Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to show some good friends one of my favorite DC restaurants, Founding Farmers. My dear friend Amy, who was one of my supervisors during my on-campus job in the community service office at Dickinson, was in town with her daughter, Meg, who was interviewing for grad school. Amy was like my on-campus mom. From the moment I met her, we had a special bond. I have been out of school for five years, and I still very much value our friendship.
When we discussed meeting up for dinner, I just knew I wanted to take them to Founding Farmers. It is hard to believe it has been seven years since I went to Founding Farmers for the first time. Chris and I went while we were interning in DC in the summer of 2012, and this was our special night out. I don’t know if it was the fact that we hadn’t had a meal out that wasn’t at Panera or if the food was really that good, but we were enamored by this restaurant from the start. Founding Farmers became our spot, and that continued after we graduated and both moved to DC.
Whenever I get the chance, I like to introduce friends to Founding Farmers, especially out of town visitors. It warms my heart that I have witnessed so many positive reactions to this restaurant, especially since I know the restaurant has received mixed reviews.
As I was preparing for dinner tonight, I remembered the scathing zero star review of Founding Farmers in the Washington Post in 2016. Restaurant critic Tom Sietsema called the restaurant overrated and annihilated the food. I largely disagree with his assessment.
That’s not to say that I don’t understand some of his points. I even agree with him on a couple matters. For one, it is ridiculously hard to get into this restaurant. I haven’t tried to walk into a Founding Farmers location in a long time, but it is generally not recommended to eat here without a reservation unless you want at least an hour wait.
Getting a reservation at Founding Farmers used to be incredibly difficult. That was still true at the time of his review. You needed to schedule two to three weeks in advance to get a decent reservation time, even on weekdays. I think some of the hype finally died down, because you can generally find reservations a couple days in advance, but weekend reservations are still hard to grab.
I never did quite understand why these reservations were so hard to come by. Sure, this restaurant is primely located on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. However, I can name a number of other restaurants with similar vibes and popularity in high tourist areas that aren’t that difficult to come across a reservation.
I also agree that the restaurant is too loud, though it does make sense with the overcrowded vibe of the restaurant. They could definitely have better acoustics though. He had a few other complaints, too, but his main criticism of the restaurant was the food, which confused me. I don’t know what food he is ordering, but it seems we aren’t eating at the same restaurant.
Nearly everything I have ordered at this restaurant and it’s other locations has triggered my pleasure senses. I have eaten the meatloaf, chicken and waffles, egg scrambles, crab melts, chicken fried steak with an in-house donut, pastas, mac and cheese, cornbread, among others. It is hard for me to resist always ordering the chicken and waffles (which comes with creamy mac and cheese). That is their most popular dish for a reason. I do try and survey the menu for new items, but I often circle back to the chicken and waffles.
I will admit that I was not found of the particular pasta dish I tried a couple years ago at the MoCo location. It was underwhelming and left me feeling like something was lacking. However, that is the only dish I have ever had there that didn’t knock me off my socks.
I feel like Sietsems isn’t ordering wisely on the menu. Sure, you might say that you should be able to order just about anything off a menu and be pleased if it is a good restaurant. I do feel though that being smart about what you order is an essential part of a good dining experience. I tend to order at a restaurant based on what I think will be the best taste/value. Getting to know a restaurants strengths and weaknesses can help make that decision. If you are a smart diner, you will be strategic about how you order at any restaurant. Plus, I have had a wide variety of dishes at this restaurant that I have loved. That’s a large enough sample to say it’s not a fluke that I had a couple good meals here. This may not be the best restaurant in DC, but it by no means deserves zero stars. The food alone should deserve at least three stars.
On Friday night, the three of us had a fantastic meal this past weekend. We started out with the hot crab and artichoke dip with house-made chips. We all were coming to the end of a long day and were famished. The crab dip hit the spot as we sipped our cocktails. The dish was bubbly and creamy. Paired with some chips instead of ciabatta bread, we devoured this appetizer. I enjoyed this more with the chips than I think I would have with ciabatta bread. The chips allowed us to scoop up this delicious dip while leaving the dip to still be the focal point. I personally would have chosen this pairing for the menu, but I am sure many people enjoy the ciabatta.
For our main course, I got the glazed cedar plank salmon, served with broccolini and whipped potatoes. Amy got the goat cheese ravioli with butternut squash. Meg got the cauliflower streak with broccolini and whipped potatoes.
I haven’t been to a Founding Farmers location in nearly two years, so I got a reminder of why I love this place so much. This dish combined sweet and savory in a delicious glaze on top of a piece of fish that came right apart with the touch of the fork. This is the melt in your mouth kind of salmon that was so satisfying after a long day at work. Paired with some vegetables and potatoes, this meal felt light but filling. So often I end up getting heavy dishes here, but I actually got a nutritious meal that didn’t steer me too far off my eating plan.
That was until Meg and I decided to split a rather large piece of vanilla bean cheesecake. We dug into this dessert so quickly that I didn’t even stop to take a picture. I found one online that doesn’t even do it justice. This cheesecake was very white, almost looking (and tasting) like vanilla bean ice cream. The use of vanilla bean was welcomed and apparent. There was no doubt that this cheesecake used real vanilla bean. It really did remind me of a less cold ice cream with a different texture. The cheesecake itself was divinely creamy. From the first bite, I felt utter euphoria as I swallowed that creamy vanilla goodness. I was reminded how good Founding Farmers’ pastry game is. This dessert renewed my desire to learn how to make cheesecake. I just might experiment soon now that I have a springform pan.
I know that I will be leaving DC soon, so I wanted to visit Founding Farmers one more time before I go. Even though it has been awhile since I have visited, Founding Farmers will always hold a special place in my heart though. DC has so many great restaurants to try, and this restaurant should be ranked among them.