Story and photos by Jeff Kronenfeld, October 2019 Issue.
Though The Farish House’s menu is populated by cassoulets, roulades and patés, head chef and co-owner Lori Hassler espouses a simple culinary philosophy: long, low and slow.
Its unique brand of French home cooking with an American twist fits well within the faded brick exterior of the 120-year-old building lending its name to the restaurant, which opened earlier this year. Located in Phoenix on Third Street a block and a half south of Roosevelt, the family-owned business is a smart choice for dates, a quick nosh and post-work drinks, or Sunday brunch.
Born and raised in the Valley, Hassler’s career in foodservice began as a hostess. Over time, she gravitated to the kitchen, eventually starting her own catering business. When presented with the opportunity to takeover a friend’s lease in 2004, she opened her first restaurant: Radda Café-Bar. Located in Scottsdale, Hassler named the now closed establishment after the town in Italy where she married her husband Eric Hassler, the other co-owner of the Farish House. She won rave reviews there — especially for her tiramisu — and a number of dishes from Radda have been revived for The Farish House. “It was more modern Italian dining. It wasn't red checkered tablecloths and Frank Sinatra,” Hassler explained. “My food ethic is still the same: real food, slow-cooked, and not buying prefabbed items.”
Faced with the economic downturn in 2009, in addition to a number of illnesses and deaths in the family, Hassler choose not to renew her lease and closed shop. After caring for family members for a year, one of her former wine reps recruited her. She enjoyed the wine business, especially getting to work with different restaurant concepts and owners. All the while, she was making mental notes. Lucky enough to meet the owner of the Farish House property, which was then vacant, Hassler explained her plan and things fell into place.
For six months, Hassler and her family led a restoration of the storied structure. They refurbished the trim, exposed the original fireplace and repainted the gray and black walls with a vibrant color scheme popular at the time of the building’s construction. They removed the existing bar, replacing it with one painstakingly built by her uncle. She decorated with family heirlooms, including old photos, one which she jokingly dubbed, “angry grandpa baby.” However, the most extensive part of the remodel involved converting a smaller building on the back of the property into a kitchen fit for a full-service restaurant. Though replacing the floors, removing walls and adding additional sinks took longer than expected, the end result was a spacious kitchen with plenty of natural light.
Though the restaurant was packed on the Friday evening we visited, it didn’t feel overcrowded or as if our neighbors could easily eavesdrop. We started with a fizzy red wine — Monte delle Vigne Lambrusco — which was only three dollars a glass and sweet without being too sugary.
We sampled three items from the to start and to shar portion of the menu, though it was difficult to winnow down our selection from the 14 options. First to arrive was the brandied chicken liver paté, which was creamy, savory and complimented nicely by a crown of raspberry jam and pickled onions. It came with a half-dozen triangles of toasted crustless bread, a perfect vehicle, which was almost like airy meat ice cream, but in a good way. Never much of a liver eater myself, this dish none-the-less won me over.
Though The Farish House is certainly not a place for vegans, there are some vegetarian options. We tried the French lentils, which were sautéed with carrots, fennel, shallots and fresh herbs. Though in the unenviable role of following the paté, the lentils surprised me, soft yet still retaining their texture and form. They were buttery with a strong citrus flavor and olive oil notes.
Our last appetizer is one of The Farish House’s signature dishes, foutine, an extravagant take on poutine, which though the most expensive of the appetizers at $15, is definitely worth it. It starts with a base of roasted duck fat fingerling potatoes, which were tender, plump and juicy. They are available on their own. In the foutine, the little potatoes are smothered in duck gravy, blue cheese and duck rillettes, the ladder of which was almost like slow-cooked pulled pork. Hardy yet richly flavored, this dish is like poutine’s final Pokémon evolution.
After all this, we switched to cocktails, seeking to steel our nerves and stomachs for the main courses. Though the cocktail menu was small, each was a delightful pre-prohibition throwback and included an interesting explanation of each drink’s origins. My companion had a Farish House Cup, consisting of gin, amaro, lemon, ginger beer and mint. It was tangy and, though strong, went down exceedingly easy. I tried the A Whiskey Smash, made up of bourbon, berry compote, lemon and mint. Though it was good, it paled in comparison to the cup, which was exceptional.
With nerves sufficiently steeled, we felt ready for our main courses, despite our somewhat excessive orders of appetizers. My friend had Le Mac, which is to mac and cheese as foutine is to average-joe poutine. The sauce was a blend of gouda, sharp cheddar and parmesan. It was creamy and rich, yet light. The dusting of breadcrumbs added a nice textural dissonance. The dish was affordable, just $13, with the option of adding bacon for a couple more bucks, which for some crazy reason by friend didn’t go for.
Whatever cocktail envy I had quickly fell away when my order of short ribs arrived. Braised in red wine and coated with peppercorn gravy, the ribs were so tender I imagined the animal had been given valium and massages before its execution. Honestly, you wouldn’t even need teeth to chew it. It came accompanied with fingerling potatoes, plump haricot green beans, cabbage and some other plant material. These vegetables were quite good, even the next day, as by this point, I was quite full.
While the downtown culinary scene offers plenty of satisfying options, but if you’re desiring something beyond the quotidian fare of pizza, tacos and burgers, then The Farish House is an excellent choice, whether on a date or just dropping in for a happy hour snack.