The arc is familiar: get married, have kids, move from the city to the suburbs. But when chefs make the move, food shapes the arc more than usual. So it was for Philadelphia chefs Josh Lawler and Todd Fuller, co-owners, with their wives, of the Farm and Fisherman Tavern + Market in Cherry Hill.
“We both live out here, and we both have kids,” say Fuller, who resides in Haddonfield with his wife and four children, ages 3 to 10. (Lawler and his wife and three children live in Cherry Hill.) “It comes time when you’d like to go out to eat, and there are just no choices here.”
At least, no choices that seemed to reflect the fresh-local-seasonal ethos that had shaped their careers. Back in March 2011, Lawler and his wife, Colleen, both young chefs with distinguished backgrounds, had opened the Farm and Fisherman BYOB in Philadelphia. Josh, among other things, had been chef de cuisine of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, and Colleen had been sous chef of Picholine in Manhattan. They made the Philadelphia Farm and Fisherman a farm-to-table exemplar, and it became a 2012 James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best New Restaurant.
The Lawlers soon teamed with Fuller and his wife, Leigh, to open the Cherry Hill branch in November 2013. Set in a strip mall, it is more casual in decor and menu than the original and much larger, with 150 seats, compared to 32. And even though it has a liquor license, it aims to be family friendly.
“We felt there was an untapped market here,” says general manager Ben Menk. “You start raising your kids, you don’t necessarily want to go into the city all the time. You want a Philly-type atmosphere, but with easy parking.”
Fuller, previously with Stephen Starr’s Tangerine in Philadelphia and the Pour House and Treno Pizza Bar in Westmont, acknowledges that the market part of the concept—selling local cheeses and produce—has not proved as popular as the restaurant part. Indeed, they’ve scaled it back a bit and added what they call a bundle menu, a rotating selection of three-course take-out meals at $10 per person.
Industrial-style lighting and a hip soundtrack reinforce the urban-meets-suburban vibe. High-top tables and stools form a transition zone between the U-shaped antique hickory bar and the stylish dining room, with its walnut tables and pumpkin-colored, tufted-leatherette banquettes.
Some dishes from the Philadelphia F-and-F have turned up in Cherry Hill in slightly more accessible form. Philly serves poached Maine hake; Cherry Hill generally sticks with salmon, tuna and that pub favorite, fish and chips. One of the most popular Philly dishes is the Bloody Beet Steak appetizer, a whole roasted and braised beet served hot over yogurt. Cherry Hill cuts the hot beet into chunks, applies a smear of yogurt and veal-stock pan drippings, and tops it with pistachio praline powder and a cold salad of mixed greens with an aged balsamic vinaigrette. Some patrons found the hot/cold contrast “weird at first,” says Fuller, but the dish has lately become a hit.
Rhode Island calamari are tossed in semolina flour, fried and served with a giardiniera vinaigrette of pickled vegetables, olives and celery leaves. Burrata, from Lioni Lattacini in Union, is lush double-creamed mozzarella served with semolina crostini and chunky tomato sauce. Terrific Maryland crab cake, almost all meat, gets a tarragon aioli and a spicy remoulade with a salad of mint, parsley, greens, pickled carrots and shaved vegetables. The mushroom-toast appetizer is comfort food of unusual complexity. Rich maitake, shiitake, oyster and cremini mushrooms, sautéed in an Asian ginger, soy, garlic and fish sauce, are served on toasts smeared with whipped ricotta and topped with a sumptuous dressing made from mustard, olive oil and a coddled egg.
The dinner menu includes fun snacks, such as (vegetarian) chickpea fries that were silky under their crisp surface, and a For the Table section featuring caramelized cauliflower (perfectly roasted and sauced with mushrooms, leeks and curry cream) as well as a seasonally changing bar pizza.
Shrimp and grits made an outstanding entrée. Each of the three jumbos rested on a satisfying square of deep-fried polenta topped with tomato sauce and a bit of Benton’s country ham. Duck pappardelle, another winner, boasted a rich ragù of braised duck legs, duck stock and sofrito over fresh pasta from Severino’s in neighboring Collingswood. Equally tasty was the Bolognese sauce served over rigatoni. Inch-thick pork chops, pan seared, were served with pan gravy, spaetzle and collard greens for a rustic home run.
Desserts by pastry chef Jess Gaspero, previously at R2L in Philadelphia, like much of the menu, aim for broad appeal. Triple chocolate layer cake with white-and-milk chocolate icings hit that mark, as did subtly sweet apple cobbler sparked with hints of fresh ginger. Citrus panna cotta topped with a blood orange granita and pistachios ate more like a fruit soup, because the granita melted by the time it was served.
At our table, the winner by acclamation was the salted-caramel sundae for two. Served in a glass bowl, it visibly layers chocolate-covered pretzels and crunchy blondie crumbs between house-made vanilla and salted-caramel ice creams and salted-caramel sauce—all crowned with that indulgence beloved in city and suburb alike: whipped cream.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:American - Modern
Price Details:Appetizers, $7-$17; sandwiches, $12-$16; entrees, $19-$26; desserts, $7-$10.
Ambience:City hip, suburban casual
Service:Engaged and knowledgeable
Wine list:18 by the glass; 22 of 45 bottles under $50; more than 80 beers; cocktails, including some that are barrel aged