What a difference a year makes. This time last year, a chef named Joe West was serving an ambitious, artistic menu — dishes spattered with flavored foams, fruit paints and carbonated grapes — at 300 Delaware. In the months that followed, West's restaurant, the Delaware Café, vanished into the same ether that swallowed up other fledgling operations, such as Matchstick Barbeque, Infused Restaurant & Bar, and Mandarinism.
Sure, it was a tough year for restaurants, but the space at 300 Delaware didn't stay vacant long. Another young chef, Michael Foust, leased the L-shaped storefront in the River Market almost as soon as it became available and reopened it in July as the Farmhouse, serving lunch and Saturday brunch. A few weeks ago, Foust finally added dinner service, too.
"I looked at a couple of locations after I moved back to Kansas City from Oregon," Foust says, "but I knew I wanted the Delaware location as soon as I saw it. The building has a great, positive energy, and it's so close to the City Market."
The proximity to the historic outdoor market was the deciding force for Foust and his chef de cuisine, Zeb Humphrey. Their restaurant is all about comfort food and using local and regional produce, meats and cheeses. It's nothing pretentious — Foust grimaces at the very idea of culinary novelties such as carbonated grapes — and nothing too country.
I've had zero experience with life on a farm, so I'm not sure what an actual farmer's wife might serve her family, but friends who did grow up on working farms assure me that the dinner table was usually laden with simple food like meatloaf or roast, fresh steamed vegetables and muffins. But Foust, who changes his menu frequently (sometimes daily) is considerably more creative. For example, there's his idea of the baked pastry — called an empanada, pasty or calzone in other cultures — that has been served as either a savory dish or a dessert since the 18th century. On a recent menu, Foust had a "turnover" made with tender braised rabbit wrapped in layers of buttery phyllo. Any other restaurant might have called the rabbity wrap a kind of spanakopita. At the Farmhouse, it's a turnover.
Foust, 38, has his reasons. He's celebrating his Midwest homecoming after culinary school in Portland, Oregon, and kitchen jobs in France and New York City. "I came back to Kansas City two years ago for family reasons," Foust told me one night. He was standing under a triptych of paintings by his mother, Victoria, depicting three tables of diners in a restaurant. (One of the canvases portrays Foust with a very glamorous ex-girlfriend.) "I've decided to stay because I think there's a lot I can do here."
He says he wants to educate his diners about what they're eating, but without proselytizing or boring them to death. He's not a vegetarian, but he offers at least one vegan starter and entrée on every menu. This is exactly the kind of menu that usually scares off my friend Bob, an unfussy meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. Bob wasn't sure about what kind of food a place called the Farmhouse might serve — it sounds like a place with pan-fried chicken and apple cobbler — so he called the restaurant. Foust answered the phone.
"He patiently described almost every dish and all the ingredients," Bob reported. "And by the end of the conversation, I was ravenous."
Bob and Kimberlee joined me for dinner at the Farmhouse that evening, and we shared a superb charcuterie plate with paper-thin slices of La Quercia Prosciutto and Speck, a robust country pâte, house-pickled vegetables, boiled eggs and crunchy toast points. Well, Bob and I shared the meats because Kimberlee only eats fish or chicken. She chose fat squares of ravioli, stuffed with roasted pumpkin purée and drizzled with brown butter, a succulent port reduction and crumbles of dried sage. I took one for myself, and it was heavenly. And the French onion soup? I all but licked the bowl clean.