In the first episode of IFC's "Portlandia," starring SNL cast member Fred Armisen and former Sleater-Kinney guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein, a young couple -- overly concerned with the "organic-ness" of their chicken dish -- head to the farm where the bird was raised to verify said farm's ethical and humane treatment of its poultry.
It immediately makes one think about the whole farm-to-table movement that has taken the restaurant industry by storm over the last five years or so. Like many of you, we sometimes find ourselves wondering which of the local eateries touting organic, green, local and farm-to-table ingredients and dishes really stay true to their word.
At Fair Hill Inn, located just outside Elkton, Md., along Route 273, there is no question that the farm-to-table proof is in the pudding (and in the butter, and cheese, and herbs and vegetables). All you have to do is look outside the nearly 250-year-old inn to see their nearby vegetation.
We wandered through their herb and veggie garden on a recent visit for dinner, where we sat in the quaint dining room just off the main entrance. Our server Val approached cheerily, offering water, wine and a cocktail from their libations menu.
On a warm evening, the choice was simple: Arnie's a Bit Tipsy on the 1st Tee ($12), a sweet concoction of freshly brewed Tea Forte gourmet iced tea, mixed with Absolut vodka, lemon syrup, B&B and Fair Hill bitters. This was one of those dangerous sweet tea cocktails that went down smooth.
After a few sips of our drinks, their homemade rustic Italian bread was served, along with a house-churned porcini butter, featuring dried porcini mushrooms and salt added to flavor the butter. The bread made for a great dipper in the leek and cauliflower cream sauce that accompanied our first course, the hot smoked salmon ($13 a la carte).
Available as part of the five-course prix fixe menu ($64; can be paired with wine for an additional fee), the shredded salmon came mixed in a bed of tender buckwheat pasta along with chopped asparagus and pearl onions.
Also from the a la carte menu (and worth a rousing endorsement), the Kennett mushroom crepe ($13) was out of this world, lightly browned and filled with pioppini and royal trumpet mushrooms, and accompanied by a magnificent little crab cake.
Like the "farm-to-table" slogan, the crab cake has had its own tag on a lot of menus in recent years, that being "no filler." Fair Hill uses a "mousseline," or one-egg binder, for their crab cakes, so each forkful in the cake pulled apart easily from every other shred.
One of our entrees, the pork ($28), was served two ways: a rye-smoked tenderloin (purposely served cold) with garden herb potato salad, and roasted shoulder with preserved cherry gastrique. While we were a little taken aback by the chilled tenderloin, the shoulder was like pre-pulled pork, with a scrumptious sweet-and-tangy gastrique.
The second entree, the beef duo ($29 a la carte, but also a choice on the five-course prix fixe menu), was also served two ways: grilled beef ribeye medallions with a great charred flavor, served with grilled royal trumpet mushrooms and demi-glace, and braised beef short ribs, served with house ricotta gnocchi in a rich parmesan cream.
Even the dessert, a white chocolate ice cream cake ($9), featured a homemade semifreddo (Italian for half-frozen), which tasted like a silkier version of ice cream. The addition of white chocolate instead of perhaps a standard vanilla, was just one last piece of evidence that the folks at Fair Hill do things their way from start to finish, farm to table.