse co-owners are Michelle Quier and Art Schmidt, Jr.