December 22, 2016
If our country’s arguably most iconic farmer and distiller George Washington were alive today, what would he eat? What liquors would he concoct? How would he like to dine?
Those are the questions that restaurateurs Mike Vucurevich and Dan Simons, along with the North Dakota Farmer’s Union, try to answer with joy in their newest restaurant, Farmers & Distillers (600 Massachusetts Ave. NW), which opened December 13. It’s the latest project from the team behind the uber-popular (and uber-disparaged) Founding Farmers and Farmers Fishers Bakers restaurants. DCist was invited in as the restaurant’s guest to check out the space and sample a few of the dishes.
The restaurant aims to please: diverse “microclimates” with varying lighting, intimacy, and overall vibes are aimed at appealing to diners of all moods and tastes. While slick and modern like its sisters, the establishment is also injected with a healthy dose of fun and quirk. There are colorful gopher statues clambering up a wall, a tree house, and a life-sized cutout of Tipsy the alpaca drinking at the bar. The counter itself is engraved with humorous phrases from Washington’s book on manners.
Like the other Farmers restaurants, the menu here is vast, offering something for everyone, but perhaps overwhelming eaters in the process. The dishes are inspired by a wide-ranging vision of Washington’s taste: European cooking is a callback to the first president’s lifetime when the elite coveted French flavors, Southern cuisine offers a deep, unflinching gratitude to the enslaved people that forged a vibrant food culture in America, and Chinese elements are a nod to the restaurant’s proximity to the Chinatown neighborhood.
Everything possible is bought directly from small farmers, brewers, and roasters or created in-house. Rye whisky, gin, pisco, and other liquors are made in a fully functioning distillery viewable through an open window at the bar. Wines come from New York and Virginia vintners.
As a starter, I tried their addictive take on spring rolls, a deceptively simple recipe birthed from the three aforementioned food traditions. The long, thin pastries are rolled from French feuille de brick dough, filled with sweet potato, fried to perfect crispness, then topped with a fragrant sesame-maple sauce and a sprinkling of green onion. The smaller plates (including dumplings, bone broth, and salads) range from $5 to $14, unless you count the oysters and caviar, which can cost quite a bit more.
For an entree, I had the tortellini stuffed with sweet cornbread, which is complimented by savory, salty ham hock. The chewy noodles (which I enjoyed, but may be too thick for some) are made in-house and get a bath of fragrant broth along with nutty black eyed peas, precisely-cooked collard greens, and additional generous shreds of tender ham stewed for hours to obtain their deep flavor. The portion was generous and the dish delicious, particularly the cornbread insides….read more here.