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First Look: Farmstead 303

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I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist playing with the effects panel on iPhoto when I uploaded this picture taken on the patio at Farmstead 303. It presented such a vignette of country life.

The old Decatur train depot, which limped along as Depeaux for a few years, has reopened as — yep, you guessed it — a Southern farm-to-table restaurant. You have to admire its owner, Teri Rogers, who certainly isn’t afraid of hard work. Rogers, who runs Decatur’s popular Feast across the street, has her work cut out for her with this iconic and enormous structure.

Cucumber gazpacho

Cucumber gazpacho

The setting: The former depot has been moved away from the train tracks but left intact. You can imagine the vast dining room filled with commuters waiting on rows of benches. There’s also an upstairs bar and a grand wraparound balcony. We liked sitting outdoors, even as gusting winds turned the shade umbrellas into sails that pulled over their patio tables.

The food: Chef Ryan Stewart (late of Mac McGee’s on Decatur Square) has fashioned an ambitious menu that seems a mashup of small plates, meat-and-three and Southern bistro. There’s lots to choose from and choices to satisfy every budget.  Look for meatloaf or fried fish with Southern veggies of your choice, a burger or a trout entree with a spinach, pecans and a beet pancake.

Corn chowder with butterbean hummus crouton

Corn chowder with butterbean hummus crouton

We enjoyed the cucumber gazpacho ($8) with grilled shrimp and little minicubes of watermelon rind pickle adding bursts of crunchy surprise. Had it been colder, it would have been sublime.  The smooth and tacky corn chowder ($6) came with a butterbean crouton floating on top of a raft of salty vegetables, and a back flavor of lavender. It’s interesting in a recipe-in-progress kind of way but not something we wanted to finish.

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Fried flounder

Fried flounder ($10) seems a good deal for a whole lot of fresh-tasting fish. The batter had no discernible seasoning, but a few lemons and shakes of salt helped. By the way — that’s creamed fresh corn for the side dish.

"Sweet Georgia shrimp"

"Sweet Georgia Shrimp"

Sweet Georgia Shrimp” ($18) arrived on a mound of buttery, tomatoey rice with barely cooked whole okra pods alongside. The shrimp were well cleaned and thankfully free of their tails. Again, this is a tweak away from being a craveable dish. photo 5

We weren’t totally down with this strip steak ($23), with its Day-Glo “Green Goddess goat cheese” and weirdly battered fries. Still, behind its too-thick fat cap it was a perfect rare.

The service: Very friendly, but everyone gives off that “new restaurant” smell. On the plus side, your iced tea will be refilled 368 times during the course of your meal. On the down side, you may have to chase someone down for a soup spoon or drink your soup right from the bowl. Also, the kitchen seemed a little slow when the room was barely a quarter full. I’d worry about a busy weekend night. This place will need time to get the machinery working.

The crowd: Decaturites, and the people who love them.

29 comments Add your comment

chris

June 10th, 2010
1:39 pm

First…this place rocks

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Nancy

June 10th, 2010
2:07 pm

Enter your comments here

Nancy

June 10th, 2010
2:15 pm

This review is a fair assessment. I tried Farmstead on Wednesday and had a similar take as John Kessler on pretty much everything. The green goddess goat cheese dressing (the only dressing I could see available) was delicious on its own, but became quite subtle/bland on my cobb salad. Also, I don’t like to have to sit there and cut up an entire salad–please tear the lettuce leaves a little. My only criticism of the menu is that I avoid fried foods and would have appreciated a few more grilled options. Overall though it is a good concept and I will definitely be back.

hudson rouse

June 10th, 2010
2:16 pm

can’t call it soul food cause it’s got no soul. farm to table will have to do…. wonder if they promote their farmers on the menu????

Muffin

June 10th, 2010
2:18 pm

Honestly I’m more interested to know what they did to the inside of this place. When it was the Depeaux the interior was definitely lacking and reeked of shellac. I know the food will be good.

George Archer

June 10th, 2010
2:48 pm

Wow… Great looking dishes which are also reasonably priced. I’m interested. Can you provide more info on the business name John? Just curious….

rebelliousrose

June 10th, 2010
3:11 pm

Train tracks, dearest. Tracts are more inspiring. ;}

John Kessler

June 10th, 2010
3:33 pm

Oops and thanks, Rose! Gotta love those typos that spellcheck doesn’t catch.

Tyler Pike

June 10th, 2010
3:42 pm

I must say, I like this place.

FM Fats

June 10th, 2010
10:22 pm

Whatever happened to food writers giving a new joint a few weeks to work the kinks out?

[...] this photo group. It made such an episode of rural life. The setting: the former depot … Read More Share and [...]

John Kessler

June 11th, 2010
8:15 am

I’m with you, FM Fats. For a proper starred review a writer should wait a few weeks. But the reality today is that people start posting impressions of restaurants as soon as they open. If we in the mainstream media stayed mum the whole time, we wouldn’t be part of the conversation. What I try to do with posts labeled “First Look” is to give an impression of what the place has to offer, both in terms of food and service. If this seems a little on the critical side, it’s to warn people against storming a restaurant that is still getting up to speed and also to encourage the restaurant to redouble its efforts to figure out what must be a very difficult space to work. There was a lengthy report on Creative Loafing about a long wait on a weekend night at Farmstead. I personally prefer to wait longer, but in today’s climate I think gentle criticism — the kind that food writers do better than most Yelp posters — can steer the conversation in a good direction. Thanks for your comment.

Sylvia Eidson

June 11th, 2010
2:50 pm

The Blueberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe in this week’s food section calls for: 1 cup (1stick) unsalted butter. One cup is 2 sticks so which is it. I have ingredients on counter ready to go so need an answer quickly, please.

John Kessler

June 11th, 2010
4:17 pm

Sylvia, please email food editor Karen Park — kpark@ajc.com. Good luck.

25-yr. DeKalb Teacher

June 11th, 2010
7:20 pm

John, we were there the same day as you and your family. In fact, we confirmed your identity via iPhone to our very nice and attentive server. Your impressions are dead on I think. We loved the beet cake and the banana choclate bread pudding (unusual combination, but delicious). Given time, Teri will likely whip Farmstead 303 into “Feast” shape!

Fred

June 11th, 2010
11:41 pm

Thanks for the heads up John. Also a nice reply to FM Fats. You have reported on the fact that the place was coming so I, at least if no one else, EXPECTED you to check it out and give us a little taste of how it was. That cucumber gazpatcho looked good. Thanks.

Lance

June 14th, 2010
4:24 pm

Food was decent. We enjoyed the Cobb Salad as well as the pork chop for our meals. The food was, to steal a quote,” a tweak away from being a craveable dish.” My disappointment wasnt so much in the food, rather the lack of service and timing. Only a few minute wait but then once we sat down it took us 1 hour and 10 mins just to receive the food. Hopefully these guys will work get it together because I love the idea and the location.

Steve

June 15th, 2010
10:24 am

Terri rocks – I hope this place works out. I do hear they need to fix the service there, but I’m looking forward to checking this out after the hype fades out.

Mark

June 15th, 2010
1:44 pm

Poor Sylvia – lost in blog world…hope she does not drive in the left lane.

Flora Bunda

June 15th, 2010
6:41 pm

So looking forward to trying this place. Depeaux was, unfortunately, a cajun Red Lobster. I wish Farmstead much success.

Rob Vinson

June 15th, 2010
10:02 pm

I’m looking forward to trying it. “Beast” across the street is okay. When’s the Trackside coming back?

The Hand that Rocks the Ladle

June 16th, 2010
11:40 pm

Can’t wait to try it! They’ve started several veggie beds alongside the restaurant recently. @Rob Vinson – I miss Trackside! Would love an update.

just guessing

June 17th, 2010
7:35 am

Enjoyed dinner on Mon. with a group of six. Service was just fine with only a few glitches. Will go back to try the other sides.

Jo Ann Mason

June 17th, 2010
9:14 am

I will try and let you know BUT it is hard to beat the Watershed in Decatur. My family & friends love it. Scott Peacock is awesome.

[...] it happens, John Kessler of the AJC, who is unselfconsciously not anonymous, came under similar criticism for writing a first look at the restaurant during its first few weeks. Kessler describes the [...]

[...] I’ve also really enjoyed Matthews Cafeteria in Tucker  and had a good feeling that the veg plate will come around at Farmstead 303. [...]

CINDY

July 12th, 2010
9:41 pm

I also enjoyed the food at Matthews Cafeteria in Tucker, Farmstead has a nice burger and other items were great too.. Has anyone tried Andryannis Greek Bistro Cafe in Decatur the Greek Burger, and Gyros are sooooo good and the hummus,, yummy. Prices were great too..

farmer fan

September 12th, 2010
10:01 pm

I’m a local farm intern and very much enjoyed Farmstand 303 on Saturday night. Food was delicious, service was attentive and witty and I will definitely be going back for more. I’m a huge believer in farm to table (obviously) and appreciate the flexibility this demands on the chef. Am also impressed by the tiny parking lot, due in part to the small garden outside the restaurant. Kudos Farmstand!