Jon and Robin McConaughy opened Brick Farm Tavern in 2015 to be the final link in what Jon has called “a closed-loop food system that was fully sustainable.” The aim: to serve, if not exclusively then to the fullest extent possible, the organic produce they grow and the animals they pasture and humanely slaughter on their 800-acre farm.
The Tavern began as a fine-dining destination and won rave reviews (including from NJM). For a while, seafood was dropped from the menu because, as Jon told NJM at the time, he couldn’t vouch for its provenance. (The restaurant gets its 100 percent grass-fed beef from Thistle Creek Farm in Pennsylvania.)
Last August, the McConaughys brought in a new managing partner, Richard Moskovitz, and executive chef, Max Hosey, who most recently ran the kitchen at the now shuttered Mainland Inn in Harleysville, Pennsylvania. Together, they have loosened the menu. McConaughy calls it “whole-animal cookery inspired by country French.” The move from fine dining “makes the restaurant more approachable and sustainable,” he says, adding that prices have declined about 30 percent, portions are larger, and, as a result, people are ordering more items.
He says more of the animal is being served—not just fine dining’s prestige cuts. An 8-ounce chicken breast has been replaced by a 16-ounce roasted half-chicken. Lesser cuts of meat show up in hearty dishes like boeuf bourguignon, schnitzel, bolognese sauce, shepherd’s pie and lamb meatballs.
I visited twice this spring and found the tavern bustling and relaxed, though there were vestiges of haute service that seemed precious. In many cases, sauces that were part of dish descriptions were ostentatiously poured tableside.
Since our last review, Brick Farm has leased space on the property to Sourland Distillery and Troon Brewing, whose products are served in the restaurant. I enjoyed a glass of Troon’s Anthropophobia, a cloudy and super-juicy sour beer made with guava and passion fruit.
In a starter of chickpea fritters, I expected finger food, but got a pleasing arrangement of three deep-fried blocks of puréed beans and spring garlic. Adorned with grilled broccoli, onion jam and a gribiche sauce, the fritters were creamy and quite tasty. A spring-garlic velouté was posh as well—dispensed at the table into a bowl lined with black garlic, pancetta and a few clams. Unfortunately, the soup itself was lukewarm and monotonal.
On the other hand, I loved almost everything about the pork schnitzel. Usually, schnitzel is a piece of loin pounded thin, but this was a thick cut of shoulder from Double Brook Farm’s Berkshire pigs. Tender, juicy and almost gamey, the schnitzel had a luscious layer of creamy fat beneath its crisp breadcrumb coating. The fried egg on top was superfluous.
One of the big changes is the readmission of seafood, coinciding with the restaurant signing up last year with Point Pleasant’s Local 130, a company whose boats supply many Jersey restaurants with sparkling daily catch. It’s a welcome addition. One of the best things I tasted was a pan-roasted fillet of Jersey fluke, the delicate flesh in a bright, herb-inflected lemon sauce with fiddlehead ferns, cauliflower and chewy ryeberries.
I had high hopes for the grass-fed steak, but it was dry. The accompanying fingerling potatoes were dressed with a chimichurri sauce, but I couldn’t taste it because the server instantly poured bordelaise sauce over everything.
Desserts were excellent, especially the creamy chai rice pudding served in a jar. Parsnip cake sounded like a horrid idea, but I was surprised to find I enjoyed the play on carrot cake. A layer of chocolate helped, as did the vanilla and cinnamon notes of a Mexican horchata sauce (poured, you guessed it, tableside).Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Appetizers, $8-$16; entrées, $22-$52; desserts, $6-$10
Service:Friendly, sometimes a bit precious
Wine list:Creative cocktails; 8 Jersey beers on tap; 19 wines by glass