Farmingdale, the doughnut hole in sprawling Howell Township, whose byways can take you—via almost-country back roads—to the edges of well-known Shore towns, isn’t a one-horse borough.
Once, after the legendary Farmingdale House closed, it might have seemed that way. After its chef Toni Froio left, after the Farmingdale House wasn’t around to serve four-star regional Italian cuisine that rivaled what you might find in Milan, there was Connie’s for breakfast and lunch, a pop-in pizza joint and then, after a spell, Woody’s for tavern fare.
In the fall of 2014, Harvest arrived—both the pull-produce-from-ground kind and the restaurant, a small storefront run by a pair of brothers, Anthony and Daniel Vrgoc, who pledged allegiance to local ingredients and served plates that were both homey-rustic and modern-healthy.
With information as its dominant décor in the form of a sectioned-off blackboard touting Local 130 (New Jersey’s purveyor of seafood largely fished off the Shore’s 130 miles of ocean) and Harvest Drop (New Jersey’s 55-farm-strong source for locally grown produce), plus a number of other food sources, Harvest offered an another option in diminutive Farmingdale. Today, at both lunch and dinner, Harvest hums; from 10:30 am to 5 pm, its take-out arm—mkt.com/harvest2go— buzzes.
Turns out, locals love this modest BYO where you can get pork belly with Chinese spices and Barnegat clams that sop up a white-wine broth scented with fennel and garlic; salads both seasonal and standard; entrees that are both trendy and healthy, such as spiralized zucchini “noodles” with pesto or quinoa studded with black beans, vegetables and accents that rev it up to maximum horsepower. Hey, shots of olive and onion, chipotle and cilantro will do that to a dish.
I was smitten with a starter that took shrimp-‘n’-grits for a spin. Heads-on XXL-size shrimp, a never-frozen Local 130 specialty, were set astride ultra-creamy, luxuriously cheesey grits and atop a barely cooked splay of young kale. There was both a jolt of heat and a hint of sweet to the juices that penetrated both the grits and the shrimp. Chilies and honey? I think so.
There’s no feeling slighted if you’re taking it easy on the eats and looking for a heart-healthy meal: That rojo quinoa is assembled to play nutty grain off myriad accents, and it satisfies.
So does a salad of roasted beets, the last of the storage roots this cool spring, splayed on a platter with onions, blue cheese and walnuts and given concentric swirls of pomegranate vinaigrette.
Endlessly trendy pork belly comes cubed and set atop a schmear of Chinese five spice. What I liked most about the plate was the taut slaw of cabbages, Brussels sprouts and snips of pork. It tasted of cruciferous vegetables, not of mayo or sauce or anything to distract from the crunch and essence of the cabbages and sprouts.
Harvest has a signature dessert and, on the day of our visit, it was offered two ways. How could you not bite on both, when confronted with a choice between a Napoleon focused not on pastry but on apples red and green layered with either mascarpone or peanut cream? Though the more classic of the two non-classics might be the mascarpone, I found the peanut concoction extra fun: It came with a load of crushed peanuts that found happiness with a drizzle of honey.
When you’re down the Shore this summer, visiting Belmar, Spring Lake, Sea Girt, Manasquan or even Point Pleasant Beach, save a night for Harvest. It not only offers a respite from a pulsating, sometimes throbbing scene, it takes reservations.
Harvest, 83 Main Street in Farmingdale. BYO. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to 9 pm; closed Mondays. 732-919-3276.Click here to leave a comment