When Brick Farm Tavern opened in 2015, owners Robin and Jon McConaughy had no less ambition than to give the area a farm-to-table dining experience unlike any other.
Three years on and that ambition hasn’t necessarily changed, but plenty of things have at the 19th century farmhouse at Double Brook Farm that the McConaughys had converted into a fine-dining destination.
Gone since the summer is chef Greg Vassos, who headed the kitchen for almost three years. In are a new chef, Max Hosey, and a new managing partner, Richard Moskovitz, both charged with ushering the restaurant into a new phase with a more “approachable” menu.
The vision from the beginning was to make Double Brook Farm on Hopewell Rocky Hill Road a self-contained culinary destination. The farm would raise and slaughter animals to be served at the restaurant. What couldn’t be sourced directly from Double Brook would be brought in from local, sustainable farms, as would the vegetables, fruit and grains to be used.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs Ray Disch and Alex Helms were recruited to open and operate two additional businessesat the farm: Sourland Mountain Distilling (2017) and Troon Brewing Company (2016). Both have thrived since opening; the distillery is currently building an expansion, while Troon beers often sell out within an hour of going on sale at the brewery. (Troon beer can always be found on tap at the tavern.)
With Vassos as chef, the restaurant was known for the technical preparation and exquisite presentation of its tasting menus. Diners generally praised the quality of the ingredients and their preparation. If they had complaints, they usually centered on cost or the small portion sizes. For some people, the restaurant’s painstaking platings, exotic ingredients and formal atmosphere could be intimidating.
Jon McConaughy says that if a restaurant is going to be about building a local community food system, it has to be approachable. “Even though the food was very good in the beginning, it wasn’t affordable,” he says. “If it’s going to be more expensive, you want that to be because the food itself is more expensive. Not because it was more expensive to prepare.”
While the tavern’s dinner menu still features a five-course tasting menu ($75) with optional wine pairings, it is no longer featured as prominently as it was. Front and center are entrees like Berkshire pork ($29) and Katahdin lamb ($34) and, for the first time, dayboat-caught seafood like black bass. Tavern fare like burgers and pasta bolognese—formerly available in the bar only—are also featured. Likewise, customers can now order the full menu from the bar.
“My vision and Robin’s vision was always to provide food from the farm and respect the ingredients,” McConaughy says. “I think Greg had a respect for the ingredients, and fine dining is one way to show that. What Max and Richard have been working toward is making the ingredients as delicious as possible for a wide variety of customers.
“We still do elegant as well as we ever did. But the problem with doing just elegant is you’re fighting that battle of what’s more important, presentation or ingredients. Max and Richard have a very good balance. If you’re going to be vertically integrated, you have to see everything on the plate. We’re doing 14 to 16 ounces for pork chops, a 32-ounce ribeye for two. We’re doing more recognizable food,” he says.
Moscovitz says response to the changes have been positive. Sales have been up over the previous year, particularly on Saturdays, but on weekdays as well.
“We’re trying to find our niche,” he says. “We want to be a place for special occasions, we want to be a place for date night. But we also want people to come on Tuesday night and have a great chicken dish made with local chicken.”
Hosey, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute in Burlington, Vermont, has worked at restaurants across the world, including Michelin-starred Manrasa in Los Gatos, California, Michael Mina in San Francisco and Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin, Ireland.
Moskovitz has more than 25 years experience in hospitality including the past decade working as a regional director of operations for Starr Catering Group. When Starr took over operations at Rat’s Restaurant at the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton in 2009, Moskovitz was the person they put in charge. Since then he has since opened a number of venues for Starr, particularly those they have opened in cultural centers like the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
“I’ve been working for someone for a long time,” Moskovitz says. “This was an opportunity for me to do my own business, and to be part of something truly unique like this is compelling.”
Brick Farm Tavern is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and for lunch Friday through Sunday. More information, including hours, online at brickfarmtavern.com.