First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zach Taylor was just back from a year in Europe – where he had “fallen in love with cured meats and regional sausages” – when he met his future wife, Kara Lawrence.
“She was at the University of Montana, and was curing prosciuttos in the basement of her rental house,” he recalled.
Their relationship turned out to be an artisanal match made in charcuterie heaven, deepened by an understanding of and appreciation for the butcher’s most time-honored art form. Let’s say they’re on close terms with confit and pâté, sausage and ham.
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After an ongoing “soft opening” of their Farm Table restaurant-market since early September, they’re preparing for its grand opening Nov. 14. Farm Table specializes in “the farmstead arts of preservation and whole animal cookery.” Read: lots of good stuff to eat there and/or take home.
Zach grew up in a farm environment in Montana, hunting, fishing and “processing and eating a lot of wild game and locally raised meats.” Kara learned the art of charcuterie working in Italian and French restaurants.
In 2010 they moved from Missoula, Mont., to the Sacramento area, “looking for new opportunities” and to “help out” at Zach’s uncle’s Smokey Ridge Ranch in Apple Hill. That first fall season, as tourists swarmed the foothills, they saw that most of the food items sold by Apple Hill farmsteads were sweets, such as pies and doughnuts.
Hmm, they wondered, how would a savory go over? Their grilled, handcrafted apple sausage sandwich was a hit, which led to their making more kinds of sausages and pâté marketed at the Smokey Ridge farm stand and Sacramento-area farmers markets, and through Smokey Ridge Charcuterie.
“We developed a following, and it blew up from there,” Zach said.
Next came the launch of sausage and charcuterie clubs, modeled after the popular wine club template.
“That grew so fast we had to put a cap on it,” he said. “From there we started doing club-member farm-to-fork dinners in the barn at the farm. They were selling out, so we expanded to catering dinners at wineries (and other venues).”
Finally, the demand for their charcuterie outgrew their production and storage facilities at the farm.
“It was a good problem, but still a problem,” Zach said. “We needed to figure out a way to keep the momentum and continue to grow.”
That led to a vacant storefront and a larger kitchen space. They rolled Smokey Ridge Charcuterie into Farm Table, a fresh addition to the restaurant scene on Placerville’s Main Street.
Menu: Lunch and dinner choices include salads, soups, sandwiches (dry-cured ham and Brie with house-made, whole-grain mustard; roasted turkey with winter squash, leeks and sage), roasted veggie platter, meat-and-cheese platters, cassoulet (with duck confit), and chicken and dumplings. Dinner-only dishes are red wine-braised beef served over polenta, pan-fried trout and “vegetarian” (changes daily).
The chalkboard specials last Saturday were sausages (apple-pork and smoked chili-cherry, and chorizo), chicken liver pâté, boquerones (marinated and seasoned white anchovies), Point Reyes “blue Brie” (blue cheese combined with Brie), and assorted dry-cured meats (bresaola, speck, lomo and saucisson).
Focaccia bread, pretzel rolls and desserts are made in-house, such as the “bacon fat-ginger” cookies. The menu says, “More small and large plates are in the works.”
Refrigerator-freezers hold multiple varieties of house-made and imported sausage links (herbs de Provence, Cajun, chicken, garlic), duck pastrami, breakfast sausage, dry-cured bacon and salamis. Some meats are sold by the pound.
On shelves along one wall are dozens of jars of herbs and spices (fennel, ginger, juniper berry, rubs, applewood-smoked sea salt, Spanish paprika), walnut oil, sherry vinegar and the like.
Price point: Given the “hand-crafted, in-house and imported” dynamic, most prices don’t seem out of line. Sandwiches are under $10, sides are $3, meat-and-cheese platters are $10 and $20 ($2.50 per added item). Prices move upward for larger-portion, more complex dishes such as chicken and dumplings ($12 small, $24 large), cassoulet ($10 and $18) and braised beef ($16 and $28). Pan-fried trout with fixin’s is $18.
Ambiance: The airy dining room is small but tidy, with high stamped-tin ceilings, hardwood floors and window-side counters looking out on the passing scene. Abundant natural light is a bonus.
Drinks: Six microbrews were on tap, along with a wide assortment of local and imported wines. The iced tea and lemonade were better than most.
Service: Informative and friendly. For now, order at the counter and your meal will be delivered to the table. Table service is coming soon, from 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.
First impressions: Relaxing and interesting, with the chance to taste unusual items and learn about something new. A bowl of beef-barley soup was hearty and rich, the broth a masterpiece of flavors. We grazed on a plate of mild, non-salty dry-cured ham, paper-thin slices of finocchiona (fennel salami), creamy Brie, provolone so mild it lacked flavor, neon-green Castelvetrano olives, and crunchy house-pickled bell pepper, onion and cornichons. We asked a cook to cut off a six-inch length from a fresh baguette (La Brea brand) and liked it better than the accompanying basket of slightly toasted baguette “chips.”
Try it if: You love the flavors of charcuterie, homemade meals and farm-fresh produce, or wish to experiment with something more rustic and exotic than your usual go-to’s.
Forget it if: You’re put off by all those fancy names for meats.
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.
311 Main St., Placerville
Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-closing Sundays.
Information: (530) 295-8140, www.ourfarmtable.com