Thursday, December 11, 2008

Eat and Be Berry

Photo from Farmicia's website

Most Penn students are familiar with Metropolitan Bakery, the quaint café home to hand-baked bread, locally crafted cheeses and widely coveted house-made granola. Those partial to organic ingredients and eager to support artisan traditions appreciate the store’s natural approach to food. But few that frequent the fondly dubbed "Metro" know of Philadelphia's Old City offshoot of the bakery, Farmicia Restaurant.

The brainchild of Metropolitan owners James Barrett and Wendy Smith Born along with White Dog Cafe's Kevin Klause, Farmicia cultivates the same principle of connecting to local sustainable agriculture as Metropolitan. Its extensive menu brimful with unprocessed and environmentally conscious dishes offers a sit-down dining experience for Metropolitan devotees seeking to spend a little more time at the table.

In fact, as a supporter of the Slow Food movement, Farmicia literally invests more time and consideration in the preparation and serving of its cuisine. Assistant manager Josh Meal explains, "It's the process of slowly growing foods that take time to grow properly without any kind of outside help. The food [also] takes time to prepare, plate and present."

Meal says the restaurant's subscription to the Slow Food mentality is a large part of the appeal of working there. So, too, is the camaraderie among employees. "The people I work with are more family than co-workers," he says.

Waitress Hilary White-Speir seconds the testament to the amiable atmosphere. "I like the people I work with a lot," she says. "There's not a lot of drama here."

The bonhomie shines through to customers. Penn senior Carlin Adelson loved Farmicia’s hearty but healthy menu, but really relished the dining experience for its amicable vibe. “The ambience was delightful,” she recalls.

White-Speir also appreciates her job at Farmicia for its eco-consciousness. As a vegetarian, she prizes the restaurant's environmentally friendly bill of fare. Another Penn senior and Farmicia fan Jane Sussman attests to the fact that the restaurant caters to meat-abstainers. White-Speir's favorite dish right now is the new Roasted Butternut Squash Salad. Meal and another Penn senior, Laura Sagues, named the salad as their top pick as well.

But the seasonally rotational menu, changing four or five times a year according to Meal, provides an abundant sample of local tastes. The owners pride themselves on offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch menus that all capture the essence of the Pennsylvania farming community. “If you are from outside Philly and you want to get a taste for what’s local here, it’s kind of nice to have that opportunity,” says White-Speir.

Even the wine list boasts bottles made from organically grown, biodynamically cultivated grapes. "We buy a lot from the Amish," says White-Speir. "Everything is fresh, nothing is pre-made or shipped from somewhere else."

Farmicia bartender Ed Jones particularly appreciates the venue’s wholesomeness as his previous work experience consisted solely of mainstream commercial bars. “I like the commitment to local farming and the clean quality of the food,” he says.

But the deeply personal investment of the owners is what really sets Farmicia apart in Meal's eyes. "There are so many corporate restaurants that are more about money-making than anything else," Meal says. "I feel the love and care behind [Farmicia] makes it unique." Kevin, one of the owners, designed and decorated the rustic-themed space himself, and the servers treat customers warmly and are intimately familiar with the menu.

Jones says Kevin also keeps the community connection strong outside the 122-seat restaurant. “He is very committed to local recycling projects and school outreaches,” Jones says.

Yet another Penn senior, Natalie Pitcher, confirms the uniqueness of Farmicia in that she ate there three years ago and still remembers how delicious she found the meal. "It was the best lunch I've ever had at Penn," she proclaims.

Meal says the owners have shelved their plans to expand to Delaware for now, so in the meantime Philadelphians can pride themselves on the uniqueness of this local hot spot.

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