Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata recently made waves via their popular pop-up, Phuc Yea! That Vietnamese venture, with Daniel Treiman as third partner, lasted some three months in the Ingraham Building downtown. Before that, the duo teamed for another short stint with equally compelling results at Blue Piano. At the team's new restaurant, The Federal Food Drink & Provisions, Alejandro Ortiz takes over for Treiman, American cuisine replaces Asian, and the plan calls for permanence over pop.
As at their prior venues, Meinhold (the self-proclaimed "bar wench") helms the front of the house while Zapata (the "stove master") mans the kitchen; Ortiz (the "chief puppeteer") has one foot in both worlds — helping in the dining room and handling the pastries. Once again, locals are flocking to the eatery via word-of-mouth for what is fast becoming the group's signature formula: creative and distinctive food, drink — and "provisions," this time around — in a friendly and casual setting.
Their new joint is a pretty place to dine, too, with old-timey wallpaper, shelves of food-filled Mason jars, and wood tables conspiring to form a rustic space that invites relaxation. The outdoor patio is a little less charming, but the weather of late has been ideal for dining there.
The Federal Food Drink and Provisions
The Federal Food Drink dinner Monday through Thursday 6 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Kitchen stays open 4 to 6 p.m.
Buffalo-style pig wings $9
Lamb burger $16
Fishermen's chowder $26
View a slide show of the Federal.
The Federal's distinctiveness cannot be overstated. You won't see crispy omassum tripe with BBQ powder and maple syrup dipping sauce, jar-o-duck with candied sweet potato and charred marshmallow fluff, or Buffalo-style pig wings just anywhere. Don't let that last dish deceive you into thinking the raise you were promised "the day pigs can fly"is at hand; the "wing" is really a cut of pork from the fibula bone, just behind the shank, a dark, moist, deeply flavorful meat reminiscent in taste and preparation of pig trotters. Thinly sliced ribbons of celery and carrot add a delicate touch to the hearty fare; a "blue cheese mousse" was nowhere in sight, but the vegetables did exude the cheese taste. It's an unimpeachable combination of flavors.
Prices aren't cheap, but the final bill won't require you to dig too deep into your reserves. Appetizer-style plates are segregated into four small "bits," two Lake Meadow Farm Eggs offerings, a platter of Farmstead cheeses or artisan cured meats, and seven "starts." These range from $6 to $16. A sextet of "Big'Uns," AKA entrees, are $16 to $36. Four side dishes run $6 apiece.
A starter of biscuits & gravy includes an important third element: bite-size nuggets of fried sweetbreads, which in tandem with peas, pearl onions, sweet baby carrots, and beets in creamy country gravy, between a fresh and sturdy biscuit, are simply luscious.
Jar-o-duck pleases via more jarring flavors. The bird comes from Hudson Valley, and is prepared rillette-style, meaning shreds of the meat are cooked and stored in duck fat. Toasted croutons are served alongside, as are a swirl of caramelized marshmallow fluff and slices of sweet potato drenched in a syrup of cinnamon, citrus, and brown butter. Depending upon your perspective, the latter ingredients either enhance via strong contrast, or overwhelm the delectable-by-itself duck.
A scallop crudo is cheered by cool, contrasting accompaniments — blood orange juice, smoked trout roe, and BBQ-spiced potato chips — but the shellfish wasn't sliced paper-thin enough to minimize its naturally gummy texture when raw.
I didn't try either of the two ovum-based dishes because, honestly, I'm tiring of having eggs before dinner. Here a fried Lake Meadow Farm egg comes atop either hand-cut French fries or with crispy Niman Ranch pig ears, Neuseke's bacon, and a root vegetable hash.
"Starts" also encompass a couple of salads, such as the house-named medley of local greens (brassica, baby arugula, mizuna, and whatever is available locally at the moment) with thin slices of watermelon radish, crispy onions, and vinaigrette with a light, sobering breath of whiskey.
Most main courses manage to keep pace with the scintillating starters. Like, for instance, a sumptuously moist "little" chicken from Lake Meadow Farm full of big, fresh flavors and proffered Thanksgiving-style: with cornbread-chestnut-sausage stuffing and a mixed berry (including cranberry) compote.
"Fishermen's New Amsterdam chowder" is really more of a bouillabaisse (sans rouille), and a good one at that. Squares of yellowtail snapper, big juicy seared scallops, clams, mussels, and baby white and purple potatoes all mingle mellifluously in a thin tomato-shellfish broth.
The snapper on its own, served whole, was less exciting. For one thing, the "charbroiled" skin was soft and showed no signs of having been charbroiled or char-anything-else. The meat of the fish was fresh, however; the California olive oil drizzled on top was fruity-sweet, and a wonderful but too-sparse "herb salad" of flat parsley and celery leaves provided a clean lift. All the snapper needed, besides crisper skin, would be some pickled key limes that were supposed to have been part of the dish.
Meats at Federal are served unconventionally. There's a Wellington preparation, but it's made from short rib, not prime beef, and it comes simmered with bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions beneath a pot pie crust.
You can also order a starter of wild boar sausage, or lamb in either shank or burger form. The latter boasts ground Grove Farm meat plunked between a firm-but-soft pretzel bun with aged Harvest Moon goat cheese, vinaigrette-dressed greens, and a rub of "picalilly" relish culled from local star fruit. Horseradish mustard and a chunky homemade ketchup come on the side (two of the 42 condiments made from scratch at the Federal). This is a fantastic burger — juicy, well-dressed, and with the lamb flavor just assertive enough to make it stand out from the beefy competition. Darkly cooked hand-cut fries are also tasty.
Steak aficionados needn't fret: Grilled, grass-fed Angus sirloin is tendered with fries, salad greens, and spicy mustard. Add a side of creamed collard greens, which have twice as much cheddar-enhanced béchamel sauce as necessary, but the potent collard taste, in tandem with bacon lardons, stands up to the sweet cream better than more commonly used spinach.
Some half-dozen pints of draft beer ($7 to $9 ) are likewise sturdy enough for Federal's full-flavored fare. These include Summit Red Ale and Avery Brewing Company's IPA, but you can also go high hog with a $14 pull of Oskar Blues Imperial Stout by Ten Fiddy in Colorado. Bottled brews are similar in number offered, price range, and diversity, from a $7, eleven-ounce Golden Monkey Tripel from Colorado to a double-size Hazelnut Brown by Oregon's Rogue Ales for $20.
Wine selections are smart and diverse, which won't surprise anyone who is familiar with Meinhold from her years as general manager and wine director at Fratelli Lyon (full disclosure: Meinhold is also a former blogger for Miami New Times' Short Order food blog). The list includes almost 100 bottles, all from family estate producers. Prices range from $35 to $130, with most between $45 and $65. A shorter list is printed on the back of the one-page paper dinner menu that offers just under ten whites and reds each by the glass ($7 to $13) or half-bottle ($16 to $32).
"Fontainebleau cheesecake" is so soft and creamy as to be like cheesecake pudding, this impression only fortified by its being served crustless in a cup (with graham cracker garnish). A fresh strawberry sauce caps the divine little treat.
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"S'mores in a jar" brings another pudding, this one made with rich, dark chocolate and garnished with graham cracker and bronzed marshmallow fluff. It is delicious and recommendable, as is so much of the food here, but I would suggest sampling jar-o-s'mores and jar-o-duck during different visits; it's a good rule of thumb to never indulge in more than one course containing marshmallow fluff per meal.
Another rule of thumb: When a cool neighborhood joint with great food opens, eat there.