A Fresh-Cooked Meal at a Fair Price

Noted chef James Avery wrestles with that question at his new ‘fast-casual’ eatery, Farmly, in Sea Girt.

Chef James Avery. (Photo courtesy of Farmly)

“How much should an animal cost that was touched by 25 people before you even get to it?”

James Avery sounds slightly, maybe understandably, defensive. The New Jersey native—chef/owner of the highly-rated seafood restaurant, the Bonney Read, in Asbury Park—recently opened Farmly in Sea Girt, which in some ways resembles a Boston Market, except prices are a bit higher.

“As a kid I always loved Boston Market,” Avery admits. “I still get really excited when I see rotisserie chicken.” That may explain why this polished chef is now operating rotisseries just down the road in Sea Girt.

“People ask, ‘Why is your chicken so expensive?’” he says. “Really, it’s not. You have to ask yourself, ‘Why is the chicken at the grocery store six dollars? The only way to give someone that animal for six dollars is something is highly wrong. The farmer’s been ripped off, or the animal had a horrible life or it was mass-produced to drive down the cost.”

Farmly, meanwhile, gets its name from its mission. “I’m serving chicken from a farm,” Avery says. “Supporting that farm, supporting the ethical treatment of animals. Educating people is the biggest hurdle.”

He has some help in that area. “Turn on Netflix, turn on Amazon,” Avery says. “There are so many documentaries. People are learning about food systems, how broken it is. It’s not expensive—it’s that costs have been driven down unethically.

“Industrial animals are spongy, mushy, watery. My chickens, they give them probiotics, essential oils. I swear it does something to the taste,” a taste Avery preserves with minimal seasoning.

“It’s very simple, very primal,” meaning salt only (the Colonel can keep his 11 herbs and spices). “That’s the whole point. If you’re using good product, you don’t need to do anything to it. It should taste like chicken.”

In truth, Farmly is as similar to Boston Market as the Bonney Read is to Red Lobster. “I don’t even know if I am fast casual,” Avery says. “We’re really back there making stuff from scratch. Really cooking.

“We’re not a $5.99 combo-meal place,” he admits. “You get a quarter of a chicken, a choice of two sides, it’s $13.50. A drink is another two bucks.” For comparison, a similar meal at Boston Market comes in at a little under $9.

Avery was bi-coastal when he served as sous chef to loud-mouthed Gordon Ramsay on TV’s Hell’s Kitchen through 2013. On the West Coast, Avery came face-to-face with the kaleidoscope of funky fast-casual spots making fresh food. “I thought ‘Wow, this is amazing. I have an opportunity here.’ You don’t see hybrid fine dining-fast food in Jersey.”

Avery has his own label for Farmly. “We call it a neighborhood kitchen for a reason,” he says. Transparent, thoughtful, natural ingredients, staff from the community. As involved and local as you can get.”

Not to mention repeatable. “Every neighborhood should have a place like this,” he says.

“Once we get it to work here, we’ll start branching out. I just have to prove the model.”

That means spending “pretty much every day” at both restaurants. Between that, four kids, two dogs and a dash of jiu jitsu, that the chef gets five hours of sleep each night seems a small miracle.

Farmly Neighborhood Kitchen serves rotisserie chicken, “slow cooked meat,” and seasonal vegetarian dishes at 2100 Rt. 35 in Sea Girt Square. (732) 359-6936. [email protected]

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