As I was leaving The Farmer & the Chickpea after my first midday meal at the elegantly rustic, New Age roadhouse on Route 22 in Readington, I asked a woman—who I later learned was a co-owner—what days the legendary pot pies are served.
“Oh,” Jillian Kressly said, “we’re re-doing the place and going to have a pot-pie bar.”
“A pot-pie bar?” I repeated, ready to send out an all-points bulletin on what I believed was the greatest idea since unsliced bread.
“Yes,” Jillian continued, waving her arms around the space I thought was charmingly quirky and couldn’t imagine improving upon, “We’re taking this out” (a serving station) “and that out” (a small seating area) “and putting the pot-pie bar there and the ice cream bar back here and a grazing station where this case is now.”
She continued, and I held back tears. I had fallen in immediate love with The Farmer & the Chickpea and did not want one thing about it changed.
Well, I went back several weeks later, on the appointed date of scheduled renovation completion. There was food. There were ongoing renovations. And there was Jillian, cheerful as ever.
“Hi!” she greeted, with a pardon-our-appearance wave of the hand. “We’ve got lots of food, so come and eat.” We did, the chow was as delicious as I remembered, and I vowed to return when the reno was complete.
It’s all in place now, the pot-pie bar, which is part of the soup and pasta bar; the grazing station, which is to the typical salad bar what a Rolls Royce is to, say, a Ford Fiesta; the ice cream bar, which sits across from the dessert bar. There are cases filled with newfangled “pizzas” and loaves, sandwiches and salads to-go, and stations for beverages and specialty items. The Farmer & the Chickpea hasn’t lost its sophisticated country appeal or its tolerance of the zany; it’s just re-imagined the space to suit its loyal, local clientele and accommodate the increasing numbers of diners who find it an irresistible destination.
With co-owner Ashley Stratton, Jillian Kressly has created a niche: from-the-farm ingredients spun into soulful, hearty and satisfying country-style fare. But it’s 21st-century country goes retro. There are a lot of chickpea dishes, my favorite being the roasted Parmesan chickpeas with kale, and a ton of things that rely on beans and vegetables as the major players.
You’ll see fruits injected in uncommon ways into dishes and plays on pizza that would drive purist pizzaiolos nuts. There are baked goods both gluten-free and whole-on whole wheat’d, and the richest, creamiest, chunkiest chicken pot pie around.
For this, the chefs bake the shells, both individual-portion and full-pie-size, and you ladle into them from a cauldron gobs and gobs of thick, chicken-pocked filling. Is this your dream come true, or what?
I thought I’d do more pot pie and more roasted chickpea-kale when I returned for the re-do, and maybe score some of those tomato-topped white bean meatballs that I found so comforting (no meat, though quite luxe), but found myself distracted by two new-to-me dishes.
The sweet potato pizza had a roasted-date base and a top crust of toasted almonds crowed by a slice of melted brie. To my mind, it bore no physical resemblance to pizza. But, like the pizza I most love, I kept eating it beyond my capacity.
The grilled peach-lentil loaf was scented with cinnamon and bolstered by a backdrop of carrots, celery and onions. Who knew lentils could love grilled peaches? I didn’t. I never even thought of them together. Now I’ll have to work hard at thinking of anything else.
Other than the orange ricotta cheesecake cupcake. (Which went quite nicely with the lime-lemonade.) This cupcake is exactly what it claims it is, plus it has a coconut macaroon base and is made with rice flour, so it’s gluten-free. It’s ridiculously delicious.
There’s only one problem with The Farmer & the Chickpea: It’s often advertised as being in Somerville. It’s not. Nor is it in Branchburg, another town it’s sometimes claimed to hail from. It is in the Whitehouse section of Readington Township, which is in Hunterdon County. If you know where the Ryland Inn is located, The Farmer & the Chickpea is on the opposite side of Route 22, a hop-skip east. Miss it, and you’ll regret it.
The Farmer & the Chickpea, 3523 Route 22 in Whitehouse. 908-635-1684 and 908-923-4023. thefarmerandthechickpea.com. Spring hours: Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 7 pm for the Grazing Room (a.k.a, the dining-in area) and 8 am to 7 pm for baked goods and take-out fare. Closed Sundays.Click here to leave a comment