Jason Mann is a farmer with a mission. Forming Full Moon Farms as part of Spring Valley EcoFarms with a group of forward thinking ecologists, chefs, educators, and activists in 2002, he then opened a restaurant, Farm 255. Not content with that, in 2005 he added a farm cart which operates outside his restaurant when it is closed.
I have been following Farm 255 since I started researching this trip. I am really excited about how they are going about what they do. Beginning with the farm, growing their own organic vegetables and rearing animals using old fashioned husbandry leads to high quality produce that ultimately arrives on the plate. They care about quality – from the soil up. Good organic farming. Conscious farming.
We had met the head chef, Matt Palmerlee at the Four Coursemen dinner when he was cooking there, and we were going to sample Farm 255 for brunch the following day. But at his suggestion, we instead went to the Red Mule Grits brunch – for which we were glad. Bonus points too for going to Farm 255 that night was a band playing out on the patio called ‘All Tiny Creatures‘, which we didn’t want to miss.
The restaurant is situated in an old ‘quality food machinery’ building in the heart of downtown. It sits out back, almost hidden from the street and has a nice open patio. With extra foilage and trees you could imagine it could feel even more hidden and secluded but as it stands it is a courtyard with chairs and tables and a substantial stage.
It didn’t look too busy and it was no trouble for us to get a table outside. The menu is short and to the point. Broken down by tastes, charcuterie, firsts and plates, you could easily select a few of any to make a meal. Removed of any fuss or fiddling, items like Fried Okra, and a Harvest Plate are available, as is the humble burger – although I am sure that this hamburger sits supremely above, looking down in frank distaste at our Wendy’s burger experiences thus far…
We started with the Charcuterie and the Summer Squash Salad. The salad was lovely, with the sweet squash served in ribbons and the marcona almonds added some great crunch. A deep fried poached egg sat on top – perfectly cooked, a little bit of Grana Padana Parmesan, and all doused in a shallot vinaigrette. But… THE CHARCUTERIE? wow… this deserves a paragraph all of it own.
All made in-house, and perhaps almost all from the same animal (could it be Truffles, from the farm brunch?) We were served brain butter with sauteed chanterelles, chicken liver pate, Cotechino sausage, pork belly, pastrami, sauteed peaches, various vegetable pickles, sauerkraut, nuts in honey and other things that I’ m sure I’ve forgotten. All this was served on a butcher’s board that took up half the table and made a satisfying thunk when it was placed down. We ordered 2 glasses of Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera ’08 which held its own against this juicy meat. Lots of sighing ensued for at least half an hour while we struggled to get through it. Our server must have visited us four times to find out if we were doing OK, but each time our mouths were full and our eyes shining.
Eventually the board of happy things was taken away and we ordered our second course. We didn’t need it, nor really want it, after our meat-fest, but we felt like we should. S had the Shrimp and Grits, which was from his mouth ‘all soft and no crunch.. and does the egg really need to be there?’ I had the Harvest Plate to see if they performed the same magic with vegetables as they did with animals. Both were ok, but nothing on the board.
We were joined briefly by Jake O Francis, the Sous Chef and also Keeper of the Cart. He showed us video of the pigs and told us stories like a proud parent. It was nice to see such bonding between sow and chef. After working in and around kitchens that have no connection to the carcasses that arrive wrapped in plastic, I can see how this relationship to the farm can be so much more rewarding. As we talked, staff walked through with vegetables in buckets picked that afternoon.
The band began to start and other people came to sit in the courtyard to listen. The night was warm and still and the musicians began to play quiet bluesy melancholic tunes. Here we are on a Sunday night, listening to great music – for free, under the stars, in the middle of town.
The following day we arrived again, but this time to sample the lunch from the cart. the atmosphere was different from the night before, office workers were starting to think about lunch, and the restaurant was closed. We ordered a homemade hotdog which was served with diced white onion and mustard. S had a pulled pork sandwich which was served with a crunchy slaw. All was again made in house, and although from appearance looked like any other pork sandwich we have had on our travels, this we knew had a big smile on it.
Athens, in the middle of the South has something really special going on. For a town only a little bit bigger than Hackney, there was so much goodness squashed into it I am sure all the other Georgian towns – including Atlanta – must be very jealous.