The Farm and Fisherman
How chef Josh Lawler is quietly shaping this petite Pine Street BYOB into one of the city’s best restaurants

by Brian Freedman

Roasted beets, nuts and some sort of greens—nothing terribly unusual there, you’d be forgiven for thinking. But then the plate arrives and all the old assumptions vanish. The beets, glistening and practically vibrating with yellow, look like wedges of midday sun on the plate; and the strawberries, halfway between stewed and pickled and singing with vinegar and spice, seem to melt in on themselves. Positioned next to the raspberries, practically tumescent in their fullness, it’s a yin-and-yang juxtaposition. And then the nuts: not hearty nubs of brown meat but crushed into a snowy white powder—hazelnuts and olive oil, it turns out—that dissolves on the tongue at first touch.

Everything old, it’s often said, at some point becomes new again. But at The Farm and Fisherman, Josh Lawler’s magnificent cooking is more than the equivalent of a talented deejay’s sampling of classic hooks from musical days gone by. In this case, it is a reinterpretation, a reimagining, a recreation of a classic. Throughout a meal here, Lawler manages to craft something unexpectedly, majestically beautiful, whether he is working in a contemporary mode or a more traditional one.

At this petite Pine Street BYOB, Lawler and his team—including his equally talented wife and partner, Colleen, who keeps the front of the house humming along with energy and charm—have quietly created one of the best restaurants in the city.

Startlingly bright cucumber buttermilk soup, all tangy and fresh, provided the palette against which a single shrimp, poached in espelette pepper oil, sang its song; it was pink like a topaz and still tasted of the sea. A single-serving cast-iron Staub vessel was explosive with the deeply comforting flavors of a perfect farm egg, turnip greens, tangy Morbier cheese, Berkshire speck produced in Virginia and a swirl of emerald-colored green garlic sauce. If springtime mornings have a flavor, this was their incarnation.

Pork loin arrived subtly pink and meltingly tender, a soulfully earthy spine of flavor defining each bite, giving pork the respect it deserves. Accompanying it was a house-made sausage more roughly ground than the store-bought variety, and far more rewarding as a result. An unforgettable perfume of black pepper that had been smoked over bourbon barrels lifted it all. Chicken cooked in hay and then crisped up in the sauté pan was as tender as veal and as flavorful as you always hope it will be—a little sweet, a little earthy, entirely satisfying. Speared on a fork with impossibly tender spaetzel and dragged through the gorgeous jus, it was both promise and reward in a single bite.

If anything was a letdown, it was the desserts, but only in context; they were very, very good, but when everything that preceded them was over the top, only a similar feat would do. Chocolate custard napoleon with salted caramel phyllo was excellent, but some sort of citrus, some greater sense of brightness, would have gone a long way. (Nonetheless, it was extremely satisfying.) Goat’s milk cheesecake was more complete, the accompanying steamed blueberries cutting through the earthy tang of the cake itself and providing a smart foil for the delicate graham-cracker crust.

By the end of a recent meal here, the dining room was practically thrumming with the hum and buzz of conversation, the clank of wine glasses, the occasional exclamation point of laughter. Service is highly engaged, very well informed and perfectly suited to the restaurant as a whole. This is what a great Philadelphia BYOB can and should be. A true destination not just for locals but for everyone, The Farm and Fisherman is better than ever.

The Farm and Fisherman
1120 Pine Street
267-687-1555 | thefarmandfisherman.com

 

Philadelphia Life Magazine