Above: Roasted Honey Nut Squash; Photographs by Jacek Dolata
So many restaurants call themselves farm-to-table or organic these days, but Back 40 Kitchen makes the rest look like amateurs. The owners, Old Greenwich residents Lesley and Bill King, are also farmers, and their eighty-five-acre organic Back 40 Farm in Washington, Connecticut, provides the majority of the produce for the restaurant along with local purveyors such as Fleisher’s Meats and Blooming Hill Farm. The rustic dining room at Back 40 mimics a barn with its reclaimed wood, high cupola ceiling and an antique tractor seat and vertical herb garden as wall art. Every touch is thoughtful, from the recycled cotton napkins to the vase filled with autumnal wheat and flowers—even the cocktails contain fresh mixers such as Red Bee honey and seasonal herbs. But how does all of this translate when you sit down for a meal?
Incredibly well, based on two recent visits. Chef George Demarisco is working some magic with those uber-fresh ingredients. On a Friday night dinner we were seated at a high-top table in the center of the dining room, which is enlivened by a giant chalk mural of watermelon radishes by decorative artist Deidre Mannix. The server who took our drinks order, like all the others here, was wearing a black T-shirt bearing the message “pesticides suck.” Point taken. We were soon sipping our organic, non-chemically tinged cocktails and wine, munching on mini cornbread muffins (in lieu of bread) and scoping out the blackboard specials.
Though the menu changes frequently, I’m hoping that the chicken liver mousse special winds up as a regular appetizer. This was the most silky-smooth, meaty goodness, spread onto multi-grain toast and topped with onion jam and pickled onion. This dish plus a soup or salad would be my ideal winter lunch. We were wowed by the soups, in particular the creamy, delicately flavored parsnip bisque laced with a bit of rosemary oil and topped with crispy matchsticks of parsnip. Over the summer, I loved the chef’s chilled cucumber-grape soup and we also liked the squash and apple soup at this dinner, with the fruity-tart apple as the dominant flavor. A sesame-crusted seared tuna with carrots and ginger was an ample portion of perfectly pink fish and a refreshing starter.
Certain dishes stick in your memory and the chef’s veal loin entrée is one of them: tender grilled meat paired with radishes (cooked in a way that mellows their bitterness) and burst-in-your-mouth concord grapes plus chickory all in a vin cotto sauce. The sweetness of the grapes is balanced by the bitterness of the radishes and chickory for a successful dish. The grilled pork t-bone was almost as good and equally satisfying with a delicious mustard glaze, black lentils and fresh greens. Vegetarians will appreciate the richness of textures in the roasted king oyster mushrooms with quinoa, kale and salsa verde; we requested the dish without kale but it came with it anyway. At the other end of the spectrum, we didn’t imagine ordering steak here, but the grass-fed New York strip with black garlic butter was excellent.
Service was pleasant and well paced throughout the meal, though one starter—the shishito peppers—was forgotten. Never mind, we already had more than we could eat. Minor gripes: the metal straws may be environmentally friendly but I find them unpleasant to drink from, adding a tin-like flavor to iced tea or cocktails. The ’90s grunge soundtrack in the background may not appeal to all diners, but we didn’t mind it.
Almost every dish on the menu here is gluten-free, including a lush brownie with ice cream. The concord grapes that stole the show among the entrees appeared again on the dessert lineup as a sorbet with an intense flavor, almost like a wine and, presumably, a major antioxidant boost. A sundae is topped with chocolate-dipped popcorn on your choice of ice cream; be sure to try the cinnamon.
Though people may be drawn to Back 40 initially because the menu’s organic, mostly gluten-free and certainly healthy, they’ll be back simply because the food tastes so good.
1. CULINARY COUPLE
Chef George Demarisco was most recently with Xaviers X20 on The Hudson and also worked at Bedford Post Inn; his wife, Jennifer, manages the restaurant.
2. INGREDIENT THE CHEF CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
“Pork. There is not one part of the animal I don’t love,” he says.
3. LUNCH BREAK
At midday and for takeout, popular orders include flatbreads, seasonal pickles, salads and veggie burger as well as clean comfort foods like the pulled pork sandwich and falafel wrap.
BACK 40 KITCHEN
107 Greenwich Ave. (parking and entrance in rear)
Tuesday–Friday, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., 5 p.m.–9 p.m.;
Saturday 11 a.m.–3 p.m., 5 p.m.–10 p.m.