Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Sneaky Pete

Newly paroled conman Marius Josipovic (Giovanni Ribisi) learns from his younger brother Eddie (Michael Drayer) that they are still in debt to vengeful cop-turner-gambler Vince Lonigan (Bryan Cranston, who also produced), who will begin cutting off Eddie’s fingers if Marius doesn’t pay what he owes in a matter of days. Desperate, Marius decides to pose as jailhouse acquaintance Pete Murphy (Ethan Embry), the estranged grandson of bail bondsmen Otto (Peter Gerety) and Audrey (Margo Martindale) Bernhardt in hopes of getting his hands on their cash. The longer that Marius stays in the role, the closer he grows to Pete’s grandparents and cousins Julia (Marin Ireland), Carly (Libe Barer), and Taylor (Shane McRae). As the family’s own desperate situations become more evident, Marius deploys his criminal knowledge to their mutual advantage while keeping up his impersonation and scrambling to get the money.

Confidence tricks can be fertile ground for film – just as David Mamet – but building a television (or, in this case, Amazon) series around them comes with a sizeable challenge: how do you keep viewers invested without giving away too much of the scheme or relying on too much convoluted happenstance? Fortunately, showrunner Graham Yost proved to be up to the task, delivering an engaging, smartly written series that always seems to have one more move to make.

Yost previously found success heading up Justified, and Sneaky Pete’s cast includes several of that show’s veterans. Martindale is again a strong matriarchal presence (though neither quite as ruthless or quite as diabolical as Mags Bennett), and she’s joined by Jacob Pitts as Julia’s ex, a sleazy lawyer improbably named Lance Lord, and Brad William Henke, the protective husband to Marius’s torch-carrying ex. In the lead role, Ribisi exudes both an unctuousness and a knack for quick-witted problem-solving that suit the character well, but in a departure from the recent wave of morally dark anti-heroes, he is, despite his profession, revealed to be caring and considerate. As the villainous Vince, Cranston indulges in some shameless monologuing, but he too seems to own this character: pragmatic, a bit world-weary, and perfectly willing to go to violent ends if his reputation is on the line.

In addition to multilayered performances, Sneaky Pete benefits from being able to juggle multiple storylines and tones. Interactions between Marius and the real Pete (who doesn’t know he’s being mined for anecdotes to aid the con) are played as farce whereas the threats against Eddie’s well-being and the lengths Otto will go to to keep his family afloat are given the dramatic heft they deserve. Though there are plenty of opportunities for the show to take the easy way out by relying too much on coincidence to get these characters out of their jams, it often prefers to let us watch the problems fester and unfold, and therein lies the juice.

The end of Sneaky Pete’s first season reveals the workings of a long con, but in keeping with its theme of misdirection, shortly after leaving both Marius and the Bernhardts in a better place, it throws them again into danger. Whether or not the show’s premise can sustain itself for another season is anyone’s guess. The first season, however, is as convincing as the grifters at its core.


8.5/10

Revolution Burger

Located at 433 Spring Garden Street in Greensboro, Revolution Burger offers grass-fed burgers as well as salads, shakes, and fries. It is open from 11-10 Sunday through Thursday and from 11 to 11 on Friday and Saturday.

Revolution Burger was one of several restaurants to open late last year at the Morehead Foundry, giving diners some much-needed options in the stretch between College Hill and Downtown proper. Along with its neighbors Four Flocks and Larder and the Baker and the Bean, it comes courtesy of the Fresh Local Good Food Group. Like that group’s established eatery, the Iron Hen Café, Revolution Burger is appealing yet inconsistent.

Revolution’s interior is deep with high ceilings and brightly colored walls. While the orange-hued farm scenes suit the ownership group’s identity, there is almost nothing, aside from a stray “Viva La Farmer,” that suggests “revolution.” Still, it isn’t unattractive, and there appeared to be plenty of seating.

Ordering here is done fast-food style: approach the counter, say what you want, and take a number for your table. The menu features seven burger combos (side and drink included), and as befitting any burger bar these days, you are free to cobble together your own. For our first time out, my wife and I went with a #3 (lettuce, onion, fried green tomato, bacon, and rev sauce) and a #4 (greens, tomato, bacon, smoked gouda, and BBQ sauce) respectively, and we each opted for fries.

It was not busy during the time (around 7 p.m. on a Sunday night) of our visit, and we hadn’t long to wait for our food courtesy of the fast and friendly staff. The results were decidedly mixed. While Revolution uses high quality meat, its pressed into thin patties and overcooked. At least being asked for a preferred doneness would have been a welcome touch. The fries that we initially received were also repulsively stale, but after my wife pointed this out, we were furnished with a new batch. The replacements were delicious, crisp, and nicely salted. Neither the burger toppings nor the portion sizes left room for complaint, and Revolution seems to do sauces well. Both the rev sauce (a smoky, spicy ketchup-mayo blend) and the cider BBQ sauce imparted welcome flavors.




Revolution’s pricing is a bit tricky to gauge. At $10-$12, the combos at first seem high, yet the inclusion of a drink makes them considerably more reasonable. Should you go the build-your-own route, the starting price ($6.50) seems fair, but add cheese and a side, and you’re already over $10.

All told, the location and the plethora of sauces, toppings, and other burger options are enticements enough to make Revolution Burger well worth trying. Still, it’s hard to imagine the establishment cracking Greensboro’s upper burger echelon (Hops/Big Burger Spot/Emma Key’s) even with a dose of much-needed consistency.


7.5/10

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Friendly Center Update: Pieology Pizzeria and Rise Biscuits & Donuts

Greensboro locations of these two chains opened beside one another late last year across from Whole Foods at the Friendly Center, increasing the number of options (and the amount of traffic) in an already bustling shopping area.



Pieology can best be summed up as the Chipotlefication of pizza. An $8.95 flat rate gets you an 11.5 inch pie with unlimited toppings of your choosing (house favorite pies are listed to aid the indecisive), usually in a matter of minutes. Salads are similarly customizable, and there are a few side and dessert items as well.

The two biggest upshots to this concept are flexibility and convenience, and to that end, Pieology acquits itself well. There are enough available crusts, sauces, and toppings for a gluten-sensitive vegetarian and a meat connoisseur to each be satisfied. While Pieology can get busy, the establishment is built to handle a crowd: there is adequate seating both indoors and out and enough caring, well-managed staff to keep the lines moving efficiently. The wait times for pizzas have been as advertised: minimal.

The pizzas themselves, however, are fairly pedestrian, definitely better than most freezer pies, but no real threat to the competition. The crusts are very thin, the flavors sometimes muted (the house red sauce more so than the Alfredo), and the pies can be rather greasy as well. Given the convenience and price, this is, perhaps, an inevitable tradeoff, but whether it is one worth making depends on how much of a hurry you are in.

7.25/10



Rise, Pieology’s neighbor, is very nearly its opposite. Whereas Pieology has plenty of seating, Rise is essentially standing-room only. It isn’t uncommon to see a line literally out the door (friendly staff and a dedicated lane for touchscreen/credit card ordering ameliorate the experience). And where Pieology’s pricing can be deemed a value, some of Rise’s specialty offerings – like the $6 pork loin biscuit or the $3 apple fritter – may invite some measure of sticker shock.

But for those who are willing to stand and to spend, Rise’s food is quite good. The biscuits are buttery and crumbly, and there is a wide range of condiments and toppings to choose from (as well as eclectic rotating specials). The decadent donuts are grouped into old school (glazed, iced, and old fashioned), new school (maple bacon bars, crème brulee, pineapple basil), and our school (rotating specials like a cookie dough bullseye or fruity pebbles). They are definitely on the very sweet side, but I’ve sampled from all three categories and have yet to find a dud. That Rise can be dinged for leaving us wanting more – more space, more hours (they close at 2 p.m.) – is a testament to everything it is doing right.


8.5/10

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cin Cin Burger Bar

Located at 1425 West 1st Street in Winston-Salem, Cin Cin Burger Bar is a Prohibition-themed establishment that specializes in gourmet burgers and (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) shakes. Salads, sandwiches and entrees are also available. There is a full-service bar, and the restaurant is open seven days a week.

Craft burger bars no longer offer the novelty they once did. Customizable toppings have gone from deluxe to de rigueur, and if the ingredient quality and execution aren’t completely on-point, the $10-plus burger is not a justifiable indulgence but a disappointing mass of overpriced meat. This was the climate that greeted the Michael family (owners of Waldo’s Wings) when they opened Cin Cin last year. Having a well-defined concept -– a neo-speakeasy/juice joint – certainly helps, but a tantalizing menu with offerings that eat as good as they sound is what will keep Cin Cin from being an also-ran.

If our first visit was any indication, Cin Cin has gotten off to a strong start. The house was nearly packed when we went for lunch, but, miraculously, the wait for a table was very brief. Inside, Cin Cin is a funky mix of old and new. The red striped booths and old-timey wall art suggest a charming retro vibe, but the conspicuously placed TVs and modern dance music are decidedly at odds with the Prohibition-era aesthetic.

Cin Cin’s menu offers a surprising amount of depth. In addition to the expected burgers (go pre-fab or build your own), fries, salads, and sandwiches, you’ll find everything from chicken waffle pops and pierogis to steaks and fish to an assortment of Waldo’s Wings with a few vegetarian options interspersed. For the decadently inclined, the dessert section will send you straight into Homer Simpson-esque drool territory: sweet jars, cheesecakes, and various wet, dry, and artisanal shakes that make use of everything from butterscotch schnapps to frosted animal crackers.

For our first time out, my wife and I started with eggplant fries and a burger and a side apiece. Unlike some I’ve had, the eggplant fries here came out crispy and golden brown, and they held their batter well. The accompanying garlic aioli was satisfying, but if it hadn’t been, the tableside array of wing sauces would have made up for it. The “flapper” fries that accompanied my burger were crisp as well but rather oddly shaped: picture potato twists. The burger in question, a Bootleggers Bourbon (bourbon molasses glaze, caramelized onion, bacon, and pimento), did not disappoint. Cin Cin uses a chuck/brisket/short rib blend, and the meat was juicy. It also came at the requested medium: some establishments struggle with serving anything less than medium-well. My wife’s selection, the Fuh-Gedd-About-It (mozzarella, tomato, basil, roasted red pepper, and balsamic on ciabatta) was also a hit (the tomato and basil added some nice freshness) though neither of us would repeat the Asian noodle salad (fine in and of itself, odd as an accompaniment) as a side.





For as tasty as the food was, we certainly had to wait a while to receive it. It is difficult to ascertain whether Cin Cin was simply exceptionally busy that day or if their kitchen is normally slow, but either way, a quick meal this was not. At least our server, somewhat frenzied from the rush, was not neglectful.

If nothing else, CinCin is competitively priced. Our app was $6 for a good-sized plate, and our burgers (with one side each) were $12 and $11. Some diners will inevitably balk at paying north of $10 for a burger, but for the quality and quantity offered, Cin Cin’s rates seemed fair.

While the speed can be improved and the concept isn’t entirely consistent, Cin Cin’s deep and varied menu, competent execution, and creative branding make it appealing. It is likely too early to call, but Winston-Salem may have found its very own Hops: a boisterous, busy bar that serves up a damn good burger nearly any way you like.


Overall: 8.25/10

Cin Cin Burger Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Live by Night

Joseph Coughlin (Ben Affleck), the son of a powerful Boston police officer (Brendan Gleeson), returns from World War I disillusioned and becomes a stickup artist. He is reluctantly drawn into a mob war between Albert White (Robert Glenister) and Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) despite insisting that he is an outlaw, not a gangster. Following a doomed affair with White’s girlfriend Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), Coughlin agrees to head up Pescatore’s bootlegging operation in Tampa alongside friend Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina). It isn’t long before they establish a power base and Joe falls in love with Graciela (Zoe Saldana), the charitable sister of his Cuban importer. While Joe dreams of a casino and a position of comfortable security, disapproving locals, a still-vengeful Albert, and an increasingly demanding Maso all threaten to undo his success.

Ben Affleck’s ascendance as a director began a decade ago with another Dennis Lehane adaptation, Gone Baby Gone, so having him bring to screen another work by his fellow Bostonian seemed a no-brainer. Unfortunately, Live by Night seems a bit too content to coast on its pedigree. Though not a flop, it is also, given the talent involved, not all that it could have been.

As a director, Affleck maintains a sharp eye for detail. Tommy guns, fedoras, and sleek roadsters exude period-appropriate style while the Georgia coast fills in admirably for the Florida one. These sunny scenes contrast nicely with the urban grit of the film’s Boston-based beginning. All told, aesthetically, Live by Night does not disappoint.

The acting isn’t quite up to the same standard across the board, but there is no shortage of experienced hands here. Though a bit too old for his role, Affleck convincingly gets across Joe’s pragmatism and conviction that he can simultaneously be a criminal and a decent person (hence the sleep by day/live by night metaphor of the title). However, in their scenes together, he is clearly upstaged by Elle Fanning as the Tampa police chief’s drug addict-turned-evangelist daughter, a would-be antagonist that Fanning plays quite sympathetically. Saldana and Messina make the most of their underwritten roles, and Glenister makes Albert quite a loathsome thug. On the other hand, the miscast Miller’s Irish accent is distractingly inconsistent, especially compared to the authentic one sported by Gleeson (who is rock-solid as the stern, disapproving patriarch). Affleck, wisely, sticks to a standard Boston accent rather than affect a sure-to-be embarrassing attempt at a brogue.

Ironically, given Affleck’s screenwriting Oscar and Lehane’s Edgar awards, the writing may be the weakest element here. While the film and the book on which it was based both explore the nature of spiritual as well as financial and political corruption and provide Joe with an arc, there is quite a bit here that is formulaic or rushed. Live by Night is actually the second book in a trilogy, and had its predecessor, The Given Day, been filmed first, Joe’s disdain for authority and turn to crime would be better understood in context. Even without the added background, this film could have certainly done more to build its relationships. Joe and Graciela, a Boston crook and an Afro-Cuban-Floridian philanthropist, seem to fall a little too easily for one another, and that’s still more that can be said for how Joe (“lace curtain Irish”) and Emma (“shanty Irish”) end up together. Add to this some moments of canned sentimentality, and Live by Night loses some luster.

Were it brought to life by anyone else, Live by Night would be a perfectly serviceable gangster yarn, but as an Affleck film, it comes as a letdown. A longstanding element of comic book lore is that being Batman has caused Bruce Wayne’s social life and business dealings to suffer at times. Perhaps playing Batman (in the upcoming Justice League and a solo film) has taken a similar toll on Affleck.


7.5/10

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Year in Reviews

This past year has been notable for its multitude of down notes, but it wasn’t all bad. Lost within the mire of scandals, celebrity deaths, and political breakdowns were the following highlights.

Food

Favorite New Restaurant in Greensboro: Taaza Bistro 

This stylish Indian eatery offers an outstanding $10 lunch buffet. See the review here.


Local Eatery I Wish I Had Tried Sooner: Dame’s Chicken and Waffles

Crisp, juicy chicken + generously sized waffles + appealing sides, syrups, and schmears = satisfied customers. See the review here.


Favorite Food Finds outside the Triad: a.)The Shoppe Bar & Meatball Kitchen and b.) Luna Rotisserie (tie)

a.       Customizable combinations of meatballs and sides (including a killer risotto) are offered in this cozy Carrboro space. See the review here.
b.      Friendly service and a diverse round-up of flavorful South American dishes make this Durham spot a winner. See the review here.


Most Memorable Meal: Undercurrent

A night-before-wedding dinner in the company of family was bound to be memorable regardless, but Undercurrent’s culinary chops, excellent service, and attention to detail made for one hell of a meal. 


Most in Need of an Overhaul: Café Pasta

The food here is solid, but the menu is limited, pricing offers no great value, and the establishment lacks an edge over competing eateries.


Movies


NOTE: Most of 2016’s prestige pictures (Silence, Fences, Nocturnal Animals, etc.) are late-year releases that won’t hit Netflix until 2017. This list reflects only those 2016 releases that I’ve had a chance to see.

Five to Watch
  1. Captain America: Civil War: Though not necessarily an improvement over the previous entry in the series, this film deftly integrates compelling new characters (Black Panther and Spider-Man) into a well-established world. An absolute must for Marvel fans. See the review here.
  2. The Nice Guys: 70s nostalgia, buddy cop hijinks, plot twists, crazy dream sequences, and more all come together in Shane Black’s highly entertaining neo-noir mashup that reluctantly pairs a heavy-handed enforcer (Russell Crowe) and a squeamish investigator (Ryan Gosling) to find a missing girl
  3. Midnight Special: Jeff Nichol’s heartfelt, atmospheric, low-key sci-fi drama sees a boy with special powers (Jaeden Lieberher) on the run from both the government and a religious cult with his father Roy (Michael Shannon, in a change-of-pace role) and Roy’s friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) as protectors.
  4. Rogue One: A darker, more mature Star Wars film, this taut sidequel bridges the gap between the first and second trilogies as a Rebel faction of defectors, criminals, and wanderers aims to disrupt the Death Star. See the review here.
  5. Three-way-tie: Deadpool, Doctor Strange, and GhostbustersAll three of these movies engendered controversies for different reasons. Deadpool, the family unfriendly R-rated superhero comedy, tosses any semblance of tact out the window, but the uneasily offended can enjoy gory visual humor as a deformed, unkillable mercenary (a perfectly cast Ryan Reynolds) seeks revenge on those who wronged him. See review here. Meanwhile, Doctor Strange, targeted by whitewashing accusations, adds Benedict Cumberbatch’s surgeon-turned-mystic into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in an origin story that isn’t afraid to get weird. See the review here. Lastly, Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters, which caught flack for going with an all-new, all-female cast more than holds its own, delivering fitfully funny dialogue and impressive visuals as a well-matched ensemble of Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones answer the proverbial call.
Honorable Mention: Hail, Caesar! The Coen Brothers take down the studio system in this nostalgia-laden dramedy that sees fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) attempting to put out one fire after another in hardboiled fashion. See the review here.

Three to Avoid
  1. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice: Zak Snyder’s Man of Steel follow-up attempts to build a cohesive DC cinematic universe by putting the two title characters on a path toward collision, thanks to some behind-the-scenes manipulation courtesy of Lex Luthor. While the premise is a winning one and while Ben Affleck (as Batman) and Gal Godot (as Wonder Woman) are welcome additions here, Jesse Eisenberg is miscast as Luthor, and the plotting, pacing, and dialogue all leave a lot to be desired. See the review here.
  2. Batman: The Killing Joke: Batman may have been one of the previous entry’s saving graces, but this animated adaptation of Alan Moore’s classic Joker origin tale is definitely a letdown. Despite featuring familiar voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, the addition of a prologue to give Batgirl more screentime needlessly sexualizes her and complicates her relationship with Batman.
  3. Barbershop: The Next Cut: This latest entry in the Barbershop series suffers from a bloated cast and re-hashes themes (a battle of the sexes, shop owner Calvin’s dwindling enthusiasm, etc.) that were handled better in previous installments. The Next Cut certainly has its moments – and wisely retains Cedric the Entertainer’s cantankerous Eddie – but it doesn’t hold up well compared to the original. 
Dishonorable mention: Suicide Squad. Yet another poorly plotted DC offering, this tale of government-sanctioned criminals and misfits on a heroic quest at least manages to be entertaining, giving us quality quips from Will Smith and Margot Robbie even if Jared Leto’s bizarre take on the Joker never quite works. See the review here.

Television


Favorite New Series: Stranger Things
An ode to the 1980s, the Duffer Brothers’ Netflix hit tells the story of a girl with telekinetic powers (Millie Bobby Brown) who appears in a small Indiana town in 1983 shortly after a boy (Noah Schnapp) goes missing. The boy’s friends, family, and the local police chief all try to piece together what happened while a shady scientist with government ties (Matthew Modine) tries to contain the situation. Featuring strong performances (from Winona Ryder as the missing child’s mother and David Harbour as the alcoholic chief), a period-appropriate look and feel, eerily suspenseful pacing, and homages to everything from Stephen King to John Carpenter to Steven Spielberg, Stranger Things offers a lot to like.

Honorable Mention: Luke Cage
Another Netflix series, Cheo Hodari Coker’s winning adaptation of a Marvel property gives us a compelling title character (ably played by Mike Colter): a wrongfully convicted prison escapee with super strength and unbreakable skin who would prefer to be left alone but finds himself drawn into heroics when his Harlem neighborhood is threatened. Timely, relevant, and paired with excellent music, the series also showcases the talents of Simone Missick (as justice-seeking detective Misty Knight), Alfre Woodard (as scheming, two-faced politician Mariah Dillard), and Erik LaRay Harvey (as wily charismatic psychopath Willis “Diamondback” Stryker). Unfortunately, it also gives us Rosario Dawson’s nurse Claire Temple performing unpleasant medical procedures and occasional bits of clichéd dialogue.

Three Others to Watch
  1. Better Call Saul: Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad prequel continues to make the most of its premise: charming con man Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) gradual transition to sleazy criminal super-lawyer Saul Goodman. The second season explores his complicated relationships with his resentful, more accomplished brother (Michael McKean) and his colleague/occasional girlfriend (Rhea Seehorn) in more detail while also giving fan-favorite fixer Mike (Jonathan Banks) more to do and introducing Breaking Bad baddie Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) to the fold.
  2. Bosch: Eric Overmyer’s Amazon-produced adaptation of Michael Connelly’s titular LAPD detective (brought to life by Titus Welliver) takes the police procedural formula and twists it, making the obstructive bureaucrat deputy chief (Lance Reddick) into a more sympathetic figure, setting up red herrings, and improving upon the first season’s somewhat exacting pace.
  3. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Marvel’s premier spy organization has had its ups and downs, but give it credit for continuing to find new ground. The end of Season 3 (2015-2016) saw the demise of longstanding foe Hydra while newly recruited Inhumans teamed up to take down otherworldly monster Hive. The first half of Season 4 (2016-2017) introduced Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna as the Robbie Reyes version of the character), who teamed with the agents to combat a supernatural threat. The second half then looks to show us what happens when an artificial intelligence gets too intelligent for its own good. The one constant in all of these permutations is Clark Gregg’s commendable work as erstwhile team leader Phil Coulson, the organization’s tactical brains and heart.
Honorable Mention: The Arrowverse. The CW’s four-show (Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl) DC comics collective is uneven but is a lot more entertaining than DC’s cinematic outings. After being mired in melodrama, Season 5 of Arrow has returned to the show’s gritty roots, The Flash continues to cram in new concepts (alternate timelines) while maintaining humor and character development, and the time-hopping Legends, though cheesy, at least manages to be fun.


Music


Favorite New Release: Hardwired…to Self-Destruct
Metallica’s thrash-laden throwback double-album doesn’t hit quite as hard as their 80s prime material, but the 50-something rockers play with gusto and cover a lot of lyrical ground. See the review here.

Honorable Mention: Dystopia and For All Kings
Metallica wasn’t the only Big Four thrash band to enjoy a bit of a resurgence in 2016. Megadeth’s Dystopia gains a shot in the arm courtesy of new members Chris Alder (drums) and Keiko Louriero (guitar). Dave Mustaine is in good vocal form, and while his lyrics are as paranoid and conspiratorial as ever, they seem apropos in a Wikileaks world. Meanwhile, Anthrax, sporting a new guitarist as well in Jon Donais, gets serious and eulogizes the victims of terror with tight compositions well-suited to Joey Belladonna's voice.



A Note on Books

The overwhelming majority of books that I read this year were published in prior years. I look forward to digging into 2016 releases from Stephen King and Michael Chabon when time permits.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Traveled Farmer

Located at 1211 Battleground Avenue in midtown Greensboro, The Traveled Farmer serves international cuisine using local ingredients. There is a full bar with rotating seasonal cocktails and a market area that offers produce and ready-made meals. Patio seating is available during warmer months, and The Traveled Farmer can also cater.

When The Marshall Free House opened in this space in 2014, I was skeptical given how long the restaurant was in development. Despite that – and high pricing - it won me over with well-appointed décor, excellent service, and tasty food. Well, the Free House closed this September, and after a few weeks of redecorating and rebranding, The Traveled Farmer opened in its stead. Welcome back, skepticism. Since my doubts were ultimately misplaced the last time around, however, I felt it only fair to give The Traveled Farmer a try. Ultimately, it amounts to another victory for the Kotis restaurant empire, but not an unblemished one.

Thematically and aesthetically, The Traveled Farmer is a strange and somewhat contradictory place. The interior keeps much of the Free House’s refined pub look: brick, long tables, and handsome dark woods. This still makes for attractive décor, but it doesn’t exactly suggest a farm motif. To remedy that, they’ve added some green paint and bucolic pictures of fields, which leaves you feeling like they’ve split the difference between the past and present concepts. The somewhat limited menu also speaks to a bit of an identity crisis. Though there are a few “global” offerings (a schnitzel, linguine and meatballs, a Korean rice bowl), “local” (as in Southern) takes precedence here. This is a lot closer to Lucky 32 than it is to Crafted, not a bad move given the commendable incorporation of locally sourced ingredients, but a bit of a confusing one.

For our first visit, my wife and I opted to start with one of the few Free House holdovers: Scotch eggs, a dish we had both enjoyed previously. They came plated differently (atop a bed of greens) but tasted as good as ever. Though the fried chicken proved tempting, we ended up with a blackened catfish and a low country shrimp bowl respectively. Both dishes were composed and presented well. The fish was buttery, and my wife, who usually disdains collards, found The Traveled Farmer’s rendition (sweetened with a hint of carrot) to be to her liking. My bowl featured perfectly cooked shrimp, and an accompanying broth imbued richness. However, despite the presence of andouille, it could have definitely used more spice. As it was my birthday, The Traveled Farmer was kind enough to offer a free dessert. The bread pudding with apple miso sauce was excellent: sweet, but not cloyingly so and moist without being mushy.






Compared to the previous concept, The Traveled Farmer’s prices leave less room for complaint. Many of the appetizers (including our Scotch eggs) come in at $5.95 while the non-steak entrees range from $11.95 to $15.95. Portions aren’t huge, but they are filling enough. The service, as was the case with the Free House, is on-point. Our server had a number of tables to cover but didn’t seem frazzled, and though The Traveled Farmer was clearly having a busy night, we didn’t have to wait long for anything.

Overall, The Traveled Farmer has promise. The concept doesn’t quite gel, but the food featured more highs than lows, and the pricing is reasonable enough to allow for future exploration. Don’t let whatever reservations you may have about this place stop you from making reservations for it.


8/10

The Traveled Farmer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato