Flavor: Erratic interpretation of all-American fare

Ambiance: Family-friendly casual dining

When places like Harvest, the restaurant which opened earlier this year in the Eastwood Village space vacated by Trillium Bistro, are touting their copper-penny carrots, it’s clear that local (or at least local-sounding) foods are having a moment.

The tailgate market—and the chi-chi supermarkets that try to replicate its earthy vibe—has supplanted the high-end delicatessen (think Dean & Deluca) as the place for amateur cooks to stock their pantries. Such is the current fervor for foods plucked from nearby soil that dirt has become today’s double yolk: Gourmets can’t help but do a little jig when they find it on their plates.

(This trend has utterly transformed the old saw, inevitably delivered by the hungriest person at a table that’s waited too long for its food—“Do you think they’re killing the chicken back there?”—from a snorted put-down to a hopeful prayer.)

Harvest takes the farm-to-table movement to the masses by serving slow-food favorites in a neighborhood-eatery atmosphere. Its rustic-looking menu, illustrated with line drawings of Indian corn and wheat straws, is splashed with adjectives like “homemade,” “houseblended,” “organic,” “slow cooked” and “slow roasted.”

Even humble sandwiches have been reinvented as regional eats, with a green tomato-topped bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich sold as a North Carolina BLT. But the chapbook typeface can’t disguise that what the restaurant really offers is a selection of casual-dining standards, including stuffed mushrooms, chef salad, a French Dip sandwich and blackened-chicken pasta.

It’s probably a mite cynical to dismiss Harvest’s local-food chatter as a marketing ploy. Still, the restaurant’s commitment to celebrating the land’s bounty doesn’t always extend very far, and it rarely penetrates the plate. I found Harvest’s food to be largely uninspired and industrial tasting.

But according to another definition of local food, Harvest succeeds admirably. It’s a true neighborhood restaurant, with an extensive menu, generous hours and comfortable patio sure to please residents of adjoining subdivisions. The snappily designed dining room is hung with pictures painted by students at A.C. Reynolds High School, who are likely to be frequent customers of this upbeat, family-oriented place. And its pub provides a warm gathering place for folks who might otherwise have to hop on the highway to enjoy a beer in good company.

I don’t live anywhere near Fairview, so eating there was akin to attending someone else’s family reunion: Even if I did get the commemorative T-shirt and join in a competitive game of croquet, I’d still miss the subtleties concerning Aunt Daisy’s coleslaw or Uncle Hector’s new wife. As an outsider at Harvest, I had no choice but to focus on the food.

On my first visit, we started with an appetizer of fried green tomatoes (and here I’m using the word “started” quite loosely; although it was a quiet weekday night, we waited nearly 45 minutes for our server to take our food order). The hunky tomato slices, served aboard sweet-potato waffles, were inordinately greasy. We didn’t fare much better with a garlic-saturated mushroom pizza, which had unappetizingly thick, undercooked dough.

All of the entrees at Harvest include a salad. The Caesar salad is acceptable, although the bleached white bread croutons undermine a fairly tasty dressing. Anti-carb crusader Dr. Atkins would be far happier with the house salad, a plug of lettuce buried beneath a mound of shredded cheddar cheese and a good quarter-pound of pig in the form of diced, smoked bacon.

The entrees we sampled were far less assertive: a pecan-encrusted trout, bathed in a thin cream sauce, was neither sweet nor salty, existing in a sort of flavor limbo. The baby-back pork ribs, while sporting a sauce rich with brown sugar, were torn from an awfully skinny hog (perhaps the best of him was saved for garden salads). And, like the macaroni and cheese that’s one of Harvest’s 12 vegetable side dishes, a carelessly prepared Chicken Florentine was regrettably reminiscent of airline food.

We finished our meal with a mushy Tiramisu that smelled strongly of alcohol. And while my friends declared themselves done with Harvest, I was looking forward to going back. Maybe the chef was sick that day, or a supplier caught in traffic. I couldn’t wait to find out.

My second visit suggested there was nothing fluky about my first. While the service was much improved, the kitchen was still struggling.

Things were apparently even worse in the dish room: A glass of wine I ordered with our appetizers didn’t emerge until the entrée plates had been cleared. Our server claimed there hadn’t been a clean glass available, and since the glass was still dripping with hot water, I’m inclined to believe her. To her credit, she immediately offered to take the wine off the bill.

Our friendly server also compted our calamari appetizer, a travesty of heavy breading and light frying. The squid were enveloped in a sweet, corn-studded funnel-cake coating, which reappeared in the hushpuppy appetizer our server suggested as a replacement. Burnt and served with a gelatinous jalapeño jelly, the batter wasn’t any better.

And on it went: The salmon was greasy. The rib steak was stringy. You get the idea. It might not be the sort of restaurant that makes you want to pick up and move to Fairview—but, should you already live there, it’s a fine exposition of local eating in its original and perhaps most important sense.


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