The Farmer and the Cook Restaurant
339 W. El Roblar Drive
As a food reviewer, I am very tempted to do a profile of Steve Sprinkle, the owner and entrepreneur behind the Farmer and the Cook Restaurant and food store in the Meiners Oaks section of Ojai. Sprinkle has long been a fixture amongst Ojai foodies, and when he opened his store in Meiners Oaks in 2006, the local food naturalists were in organic heaven.
I became aware of Sprinkle’s local food activism when he leased 10 acres of the Ojai Honor Farm (a former 43-acre prison facility with a large amount of cultivatable fields) and became a serious producer of local vegetables and herbs. Steve uses the Rio Gozo farm, the Mano Farm and other local Ojai organic farmland to fill the shelves of his Farmer and the Cook grocery store, and also the baskets of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Food Cooperative. A tireless local food activist, Sprinkle is one of the Ojai Valley’s most formidable, friendliest and most food conscious personages.
The above background information is simply to give a glimpse of the type of person the proprietor of the Farmer and the Cook happens to be. If you want to buy local, buy organic, and eat phenomenally healthily, then Farmer and the Cook is absolutely the place for you. My mother recently visited me from Colorado (where she lives) and after her first lunch there, where she saw the many chatting and friendly patrons in this neighborhood hangout with a small town feel, her comment to me was “the food is awfully good, and it is certainly a friendly bunch of hippies.” She was not impressed with the bathroom; I reminded her I review food, not facilities.
And about that food: breakfast and lunch are available daily, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday, an evening dinner menu is also available. For the dinner menu, the offerings truly depend on the seasonal food from Sprinkle’s farms.
Last weekend, the appetizers included grilled artichoke halves seasoned with sun-dried tomatoes and a lemon salsa: simple, and mouthwatering, and more than well worth the $8. Also offered was warm spigarelli greens (kind of a cross between broccoli rabe and dandelion) flavored with farm smoked paprika, preserved lemon, olives, herbs and served on a flat bread. At $6, another bargain, and healthy and filling. Emilie’s salad was tricolor radicchio, endive, and arugula sprinkled with parmigiano-reggiano — green, healthy and picked within six hours of coming to table.
Olivia’s special entree was potato and green garlic ravioli with a sorrel pesto and served on a bed of savoy cabbage. I couldn’t have thought of any better combination of fresh flavors and tastes; the green garlic is so mild and yet piquantly flavorful. This was the priciest dish on this menu at $13.50, but the absolute perfection of the farm-to-table taste is well worth any price. I always seem to add a little salt to most dishes at the Farmer and the Cook — probably sacrilege but it certainly brings out the amazing flavor combinations. One of my friends swears by Fayleigh’s avocado pasta, but I’m trying to stick to more innovative flavor combinations.
Breakfast is OK here; for some reason, I want it to be more creatively stunning and splendid. The homemade granola is delicious and great to have at home. The huevos rancheros are simply scrambled eggs over two corn tortillas with avocado and pico de gallo. Nothing special except the freshness of the eggs, which is a flavor you will savor and you’ll robably think about raising chickens yourself after you taste how amazing eggs are when they are recently laid. A vegan friend of mine suggested I try the tofu and veggie scramble. It was OK, but the tofu became a little too small and curdy; and while the veggies (squash, onions, peppers) were great, I wanted real eggs. Sorry, I like tofu, but for my palate nothing beats fresh scrambled eggs.
The very best item on the breakfast menu, in my opinion, is a toasted slice of the freshly baked bread of the day (at 75 cents a slice). When it is the white and whole wheat spelt flour with yeast and sunflower seeds, there is probably no better taste than this freshly baked bread, toasted and served with a home made marmalade or jam. I often take home a loaf of this bread (at $6.50) right as it comes out of the oven, and I’ll admit it does not last long at my house.
I should probably mention the Farmer and the Cook market at this point. All of the farm-fresh vegetables are available in the market, as well as a vast supply of organic grains, yogurts, beverages and locally made specialty items.
Interesting lunches are also available; many people enjoy the veggie burrito; I either have the soup (which is from whatever veggie surplus of the day before) or the amazing salad bar. At $8 a pound, one is able to have the most exquisite combination of local greens and veggies, with a variety of organic dressings (or just plain lemon juice from local Meyer lemons). The teas, chai and beverages are also worth noting, but I’ll close the lunch part of this review with my favorite unique nibble: the huarache. A large, oval, handmade, thick-pressed cornmeal tortilla is covered with diced potatoes, mozzarella and feta cheese and chili rajas served with a mild or spicy tomatillo sauce and Mexican crema covering in a criss-cross fashion — just like the Mexican sandal from which the name was derived. A great taste combination and fun to eat as well.
For some diners, the Farmer and the Cook is a little too hippie or Boulderesque in its demeanor. For my palate, the fresh simple food and the sustainable local agricultural community it serves, the Farmer and the Cook is what Earth Day is all about.