Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
"You need to try one of our broth drinks," says Adrienne Shaunfield, even before menus are opened. "Be sure to get some pancakes, too." And with that, she's gone off to another table, because with a line stretching all the way out the door of Fayetteville's Farmer's Table Cafe, there's not a lot of time for small talk.
Shaunfield, who with her husband, Rob Shaunfield, owns the small cafe on School Street, has been a part of the local food scene in Northwest Arkansas for a long time. She formerly worked with Feed Fayetteville, an organization that collects surplus food from growers and farmers markets for distribution to area food pantries and community meal centers. Now the Shaunfields are using local food to make interesting twists on classics (the recommended pancakes arrive with a side order of spicy sauteed local kale, for instance) and embracing the seasonal bounty that keeps things interesting all year.
A chalkboard in the Farmer's Table Cafe includes the names of each farm or local artisan producer from which Farmer's Table Cafe gets its ingredients. That chalkboard is full and the writing is small. With over 100 local partners, this is one restaurant that takes local food seriously. It's an ambitious business model that has paid off in the cafe's first year of operation: The votes of local diners landed the farm-to-table restaurant at the top of the "Best New Restaurant" category in this year's Arkansas Times Readers Choice poll.
The lines don't stop when breakfast is over, as homemade biscuits and farm-fresh eggs give way to a large menu of sandwiches, salads and soups. The Farmer's Chef salad is a joyous mix of fresh greens, sustainably sourced ham and bacon, more of those fresh eggs (hard-boiled this time), sunflower sprouts and radishes grown right on site. Want to go heartier than that? Go for the Jalapeno Molasses BBQ Chicken sandwich, a rich and satisfying concoction of pulled chicken that is spicy and sweet all at once. Vegetarian and vegan diners need not feel left out, either — the Garbanzo Burger is what every falafel should aspire to be when it grows up, and there are no animal products involved (nor are they needed).
In addition to the daily breakfast and lunch menus, Farmer's Table has also begun hosting special farm-to-table dinners, and are making an attempt to keep the dinners reasonable in price. The restaurant's recent "Shake the Hand That Feeds You" series kept ticket prices around $20 per person (a steal), and provided a chance for diners to meet the farmers who raised the food that is so lovingly prepared by the cafe.
Such events are just part of what the Shaunfields hope to achieve with Farmer's Table Cafe. Like all local restaurants, they want to provide delicious food with excellent service, but the Shaunfields are in more than just the food business — they are in the conversation business. Each ingredient on each plate has a story behind it, and the Farmer's Table staff is more than happy to pass a few minutes talking about where the various vegetables and proteins are from. It's the sort of place where vegetables and fruit just picked that morning arrive in the back of dusty pickups.
Farmer's Table Cafe is a healthy option for more reasons than just the freshness of its ingredients. The Shaunfields have made it their mission to give back to the community, from the formerly unpopular neighborhood they chose as the site of their restaurant to the charity work that continues to be a part of the cafe's daily routine. In addition, the majority of the money that the people waiting in those long lines spend is plowed right back into the local food community, helping promote sustainability and security among area farmers and artisans. As awareness grows about how delicious the food at Farmer's Table is, that "Best New Restaurant" award should translate into many awards to come in the future.