We live in an age that glorifies home cooking.
Accomplished chefs across the region strive to recreate the flavors, smells and experiences of their grandmothers' kitchens. "Comfort food" is an haute cuisine buzzword.
Though it's been open for more than five decades, with capable home-style cooking and kindly service, Friendly Farm is a restaurant for these times.
Jack and Dorothy Wilhelm opened the restaurant in 1959, after an accident left Jack unable to work their 200-acre Upperco farm. For the first several years, Friendly Farm was run right out of Jack and Dorothy's home; in 1964, they moved the operation into another building on the picturesque property.
The original menu included only three choices: chicken, steak or ham, plus family-style sides with each.
Today, Friendly Farm is run by the Wilhelm sons, Gary and Larry, along with Gary's wife, Jane (Jack passed away in 1976 and Dorothy has retired). The menu has grown, though it still includes those three original dishes.
Scene Friendly Farm's space is large; it feels like a banquet hall dressed up as a country kitchen, with charming curtains and large windows overlooking the farm. On a recent Thursday night, the room was about half full, mostly with families and older couples.
Its set-up is a little different than most restaurants. Diners order entrees and pay at the front counter, then are shown to their seats. When we stepped inside, we must have looked confused; two nice employees in the lobby took pity and walked us through the process.
With our orders placed and bill paid, we settled into a table. A waitress — as kind and efficient as the ladies in the lobby who showed us the ropes — took our drink orders (tea and soda; Friendly Farms does not offer alcohol) and offered us a glass of V-8 or apple juice to start.
Appetizers are included with every entree — as are drinks, side dishes and dessert. Instead of choosing one or two appetizers and sides, diners simply tell their waitresses which dishes they don't want.
Appetizers The appetizers arrived on a large tray, an enormous collection of small white bowls, each with a dish to share. Some were a bigger hit than others.
Pickle slices and celery stalks were crunchy, but unremarkable. We left both nearly untouched, while fighting over the last of the sugar biscuits — warm spheres of airy fried dough covered in sweet sugar.
Coleslaw, made in-house, was creamy, with finely chopped vegetables and tangy sauce.
Pickled beets were earthy; soft apples, sprinkled with cinnamon, were sweet and tart. Neither offered any surprises, but in both cases, the simple presentation made us smile. Friendly Farms saw no need to gussy up the beets with goat cheese, or serve the apples in a fancy salad. They stood on their own.
Apple butter was a welcome sight. We ate the spread two ways: slathered on thick slices of whole grain bread and mixed, Pennsylvania Dutch-style, with cottage cheese.
Entrees After the appetizer smorgasbord, we nearly groaned when our entrees appeared. One plate was piled high with fried chicken ($16.95); on the other, three large bone-in pork chops ($18.95) laid in their own juices.
The chicken was just as we like it: tender on the inside, surrounded by lightly fried, well-seasoned, crispy coating.
Broiled pork chops, each about one-quarter inch thick, were surprisingly juicy. With a flavorful brown sear on the outside, the chops were cooked just until done — they would have dried out with only a few more seconds under the broiler.
With the meals, our waitress brought more dishes to share: French fries, corn and green beans.
The fries were passable, if unexciting, and the corn was a sweet reminder that summer is on its way. But the green beans, mixed with small chunks of ham and cooked until soft, stole the show with their porky flavor.