Update: Since publication of this article, The Farmacy has closed.
An early menu at the Farmacy in Palmyra, which turns one year old in August, included the words “Ask Brenda” next to the listing for Mom’s Coconut Custard Pie. Brenda Harakas is the mom of chef/owner Ross Scofield, and you can’t miss her hustling around the small, square, 30-seat dining room. An industry veteran in her own right—she and her husband, Sam, owned diners in South Jersey and Delaware—she was my server during my first visit to the Farmacy. When I asked her about her famous pie, she regretfully informed me it was sold out and recommended the “chocolate explosion” instead. Overhearing her, Scofield barked from the open kitchen, “Mom, stop calling it that! This isn’t Applebee’s.”
It’s not. While the food isn’t cutting edge (lobster mac ’n’ cheese, for example), it’s generally well executed and cooked from scratch with local ingredients. Scofield and partner Danielle Coulter, operators of the original Farmacy in West Philadelphia since 2013, have brought some swagger to this underserved town. I’d come back just for the steamed cockles in clam broth with potatoes, pork belly, fresh herbs and beads of celery oil.
Seared salmon fillet on a meaty hash of blue crab, fingerlings and shiitakes was another favorite. The ivory lobster bisque was loaded with meat and topped with fresh tarragon and scallions that helped balance the richness. The winter-greens salad was so nice I ordered it twice; the bitter escarole, crisp radicchio, soft lettuces, golden raisins, pears, walnuts, blue cheese and white-pear balsamic vinaigrette were satisfyingly harmonious.
Scofield and Coulter moved to nearby Cinnaminson to raise a family. Palmyra has been so busy, they decided to close the Philly Farmacy in February. Busy has its challenges. On a Saturday when we visited, no host was working; getting checked in and seated was chaotic. There’s really nowhere to stand while waiting, creating a bottleneck at the front door. The space is small, granted, but turning tables in a timely manner is essential in a restaurant this small, and meals tend to proceed ploddingly. Scofield could plan his purchasing better. On both visits, he was out of a few items, including a New York strip I wanted to try. When there are only five entrées, being down one is a problem.
In any event, you’d do well to try the chicken. Sometimes it’s available as a crisp-skinned roasted breast with snappy baby turnips, purple brussels sprouts and grilled scallions. Or it might be a buttermilk-fried half bird over silky collards with orecchiette mac ’n’ cheese. (Odd, though, that the breast cost $20 while the half chicken cost $15.)
A large soft-shell crab ($24), fried and crackly, was meaty and sweet, but each of the accompaniments—shrimp, bok choy, carrots and fried noodles—were gloppy with a different sauce (General Tso’s, white miso with peanuts, reduced sweet soy, and terikayi glaze) for an amateurish expression of Asian cooking. Also duds were crab-and-corn fritters, closer to leaden hush puppies than crispy fritters.
The don’t-call-it Chocolate Explosion turned out to be chocolate brownies heaped with stiff cannoli cream and rapidly melting ice cream. At a follow-up visit, the same dish came with strawberry ice cream (not melting, but riddled with ice crystals) and cherry balsamic vinegar. Excellent buttermilk biscuits were styled as shortcake with macerated strawberries and fresh whipped cream perfumed with thyme. Apple-walnut bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and cider-vinegar syrup was pleasingly moist and surprisingly light.
Mom’s Coconut Custard Pie had disappeared from the menu by my second dinner, so I never got to try it. But Brenda is still chatting up customers and giving her son’s dishes folksy nicknames. That spirit is the Farmacy’s secret weapon. I’m not sure Scofield wants to hear this, but Mother knows best.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:American
- Price Range:Moderate
- Price Details:Appetizers, $10-$15; entrées, $15-$31; desserts, $8
- Ambience:Busy, cozy, with open kitchen
- Service:Chatty and earnest (ask for Brenda)
- Wine list:BYO