Founding Farmers: Fresh food, but stale staff?

Photo by Claire Cecil.

Photo by Claire Cecil.

Connor Smith, staff writer.

Tucked into a commercial building in Tysons Corner sits a brand new location for one of D.C.’s most talked about restaurants, Founding Farmers.

They are a fresh to table, LEED Gold certified restaurant with a focus on sustainable energy practices and local ingredients. Founding Farmers has a wonderful menu, focusing on traditional American “home food,” boasting menu items like shrimp and grits, Virginia ham and buttermilk biscuits, and Yankee pot roast. They also have a stunning cocktail list, focusing on prohibition-era cocktails, and a beer list dominated by local Virginia craft brewers.

The décor sits in a haphazard mix between that of a traditional American family farm and a speakeasy from the 1920s. The restaurant cuts into the cold commercial landscape of Tyson’s Corner as a hipster haven.

It is unfortunately impossible to separate a restaurant on paper from the experience of going to the restaurant itself. We do not go out to eat for the express purpose of eating something we cannot make ourselves.  Rather, we hunt for a new restaurant, a new experience. We mentally rate and rank which spots we love and hate so we can recommend outings to friends for different occasions. Everyone has “his or her” bar, or “his or her” secret little restaurant to take friends and significant others. Nearly everything about Founding Farmers screamed that this would become my new restaurant. I would have that sense of ownership over this place.

The food was absolutely stunning. Locally-aged prime rib based in sassafras and peas with bacon and onions in cream sauce brought my palate to its knees, dredging up none of the traumatic early memories of frozen split peas that were good for little more than being forced on the family dog. The cocktails were inventive, made with care and precision. There is nothing about the menu and décor of Founding Farmers that was lacking in any way, shape or form. It was absolutely spectacular. However, the service brought me an intense feeling of ageism.
That last comment may seem a bit heavy handed. Unfortunately as a member of the service industry, it is almost impossible to size up a customer as they walk in the door. How much will this customer spend, will they tip appropriately, and what items should be pushed are questions every good server or bartender asks himself before approaching every customer. It is fact that this is an industry based on perception, and these employees act as ambassadors for their establishment. Now not every member of the service industry projects this; it would be hard to assume that every employee there does.

That being said, from the moment I sat down, the bartender who served me pegged me unwarrantedly as a poor college student, out of place in his bar. While ordering cocktails and my dinner, I was met with feigned enthusiasm outshone by quizzical expressions as to how I knew what sazerac was, or what exactly brought me there. Tyson’s Corner may not draw in the youngest crowd on a regular basis, but for a restaurant that prides itself in its down-to-earth mission statement, the service seemed contradictory.

The only other concern for the Mason student looking for their new favorite restaurant would be pricing. Between paid parking, a cocktail before and during dinner, and the meal itself easily costs around $50 a person, which is not completely within the budget of the average undergraduate student.

This restaurant has a wonderful concept, and near perfect execution. The only drawback is its less-than-college-friendly pricing, and the all but stated reminder from some of the staff.

Connor Smith is a senior Communications major, sommelier and wine educator in the Northern Virginia area. His mission in life is to find world’s best sandwich and perfect beer to pair with it.