Holeman & Finch Public House

Holeman & Finch Public House was a real find. From the same owners of renowned Restaurant Eugene comes a farm-to-table restaurant that rivals the likes of Toronto’s the Black Hoof. A small glass window with the word EAT displays legs of ham and gives you a glimpse of kitchen action.

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A small restaurant that seats around 30 people, H&F has followed the “no reservations” trend that matches the snobbery of a Manhattan hotspot – the food is anything but.

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The Virginia Peanut Ham (aka Smithfield ham) peaks my interest as the waiter tells us that the ham comes from pigs that are fed peanuts their entire life and that the natural oils from the peanuts therefore make for a tastier ham which is then smoked and cured for 17 days. The result? Bacon-like strips of ham, minus the “added” fats.

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For starters we opt for the Shiitake, served atop a bed of sunchoke purée with pickled kohlrabi and watermelon radish. Take it from a Chinese gal who’s eaten shiitake at every single birthday and wedding banquet – this was a bang-on dish of ‘shrooms. The mushrooms are just al dente and the added crunch from the kohlrabi coupled with the smooth and creamy sunchoke purée makes for a bounty of lipsmacking textures and flavor.

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We also opt for the Mondongo, a “stew” of tripe, crispy belly, hominy, sweet potatoes and plantain chips – the aromatics reminded me of my childhood days where chef Dad would whip up a bowl of comforting ramen in the absence of chef Mom; but the flavours were so much more orgasmic (sorry dad!). Tender pieces of tripe with cubes of salty pork belly with crispy plantain chips to bring the sodium high down a notch; I’d gladly slurp on this than jump on the ramen craze.

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For our main we go down the Southern path of Oconee River Caught Cat Fish – not the usual “muddy”-tasting kind from the bottom of the pond. The fish was cooked perfectly and served atop a bed of creamy grits with Geechee gravy, bacon and Holy Trinity. Sweet Jesus!

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The share-plate sizes leave us just enough room for dessert as we opt for the server-recommended Pork Fat Caramel; reminiscent of a caramel fondue served with slices of apple, pear and again, kohlrabi and watermelon radish.  The watermelon radish makes for an eye-catching display and adds a little color to an otherwise beige and brown plate.  It was good caramel, but I would’ve happily eaten just the plate of crunchy pear slices if given the option.

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We also opt for the Sticky Toffee Pudding which really is more of a brownie than it is an STP – the death-by-chocolate kind of goodness that is just the right amount of chocolate without overwhelming to the point of exhausting your palate.

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Service is attentive but dishes come out at random from the kitchen; the Mondongo arrives after the catfish and at one point we ponder whether there was the possibility they had forgotten.

 IMG_0654 (471x640)A James Beard Award for their Outstanding Bar Program welcomes you into the alleyway for the single washrooms that becomes a bit of a social spot as the lineups build. Having sipped on cocktails, they don’t wow us as much as the food.

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And while there are no over-hyped food trend items on the menu, the Holeman & Finch Burger is in high demand (comparable to the Cronut craze where people line-up 2 hours in advance to get in on one of 24 burgers served every night at 10PM, aka burger time). Pro tip?  You can get the same burger at Sunday brunch without having to make a beeline through the crowd.

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But at the end of the day, my dinner companion and I agree – Holeman & Finch earns a spot on our list of best meals ever eaten, even without the burger.

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