Cafe Reviews

Old Town Scottsdale's Farm & Craft Doesn’t Offer Much in the Way of Service — or Taste

Farm & Craft, located in Old Town Scottsdale.
Farm & Craft, located in Old Town Scottsdale. Jackie Mercandetti

click to enlarge Farm & Craft, located in Old Town Scottsdale. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
Farm & Craft, located in Old Town Scottsdale.
Jackie Mercandetti

There are places in Los Angeles that have helped popularize a specific breed of American restaurant, one recognizable by its expansive catalog of spice-inflected, cold-pressed juice blends, fancy toast plates, and healthful “bowls,” feel-good medleys of whole grains — farro, maybe quinoa — topped with discrete heaps of lean protein and microgreens.

At their best, these are temples of clever artisanal cooking, at once nourishing and delicious. The popular rise of the hipster-chic brunch parlor, though, has also spawned less successful, and less soulful, analogues.

Take, for example, Farm & Craft, a newish Old Town Scottsdale restaurant located on the prime corner lot on Scottsdale Road that used to belong to Stingray Sushi. The restaurant is part of the Riot Hospitality Group, known for party zones like El Hefe and Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row.

Farm & Craft is deeply attractive at first sight. The dark-toned sleekness of Stingray Sushi has been replaced with a light, bright color palette; a marble bar in the corner is both glitzy and inviting; an elaborate floral display near the center of the dining room and boxed greenery on the patio are charming; and retractable glass doors succeed in doing what Scottsdale patio dining does best — blurring the line between inside and out, washing the space in natural light while setting a buzzy sidewalk scene.

click to enlarge Ready-to-go juice blends come in a variety of flavors. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
Ready-to-go juice blends come in a variety of flavors.
Jackie Mercandetti

Everything about the restaurant seems designed to feel good, to put a spring in your step with nutrient-infused eating and drinking. The restaurant’s name, for instance, evokes the seasonality of farm-to-table cooking, and the modern obsession with well-rendered food craft. To drive the point home, the dining room is dominated by a full-scale wall mural, an idealized farm scene with rows of fresh crops wrapped in golden light. “All I want is Food and Affection” is stenciled on an opposite wall in sky-blue paint. “Food + affection + community” is emblazoned behind the counter, which is also full of tap spigots ready to deliver a comprehensive selection of ultra-trendy drinks — cold-brew coffee, kombucha, sparkling rosé.

For all its style and adornment, and its proclaimed philosophy of affection, community, farm-fresh ingredients, and craft, in the end Farm & Craft comes off cold and insincere.

During a recent dinner service, for example, the gaps between courses were so long, it felt at times that our server had left for the night, and nobody had bothered to take over service. After three visits to the café, two busy dinner services involved protracted wait times to submit drink and appetizer orders, and humble requests for water refills went unfulfilled for notable stretches of time. So much for affection.

Service is “fast-casual” during the day, and this seems to be when the restaurant works best. You pay at the counter, and bowls of food are efficiently dispatched to your table.

The breakfast and brunch menu is ambitious, offering dozens of ways to fuel your day. Yogurt parfaits, açaí-spiked smoothies, the now-classic avocado toast — these are readily available. The menu is even mapped out in health terms, with dishes sorted into four main categories: dishes described as antioxidant-rich, dishes to boost your probiotic levels, dishes to aid in stress relief, and dishes for an anti-inflammatory diet.

A “breaky” burrito (a symbol puts it in the antioxidant camp) is one of the heartier brunch options, a credible take on the unofficial breakfast of the Southwest. Juicy hunks of turkey, scrambled eggs, nitrate-free chopped bacon, modestly lubed with melted cheddar, and folded into a pillowy-soft flax wrap, yield a pleasant but slightly bland burrito.

click to enlarge The strawberry brioche was a disappointing breakfast option. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
The strawberry brioche was a disappointing breakfast option.
Jackie Mercandetti

Strawberry brioche is more disappointing, a lackluster morning entry of sliced strawberries layered on thickly sliced, toasted yet cold brioche. A thick, pasty layer of sweet mascarpone, drizzled with coconut syrup and scant half-hearted slivers of chopped mint, dominates the dish. The total effect is sweetness atop sweetness, with little discernable nuance from the coconut or mint.

Lunch staples like salads and wraps are more straightforward, and more likely to satisfy. A standard turkey wrap is elevated by a savory “avocado hummus,” and the restaurant’s signature, very soft whole-wheat flax wrap.

click to enlarge The Harvest salad comes with grains, arugula, sweet potato, green apple, and blue cheese. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
The Harvest salad comes with grains, arugula, sweet potato, green apple, and blue cheese.
Jackie Mercandetti

The house Harvest grain salad achieves a nice balance between sweet, savory, and tangy. The tangle of arugula plays well against roasted cubes of sweet potato and slices of green apple. Nubs of blue cheese, and a lime vinaigrette, offer surprising, harmonious turns of flavor. It’s too bad more dishes don’t offer this kind of nuance or surprise.

After five o’clock, the lights are dimmed and the restaurant switches to full-service dining. Many of the lunch items, and flavor combinations, are reconfigured for the evening menu.

Maybe you’ll indulge in a drink from Farm & Craft’s expansive and creative cocktail menu — kombucha blended with organic tequila and dappled with local honey, it turns out, is not bad at all. The restaurant seems to hedge its bets on health-centric dining with the bar menu, though, replete with things like “Health Shots,” hard spirits blended with things like carrot juice. Even supplemented with carrot juice, though, how “clean” is a martini?

Dinner starters include a bowl of quinoa and flax chip nachos, the multigrain chips covered in bland layers of chicken sausage Bolognese, black beans, and pico de gallo. Occasionally, a chip wrapped in sticky white cheddar turns up. It’s like the “healthy” version of nachos your friend makes for a potluck — fine, but not exactly something you’ll hunger for again.

A popular house side, the farro mac ’n’ cheese, is better. The farro is suspended in a melted, buttery muddle of cheese, the cheese infused with the grain’s natural earthiness. It’s a compelling and intriguing dish, but the minute-sized farro means you’re mostly left with a mouth full of buttery cheese. Worse things have happened, of course.

click to enlarge The chicken sausage flatbread pizza fell flat. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
The chicken sausage flatbread pizza fell flat.
Jackie Mercandetti

The restaurant’s small, popular flatbread menu is less intriguing. During a recent dinner, the Farm House flatbread, shaped like a small, round pizza pie, featured slices of chicken sausage, scatterings of asparagus, and mozzarella. The thin-crust pizza was not particularly well-crafted, though — soggy and limp in places, slightly charred and burnt in others.

The grass-fed burger is one of the more aggressively seasoned items on the menu, a thickly built patty slathered with melted Havarti and lightly dressed in a sun-dried tomato Sriracha mayo, all of it squeezed into a whole-wheat bun. It’s a smallish burger, the patty nicely salty. But the burger fails to register as memorable.

click to enlarge The Tocoa steak bowl was decent, but not exciting. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
The Tocoa steak bowl was decent, but not exciting.
Jackie Mercandetti

The Tocoa steak bowl is very hearty, layered with organic farro, corn, sweet potato, black beans, caramelized onions, and tomato. The fiber-rich assemblage is brightened up with cilantro-avocado slaw, and four slices of nicely charred steak. It’s a 99-percent veggie bowl — just remove the offending meat slices on top — but either way it’s not terribly exciting or delicious.

Chicken sausage penne pasta, featuring Banza-brand chickpea pasta smothered in a chicken sausage Bolognese, is simple and flavorful. But it’s also a culinary bore.

On a recent evening, dessert was lemon shortbread. After a dinner filled with large gaps in service, it took almost a half hour before the shortbread made its way to the table. When it did arrive, the effort was clunky, the almond-lavender shortbread nearly hard as cement. A lovely citrus custard, featuring lemon and blood orange, offered some sweet-tangy consolation. The top layer was tortuously brûléed, though, throwing whole bites off balance with a few acrid, bitter notes.

There is an underlying aspirational element to the “clean” eating espoused by venues like Farm & Craft that, from a certain angle, looks a little silly. At its worst, though, this brand of eating and drinking encourages the kind of self-absorption that naturally comes with obsessing over beauty, longevity, and a perfectly alkalized gut. The ideas of “affection” and “community” and “farm”-inspired healthy eating are noble, sure. But they work best when paired with things ike creativity, flavor, value, and service.

Farm & Craft
4302 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Hours: Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Strawberry brioche $8
Harvest grain salad $9

Farm House flatbread $12
Tocoa steak bowl $15
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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.