FOAF-Omelettes2Friend of a Farmer
77 Irving Place
(betw’n 18th and 19th Streets)
Gramercy Park
(212) 477-2188

 

 

The city is as brutal as it is beautiful.

They say that New Yorkers are resilient but they rarely describe what it is that we withstand; New York’s friendliness, camaraderie, and excitement are countered by its hard edges, the paradoxical isolation, the struggle to keep our heads above water. It’s easy, and common, to imagine an easier pace of life elsewhere, either in our memories or our imagination.

The battle weariness that comes from life in this odd and thrilling and ridiculous place is offset by the fun and the daily chores, but on that particular day the cold just made it all impossible to ignore. Eating breakfast is a great way to answer that, so there we were, in the back of Friend of a Farmer near the fireplace, where life slows to a manageable crawl.

Friend of a Farmer is designed to recall what a country inn is supposed to look like, which accounts for the long lines outside. It also accounts for a common refrain among the restaurant’s many detractors: that the décor is kitschy faux-cozy. But those people are wrong, and probably not from New England. [Full Disclosure: I am.] The dining room with its bell jars and dark wood is actually right on, contrary to popular belief, and could easily be in Portsmouth or Bangor or Brattleboro. This makes for a unique experience in its simplicity; and the fact that they also bring you dependable, perfectly made food while you slough off your day sure helps.

Simplicity is the key to the food as well as the dining room. Friend of a Farmer seems to have grasped what so few other comfort food establishments always forget: this eating isn’t complex, but that doesn’t mean you can flake out on it. A chicken pot pie is hard to make and requires careful attention and a lot of skill if one has any hope of using it to spark a memory of home or that pub in Dublin you love so much. And those sparks are why people come back to places like this. It’s definitely why I come back, anyway.

Dinner at Friend of a Farmer can be mind boggling as one tries to decide if pork chops or shepherd’s pie are more necessary at the moment. The good news is that both of them are great, as is the rest of the menu. My only deflated moment was when Darcy astutely pointed out that, however good it is, food like that shouldn’t cost so much. While that is absolutely correct, I like to think the extra dollars are compensation for not having to travel to another county (and not having to eat another lackluster NYC fusion experiment, for that matter).

FOAF-WindowEven those minor reservations dissipate once the eating begins in earnest. But I only recently discovered that there are no such reservations at all at breakfast time, when the wide array of omelette choices are well-priced, and like everything else there, perfectly simple.

Friend of a Farmer is notorious for its daunting weekend brunch line, and daunting lines usually scream “tourist trap” to me. Here, however, it simply means there’s nowhere else like it nearby, and if you’re smart you’ll have a friend in the neighborhood who’s willing to wait out the half hour while you fight with the subways.

Once properly welcomed and settled and warmed, the blaring loudness outside slowly fades out with the first sips of coffee. And that makes it all the easier to decide how to have your eggs. Omelettes are famously undervalued by the ignorant who miss the fact that they are not just fried eggs, but a carefully nuanced process that, when successful, yields fluffy yet firm eggs wrapped around the just-right veggies, cheese, and whatnot that were added in just late enough so they don’t collapse the entire delicate structure.

While expecting perfect omelettes here, I have long ago given up on finding well-made egg white omelettes in the city, where they are inevitably rubbery, runny, or outright scrambled. Here, they’re a joy, despite the puzzling fact that they are served to you in an iron skillet rather than a plate. In even the countriest of country restaurants I’ve been to in my life, none of them have ever made me eat out of the pan! This one breach of authenticity is forgivable for the laughs, so take a deep breath and enjoy.

Fresh buttermilk pancakes must round out any early visit here, so order them quickly, before you change your mind. I almost made the mistake of filling up on cornbread before they got to the table. It’s an understandable mistake but the best way to keep your mitts off the filler is to remember that you’ll find better in many establishments north of 125th St., where they never leave the bacon fat out of the cornbread.

It became clear after a while that there was no city outside. There was only the aged wood of our table and the flickering firelight and the pleasant fullness. Oh, and the blueberry pancakes, of course — perfect for absentminded nibbling while remembering or imagining days on the porch near an ocean, surrounded by the quiet needed to remember who you are and what makes you feel whole.

So the city roar is not abrupt when you open the door again. It just fades back in, unnoticed. And maybe — just maybe — it’s a little easier to breathe, to notice the particular way the buildings catch the sunlight here, to be momentarily slower and much the better for it.

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