It’s a familiar tale. A breakfast diner serves good food, and thanks to word-of-mouth, before the critics can even weigh in, diners are jostling for biscuits and gravy, fried croissants, avocado toast.
This was the playbook some years ago at Grant Park’s Home Grown and Buckhead’s Buttermilk Kitchen. Lately it’s been the fate of the Little Farmhouse Cafe in DeKalb. An outgrowth of chef Chris Morrison’s catering business, MRD Foods, the restaurant began serving breakfast and lunch to the public in January.
Now, the secret is out.
If the name stirs expectations of a picturesque cottage with vegetable and herb gardens, cows and chickens, all situated at the end of a winding country lane, you may be in for a letdown. The 15-seat space is hidden in an office park near the intersection of I-85 and I-285, home to a shared commercial kitchen enterprise that Morrison used before going solo.
The Little Farmhouse Cafe is short on creature comforts but big on flavor. Drop by for Saturday brunch, and service can be maddeningly slow. You may find yourself waiting for your order at a cluster of outdoor tables that spills onto the sidewalk and a slate-gravel patio decorated with a few pencil hollies.
On a recent sultry Saturday, we arrived for our 11:30 a.m. reservation, ordered our meal at the counter, then proceeded to linger for nearly an hour at an empty table. Detecting my date’s gnawing “hanger,” Morrison’s wife stopped by to apologize and explain. Seems that MRD Foods had been a quiet catering kitchen with steady work from the movie industry, until her husband decided to serve his biscuits and burgers to the public.
Then all hollandaise broke loose.
Forking into my Brisket Bennie, I could see why. A ginormous pile of smoked brisket covered in sweet, red-wine sauce is perched on two squares of brioche toast and topped with two impeccably poached eggs, hollandaise and a sprinkling of chives. Plunge your fork into the dish, let that runny yolk do its business, and it’s slap-your-grandma time.
In a phone interview, Morrison told me his love of cooking comes in part from time spent on his grandparents’ North Carolina farm. That happens to be sawmill-gravy territory. He spreads his version of the classic milk gravy with crumbled sausage over a pair of open-face buttermilk biscuits and calls it the Tex & Elise, after his grandparents. It’s as delicious as it is filling.
I also loved his fried chicken biscuits with honey. His Southern comfort food verges into Paula Deen country with fried croissants and blueberry beignets that are actually fried doughnuts. I took a bite of my “glazed & berried” trio of fried croissants, spooned over with strawberries, blueberries and their juices, and couldn’t stop.
Forgive me, doctor. I have sinned.
These are some of the crowning glories of the cafe’s morning fare. You can also get omelets, pancakes and straightforward plates of eggs, sausage or bacon and grits. Stick your spoon into a bowl of creamy grits, and you’ll discover a cheddar-cheese bomb at the center. Stir ‘em up, and swoon.
Avoid the avo toast, schmeared with something called avocado butter that tastes like grocery-store guac, slices of blackened grilled tomatoes and a pair of raw red-onion rings. Blech. It’s as unappealing to look at as it is to eat.
Though breakfast and brunch are mostly solid, lunch can be uneven.
The Farmhouse Veggie — sauteed kale, marinated mushrooms, pickled red onions and havarti cheese on a ciabatta bun — lacked pizazz. Chicken salad on toasted whole wheat with lettuce and tomato was lovely, however. Sides of Parmesan fries and mac and cheese were both sprinkled with copious amounts of grainy Parmesan. The fries were OK in a salty-good way; the macaroni, presumably mixed with pimento cheese, was awful.
Though the kitchen moves at a quicker pace on weekdays than Saturdays, it’s hardly a bullet train. To kill time, you might ask for soup. I liked my hearty bowl of rosemary-scented chicken broth with tender couscous and chunks of bird, washed down with the lovely minted iced tea.
One day, my friend and I shared our sandwiches as well as a spinach and strawberry salad, made with gorgeously juicy berries, shaved red onion, feta crumbles and sliced almonds. The nuts were a shade over-toasted, but overall, the salad hit all the right notes.
That Morrison is an industrious chef with entrepreneurial flare is clear. The Alpharetta native told me he worked two jobs to put himself through culinary school while living out of his car. He later was a special-events chef for Whole Foods and worked for chef Hector Santiago (at the late Pura Vida) and Ford Fry (No. 246 in Decatur). As a caterer, he got stuck with the moniker Mr. Delicious (hence the name MRD Foods).
Try his Little Farmhouse Cafe. You might agree.
THE LITTLE FARMHOUSE CAFE
8 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. 3795 Presidential Parkway, Suite FP-8, Atlanta. 678-687-5844, mrdfoods.com.
Recommended: Fried chicken biscuit. Biscuit with sausage gravy. Brisket Bennie. Fried croissants. Cheese grits. Chicken salad. Spinach and strawberry salad. Minted sweet tea.
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