Farm-to-table restaurants are noble pursuits. When done properly, buying produce from local farms helps out small local businesses while reconnecting diners with produce and varieties of meat that they might not regularly try (heirloom tomatoes, bison, etc.). When farm-to-table is not done right, however, the hyperlocal and hyperseasonal shtick comes off as plain old hype. Farmstead Grill (The Shops at Canton Crossing, 3721 Boston St.,  762-2100) is not a pretender trying to make a cash grab, but if it’s not careful it could easily come off that way.
Hunkered down in the Canton Crossing shopping center on Boston Street, Farmstead Grill uses up a nice chunk of land containing the restaurant, a field, and its downscaled Farmstead Shack that slings hot dogs, salads, and smoothies. The restaurant’s construction is reminiscent of a barn, with high rafters, wooden beams, and a loft in the back for private parties and overflow. The décor style is modern farmhouse. It’s bright, airy, and looks as if a Crate and Barrel catalog exploded . . . in a good way.
The menu, as you might have guessed by now, is seasonal. Using produce and meats from area farms (Zahradka, Liberty Delight, BaltimOrganic, Springfield), executive chef Galen Sampson (former owner of The Dogwood) has created a well-thought-out and balanced menu that caters to vegetarians and vegans as well as omnivores. It’s in the execution of some of the menu items, though, that Farmstead Grill seems unfocused.
The snacky items we ordered from the “bites to share” area of the menu, however, were great. The farmstead potato chips ($4) were crisp and had been browned during frying, giving them an earthy taste. They were dusted with Vann’s Chesapeake seasoning and served with an herbed Greek yogurt that had a good dill flavor. The Virginia peanuts and caramel corn ($4) was the most well-liked dish of the night. Dark brown caramel popcorn was mixed with an abundance of peanuts and pushed over the top by rendered bacon bits. It was like eating the best Cracker Jack you’ve ever had. The combo of deeply caramelized sugar, salt, and meatiness from the bacon was a knockout. If only Camden Yards sold this stuff.
The drinks at Farmstead Grill were good as well. The Canton Hooch ($10) featured gingersnap liqueur shaken with fresh peach juice and spiced simple syrup. It makes for a great summer drink and would probably taste even better sitting out on Farmstead Grill’s front patio. The vinho verde spritzer with Lucano Limoncello ($8) was bright and sweet with a good bit of lemon flavor to keep it from being cloying.
Dinner properly started when the stuffed and grilled oysters ($15) came to table. Four plump oysters on the half-shell were topped with spinach, smoked crabmeat, a fennel-mustard crème and parmesan. The topping tasted great, but the oysters were lost in the horseradish-forward covering.
The smoked Chesapeake bluefish pâté($7) was bland until a generous amount of salt was mixed into it. It wasn’t as smokey as we thought it would have been, and it was mixed with herbed Greek yogurt, giving it a canned-tuna texture that was slightly off-putting. The soft bread squares were an odd choice as a vehicle for the pâté (crisp toast would have been much better), which left the house-cured pickles to take up the slack.
The 24-hour rib ($26) was an attractive plate of food that disappointed. The brisket was undercooked, tough, and dry. It may have been smoked for 24 hours but the kitchen did not cook it for a sufficient amount of time to make it “fall-off-the-bone tender” as the server promised. It was a shame, because the flavor was there. Smoke, heat from a horseradish sauce, and brightness from an orange house BBQ sauce all tasted great together—but the texture of the meat itself killed it. A large piece of connective tissue capping the top of the cut should have been gelatinous and full of silky texture, but instead was chewy and distracting.
The bacon-wrapped monkfish ($32) was cooked properly, but the small portion of fish was lost between its bacon wrapping and the romesco sauce underneath. The vegetable tatin of eggplant, mashed potato, mozzarella, and heirloom tomato presented as a side to the monkfish was delightful and would make for a great appetizer by itself, but ultimately the dish failed to live up to its price.
A slice of peach tart ($6) ended the meal decently with the semisweet tart mixing well with Chantilly cream and fresh blueberries and blackberries. It was a little heavy from the custard binding the tart, but it had a good cooked peach flavor.
Farmstead Grill is getting its feet under it as it tries to be a principled upscale restaurant in a neighborhood known for its pub food. It has lofty plans for the future, including trying to display its vendors by way of a small farmers market-like set-up on the grassy field between the main restaurant and the Farmstead Shack. But we would like Farmstead to concentrate first on improving its cuisine so that dropping a sizeable amount of money doesn’t leave you feeling like you bought buzzwords instead of food.
Open Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:45 P.M., Friday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 10:30 a.m. to
11 P.m., Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.