written by daniel ernce / photographed by matt loveland
AT WESLEY JOHNSON AND Reid Roberts’ Metropolitan Farmer, you’ll find some of the most effortless, honest and delicious food in Springfield, Mo.
The restaurant, which opened in late November of 2013, is situated in the recent Farmers Park development in South Springfield, and has made a big splash in the city’s culinary scene. They’re cooking up simple food that is staggeringly delicious, with amazing depth. At Metropolitan Farmer, Johnson and Roberts have taken an approach to food unlike any other in Springfield.
For Metropolitan Farmer, the name almost says it all. The farm-to-table restaurant concept has been sourcing nearly all their main ingredients from within a 150 mile radius of Springfield. Metropolitan Farmer’s Chef Jeremy J. Smith has been in charge of much of the sourcing for the restaurant and states, “Of course, things like flour and sugar can’t really be sourced locally. But all of our main ingredients – the proteins and vegetables – those all come from the closest places we can find.”
Upon entering the restaurant, the name comes to life. “We like to say it’s Mayberry meets Michelin,” says owner, Chef Wesley Johnson. Reclaimed wood has been fashioned into tables and doors by local craftsmen, and hanging Edison bulbs are encased in repurposed mason jars. The seating is intimate and the service is excellent, from the indoor seating, to the outdoor patio, to the rooftop bar by the name of Barley, Wheat & Rye Social House. On a wall near the open kitchen, a large chalkboard displays the names of the vendors who have provided day’s or week’s ingredients, from local farms to local cattle ranches. The board changes almost daily as new product cycles through the restaurant.
Metropolitan Farmer also reaps the benefits of having the Greater Springfield Farmers’ Market hosted right outside their doors twice a week (Thursdays and Saturdays). “After the market closes, we have several vendors who we will go to and buy all of their remaining product,” says Smith. “We simply open the back door and wheel everything into our pantry and walk-ins.” This, says Smith, is where many of the daily or weekly specials come from.
“Most of our kitchen staff have some sort of culinary background or education. So it’s not uncommon for us to trust some of our line cooks with coming up with a special for a day with whatever ingredients we get in,” says Smith. This constant flux of ingredients is reflected in the menu, which changes constantly due to both the vision of the chefs, and by the season.
There are few staples on the menu. Since opening in winter 2013, the restaurant has gone through three menu overhauls, even dropping some of the most popular dishes. When asked why, Chef Johnson remarks, “People were liking it too much.” He makes the point that because of the devotion to farm-to-table, ingredients aren’t necessarily available to keep a particular dish on the menu year-round. He also points out how he didn’t want people to come to expect things on his menu, but rather come in often and enjoy their favorites as many times as possible before it, almost inevitably, disappears from the menu.
This logic works. I’ve been back three times simply for the beef cheek. It’s slowly braised and served over a bed of buttery grits. The beef melts on your tongue and coats your mouth with the most delightfully fatty, sumptuous and hauntingly delicious flavor. The last bite leaves you full and satisfied, but craving more.
Everything on the menu is cravable and worth raving about, from the corn bread, topped with a maple, bacon, bourbon compound butter, to the duck fat French fries, to the creative cookie selections that highlight flavors like chai tea and lemon cherry. And the creativity expands even to the cocktail selections which include their signature coriander mule, a traditional Moscow mule made with their house-infused coriander vodka. Chef Smith remarks that, on average, the restaurant will go through 25 gallons of coriander vodka a week making coriander mules.
Many of the dishes find their roots in humble, southern cooking, that have been elevated to a high-class restaurant. It is food and flavors a grandmother might have passed down from generation to generation. “We don’t want to make the food anything it’s not,” remarks Smith. “We didn’t want to cover up the flavor of the ingredients with crazy sauces or spices or anything. We want the food to speak for itself.”
When asked about his intent and vision for Metropolitan Farmer, Johnson states he had wanted to do something different from everything else in Springfield, and that he wanted to execute a farm-to-table restaurant in a whole-hearted, all-in and honest way. By growing Metropolitan Farmer, Johnson has also developed and fostered relationships with area farmers. “It’s about a relationship and a community.” It’s not just about the chef and the food, or the purveyor and the restaurant. Metropolitan Farmer brings together those who grow the food, those who make it and those who enjoy it.
Owners Johnson and Roberts have made it clear that for Metropolitan Farmer, farm-to-table isn’t a gimmick, but a passion, and a belief that this is how food is meant to be eaten. Their philosophy is about bringing people together. Not just eaters, but creating a community of farmers, cooks and diners. And what’s more, is they’ve proven that a farm-to-table restaurant concept is not just doable, but delicious and unique.
Visit Metropolitan Farmer and get to know what truly local food tastes like when prepared with care, intention and excitement. DM