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Chef Tom Kearney offers farm-fresh ’Grandma food’ at winning Ditmas Park eatery

The Brooklyn Paper

Call it beginner’s luck. Call it the right place at the right time. However you view it, The Farm on Adderley, a new restaurant in Ditmas Park, is getting off to a fine start.

The founders of the eatery are Allison McDowell and Gary Jonas. The Ditmas Park residents are first-time restaurateurs who opened the door to their new venture in July, and with chef Tom Kearney (formerly of Williamsburg’s Sweetwater and Manhattan’s Jean-Georges and Blue Hill), they’ve hit upon a formula that is ideal for the location.

Their first move was to create a space that works for a special night out as well as casual evening with the kids. It took the couple six months to gut and refurbish a former daycare center, turning the space into a long, modern, high-ceilinged room. Mismatched plates and seating, and a back garden with the relics of a mural from their former tenants, let clients know the owners weren’t trying for something slick.

They also understand that most of the residents in the area are seasoned diners who can have "event" meals anywhere. But when they’re sticking close to home, The Farm’s clientele prefers unfussy fare with just enough creative touches to hold their interest.

As you’d suspect, Kearney’s menu utilizes fresh-off-the-farm, seasonal ingredients. Shelbourne Farms, Golden Ridge Cheese Co-op and Sheldon Farms are mentioned as purveyors on their Web site.

Kearney presents customers with "simply prepared food that’s light and not too doctored up." He refers to his menu as "Grandma food," but it’s more ambitious than that. And I suspect he’s as underwhelmed with the desserts offered in local restaurants as I am, because the finales here are definitely not afterthoughts.

My one gripe with the kitchen, and I admit it’s a minor one, is food temperature. Unless it’s meant to be cold, soup should be served hot - not tepid. An otherwise delightfully full-bodied cauliflower soup topped with a briny oyster fritter was lukewarm, and the turnip puree that served as a base for an entree of bluefish had the same problem. The coffee could be raised a few degrees, too.

There’s an endive salad among the appetizers that I’ve had before, in one form or another, with some small disappointments. At The Farm on Adderley, the flavors reach an ideal balance. The slight bitterness of the greens are offset by thin slices of delicately sweet Fuji apple; bacon adds a chewy, salty note; toasted walnuts lend crunch; and a judicious sprinkling of Maytag blue cheese adds its funky character.

I’m not a Brussels sprouts lover, but the combination of not-too-heavy, sweet potato gnocchi and the vegetable’s bitter edge worked well. A good dousing of brown butter and Parmesan cheese didn’t hurt either.

Aside from its under-heated parsnip pillow, the bluefish entree special I mentioned was a pleasure. Kearney smokes the fish to amplify its beefy richness, then sets it over a compote of sweet yet tart braised red cabbage that’s given a bit of a punch by coriander seeds. Again, the balance of ingredients, coupled with that smoky fish, worked to create a memorable dish.

Even with its crisp cloak of herbs de Provence-seasoned breadcrumbs and a juicy interior, a double-cut pork chop and its wax bean partner was dull going.

Kearney’s dessert roundup offers a selection of carefully crafted finales that would make grandma proud. A delicate milk chocolate mousse with a dollop of salted cream has the mild flavor of the cocoa and the salty kick of the topping: It’s the love child of a Milky Way bar and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

The spicy, warm gingerbread arrived just in time for fall. The tiny round is paired with small, slightly tart, chewy figs, their winey flavor brightened by a soak in vinegar and sugar. A bit of cold, pureed passion fruit whipped into light foam, complements the cake and fruit. Tart and sweet, chewy and creamy, it’s what I wish more pastry chefs aimed for: An adult’s dessert with a touch of nostalgia.

One more thing this team gets right: A stellar waitstaff. I don’t know if the waitresses are chosen for their professionalism, good looks or charm, but there’s an abundance of all three among the attentive servers.

The restaurant’s name is actually a South African saying of Jonas’s father, who quoted it when Jonas asked for something unattainable: "If that ever happens, I’ll buy you a farm on Adderley." A great room, food with more hits than misses, and the kind of waitresses that get poached by other restaurateurs, makes this Farm on Adderley a dream come true.


The Farm on Adderley (1108 Cortelyou Road between Stratford and Westminster roads in Ditmas Park) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $11-$16. The restaurant serves dinner daily. Weekend brunch is available from 11 am to 4 pm. For more information, visit www.thefarmonadderley.com and for reservations, call (718) 287-3101.

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