Globe North Dining Out

Good food, fun go hand in hand

By Meredith Goldstein
Globe Staff / August 30, 2009

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Farm Bar & Grille
233 Western Ave., Essex
Open 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily
All major credit cards accepted
Live music Thursday to Saturday
Accessible to those with handicaps

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new restaurant in Essex that should be added to your list of happy places. It’s called the Farm Bar & Grille, and it’s like a vacation.

There are volleyball nets in the backyard for diners. There’s live music a few nights a week, and a big, outdoor movie screen for Red Sox games. It feels like a place that should be near the water, but it’s just as well that it isn’t. No water means there’s less traffic getting there.

You can tell the Farm is a labor of love. Three 20-something friends from the area left their corporate jobs to start a dream restaurant that also would fill a nightlife void on Cape Ann. They’ve succeeded. Open since April in the space that used to be JR’s Route 22, the Farm has been doing well despite the recession and early-summer rains. After a recent visit, I can see why. It’s like visiting the popular kid’s house. The kid who always has good parties. The kid whose parents are away on vacation.

My dining companions and I chose a recent humid night for our visit. Even though it was a Wednesday, the outdoor picnic tables were packed. A volleyball league occupies the net on Wednesdays, so we had a pretty good game to watch. On any other night, it would have been a pickup match. Maybe we would have joined in.

We sat comfortably at an umbrella-covered picnic table with the freshest nachos ($9) we’d had in a long time. The cheese wasn’t rubbery. The salsa was the real deal (chunks of tomatoes). The chips were crisp, despite the temperature outside. We also sampled the warm artichoke dip ($7), which we assumed would be a pot of cheese with little bits of green. But this mix was almost all fresh artichoke. Slices of the vegetable were served in the lightest sauce. We ate a lot without feeling guilty.

At about 8 p.m., the bugs came out. Luckily, the Farm keeps bottles of insect repellent sprays on the patio for its customers. We ran over and doused ourselves. Ultimately, we decided to move indoors to avoid bites, but it’s nice the restaurant thinks ahead.

Indoors, we moved on to the main course. The salads are hefty enough for two - or maybe even three. We went for the pear ($9), which was a mound of greens with walnuts, pears, cranberries, and a pile of Gorgonzola cheese. It was served with a blue-cheese-style Gorgonzola cream dressing, but we barely needed it. The ingredients were moist and tasty on their own.

Meat fans will not be disappointed with the Farm’s menu. There are a few burger options and a number of smoked dishes, including a pulled pork sandwich ($9) that’s slathered in tangy barbecue sauce. I ate the pork plate without the bun, not wanting to distract myself from the tender meat.

While the salmon entrée ($16) was about average, a warm sandwich with mozzarella, Parmesan, and cheddar ($7) was unexpectedly good. We attribute the flavor to the basil and tomatoes inside, and the bread, which comes from Virgilio’s in Gloucester. The yummy desserts ($6) (we recommend the brownie) are extra good with scoops of Richardson’s ice cream. Thank goodness these local owners know where to buy the best ingredients.

Even better than the food was the environment. Watching the Sox game on a big screen while friendly people played volleyball behind us made us forget that we had work the next day. Hopefully, the Farm will keep the vibe when winter comes.

Next time, we’ll be there for the live music, maybe for DreadRocks, a reggae band that plays the Farm on Sept. 5. It would be nice to have some peace, love, and Bob Marley tunes with those nachos, for the full summer experience.

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