As more and more of us embrace the locavore movement and seek to support restaurants who wear their local colors on their sleeves, the North Dakota Farmers Union (the folks who brought us Agraria) and Executive Chef Graham Duncan are going a step beyond.  Sure, they’re focused on bringing in the best locally-sourced ingredients…but they’re also quick to point out their LEED gold certification, an impressive Green credential currently unmatched in DC.  

<<EDIT: Founding Farmers “has been designed to meet USGBC LEED Gold design criteria /standards, but final commissioning and certification has not yet occurred.”  Thanks for the clarification, Jennifer!>>

Founding Farmers, which will open to the public for dinner tomorrow, promises “true food and drink” to customers in the form of seasonal fresh produce, sustainable seafood (sourced from Philadelphia-based purveyor Samuels & Sons), and cocktails prepared from house-made mixers and ingredients by a team of “bar-chefs.”  They are the first DC restaurant LEED-certified by the US Green Building Council and named as a Certified Green Restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association

We had the opportunity to catch a sneak peek at the fruits of the Farmers’ labors last night in their final night of soft service.  Though the restaurant does not officially open until tomorrow, they have been running several nights of mock service to help work out some of the remaining kinks so they can start out firing on all cylinders.  First impressions and some more photos after the jump.

 I arrived a little early for a 7:30 reservation and made my way to the bar that is the central feature of the ground floor space.  Taking a look at the cocktail list, I was really impressed.  The drink list reads like a roll call of the originals and the best, which should be a huge hit in light of the current fascination with classic cocktails (as evidenced by the success of PX and other local ventures).  Dark and Stormy.  Blood and Sand.  Mint Julep.  Sazerac.  Old-Fashioned.  If they were drinking it in the Forties and Fifties, you can bet that the mixologists – sorry, ‘bar chefs’ – can recreate it for you without breaking a sweat.

We were seated quickly at one of the tables that run along the front window, which gave more than a few chances to do some people watching as folks passed by (and in some cases stopped to stare in) on Pennsylvania Avenue.  To help familiarize their staff with the breadth of their offerings, Founding Farmers was offering a “We are ‘Green’ Event” menu that allowed us to choose an appetizer and two entrees from a set list.  This also gave management a chance to regulate traffic going into the kitchen and to avoid a run on some of the most popular items.  Let’s just say both still have some work to do before Thursday night’s opening, as we were told after ordering that both of the entrees we opted for were no longer available and we ended up waiting quite a while for our appetizer before receiving a duplicate soon after the first arrived.

Our food was tasty and solid – good, not great – though the vegetable sides could have done with more seasoning.  But a soft service, with its limited menu choices and focus on communication and timing, isn’t really a chance to see the kitchen’s creativity in full swing.  In a case like this, where the restaurant’s use of local ingredients and environmentally-friendly practices are its defining characteristics, it was good to see faithful executions whose flavors and plating stand up to comparison with the same dishes at restaurants across the city.  The full menu seemed to offer plenty of opportunities to try new and interesting items – flatbreads draped with La Quercia prosciutto and spread with fig and mascarpone, a Cowboy King ribeye served with the long bone still intact, an assortment of deviled eggs with some really unique fillings.  I was practically drooling over the idea of Nueske bacon “lollipops” and will definitely be trying them next time I visit.  Chef Duncan and his crew will have their hands full turning out such a wide variety of dishes, but their pledge to use the best and freshest ingredients should make quite a few of them into easy favorites.

Founding Farmers is huge – with three communal tables seating 10 or more each and a number of round booths decorated to look like segments of a grain silo it can easily seat as many as 250 guests on two levels at any given time.  The design of the restaurant, put together by CORE architecture + design, makes use of reclaimed wood for floors and tables and a wide range of materials to give it a ‘fresh off the farm’ feel without creating an overly folksy atmosphere.  But it’s the little touches that make you smile despite yourself – the wrench used as a door handle in the men’s bathroom, the ‘flock’ of light fixtures above you as you walk up to the second floor dining room.

We definitely experienced a few hiccups and we waited for siginificant periods from time to time during the meal, but it was nothing insurmountable and the point of a soft service is to address the issues of timing and communication that are almost unavoidable when a restaurant is just getting started.  For now, we’re looking forward to checking out a restaurant with such a great backstory once they’re up and running with their feet firmly under them.

Founding Farmers
1924 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 822-8783

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