BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
If there is one thing FARMbloomington‘s Chef Daniel Orr should be famous for (and actually there are several), it is his buttermilk biscuits. Made from his great-grandmother’s recipe, they are a wonder—light, tender, sweet, and rich. Sitting in FARM’s sunny dining room with a basket of biscuits, a pot of Orr’s piquant apple butter, and a steaming cup of coffee, you can’t help but get your day off to a pretty good start.
But FARM is a three-ring culinary circus, with Orr as the ringleader, and breakfast is only the opening act. No matter how good the biscuits and gravy, or the local Rhodes Family Farms egg omelets, or the Big Barn Sticky Nut Buns, there is still an entire day to eat your way through. After breakfast (FARMbrunch on weekends), there is FARMlunch, and of course, FARMsupper, and then there are the bars, plural, upstairs and down. On an average day the first cooks arrive at 7 am and the last employees don’t leave until 4 am.
Although the place is bright and light-filled, even on a rainy day, in the evening the ceiling lights dim and red hanging globe lamps cast a ruby warm glow, picking out the turquoise and barn-red accents of the dining room. Menu standards—the FARMfamous fries, the Lugar burger (so popular the giant bison head on the wall of the bar is named “Dick” after the senator), the pizzas (FARMpies), and the eclectic and sometimes ferociously good veggie plate—never go away. And although they aren’t always on the menu, Orr’s raw fish preparations are superb. If you find out the tuna belly marinated in white balsamic is a special, just order it.
But there are seasonal changes in the menu reflecting not only what’s for sale in the markets, but what is growing in Orr’s parents’ garden in Columbus, their family farm in Princeton, and in the southern Indiana hills. The foraged finds are unexpected and delicious. One spring day there was a tasty daylily salad—clearly all those deer grazing in the garden know what they are doing. Halibut fillets were wrapped in wild ramps and pan roasted to a sweet and perfect turn. Redbuds were scattered over a dish tasting like, well, redbuds—fat, pink, and floral.
As dinner wraps up, the nightlife at FARM is just getting started. The upstairs bar serves snacks (the green-pea guacamole is fabulous in a light and minty way; the pizza is thin crusted and savory; and the fries, spiked with chili, garlic, and parmesan, come in a big bowl that empties too fast) and FARMshine (there is beer and wine but the adventurous can try a Pitchfork, an East Coast Hillbilly, or a Blueberry Chill). Thursdays through Saturdays the Root Cellar Bar and Grill, with its speakeasy atmosphere and cool stone-walled rooms, comes to life around 9 pm with music, booze, and more food.
The ringmaster should look tired, and he does, but the buzz energizes him. While nurturing his restaurant, growing the catering business (a new catering kitchen goes in this summer), keeping up with his Earth Eats podcasts and several blogs, Orr has found time to publish two cookbooks (FARMfood and Paradise Kitchen). He is a writer, photographer, entrepreneur, and chef who has, he says, a simple message for his customers: “Come on in and enjoy some grub.”