If a restaurant called itself House of Beef, you would logically think it would have beef on the menu. And probably lots of it. The same goes for names like Fishcamp or Kickin’ Chicken. So, if you decide to name your place FARM, it stands to reason that the menu might focus on farmers and all things grown on a farm, be it produce, livestock, herbs and more.
And that’s just what Executive Chef Brandon Carter had in mind when he opened FARM in 2016, along with partner Ryan Williamson. Located in the heart of Old Town Bluffton on bustling May River Road, FARM gives new meaning to farm-to-table.
A little background first. Chef Carter was born in Ohio (we forgive him for
that) and was raised in Georgia (fortunately, his Southern compass kicked in at a young age). Thankfully, he was introduced to the world of food as a kid, with family friends owning a Moroccan restaurant in Atlanta and jaunts to visit family in the cuisine-rich area of Italy’s Northern Sardinia. It didn’t take Carter long to fall in love with the kitchen and the restaurant industry, which led him to the Culinary Institute of America (our kind of “CIA”), where he graduated in 1999.
After cooking stints at Mumbo Jumbo Bar and Grill in Atlanta and The Ritz-Carlton Naples in South Florida after CIA graduation, Carter signed on as Chef de Cuisine of the River House Restaurant at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff in 2011. A year later, he was promoted to Executive Chef, where he oversaw four restaurants and was an integral part of their highly successful Music to Your Mouth festival, which is considered one of the top wine and food festivals in the country and remains one of our favorites after attending more than 60 festivals the past 15 years (our first being the Charleston Wine + Food Festival in 2006 and we’ve been to all 15 helpings…and counting).
Enter Ryan Williamson. Splitting his youth between Savannah and Richmond Hill, Williamson often found himself helping around the house by heading shrimp, picking crabs and tending to the garden. So Southern foodways were instilled in him from a young age.
After graduating from the University of Georgia in 1999, Williamson spent nine years in real estate before heading up operations for beloved Savannah Bee Company and, in 2011, became a stay-at-home dad with the arrival of triplets!
In 2013, Williamson and his wife, Joanne, purchased a five-acre farm property that bordered Palmetto Bluff. Shortly thereafter, Williamson’s Lowcountry Farms started supplying Chef Carter with produce for his Palmetto Bluff restaurants. And a partnership was born. The two would walk the farm discussing what Williamson should plant and concepting dishes for Carter to make from the bounty.
Within a few years, the two realized that it was time to branch out on their own—fulfilling a dream for both of owning their own restaurant and supplying that restaurant with farm-fresh produce grown by an owner farmer. And FARM was born.
Today, Carter and Williamson, along with Carter’s indispensable wife, Jessica, and partners Alan and Karen Sheriff, part-time residents of Palmetto Bluff and staunch stalwarts of the FARM concept, continue to pay homage to the bounty of the region. And to the local farmers, fisherman and artisan producers and suppliers that are found in abundance throughout the Lowcountry, including Tuten Farms, Adam’s
Farm & Garden, Peculiar Pig Farm, Southern Swiss Dairy, GrowFood Carolina, and Keegan-Filion Farm.
According to Carter, his love of cooking comes from the way that food brings people around a table. And his love of using local farmers stems from his philosophy of community through food.
Currently serving dinner and Sunday brunch, FARM’s menu is a love letter to the land, and especially produce. Sure, they have plenty of meat and seafood on the menu—and they are delicious—but the vegetables and sides often steal the show. The menu is also unique in that Carter likes to focus on highly composed small plates to encourage sharing and tasting lots of the options (he’s talking our language), with typically ten or so small plates on the menu to just three traditional main dishes. And, although he explores different flavors and cuisines, his primary driver is seasonality and the connection to the Lowcountry farmers and purveyors that he considers family.
A ham and burrata dish rarely leaves the always-changing menu. Served with seasonal accoutrements like peaches, watermelon or, currently, apple butter, it is always topped with lavender honey, black pepper and olive oil, served with to-die-for toasted bread (from local bakery Auspicious Baking Co. out of Savannah), and is a great way to start any meal. You’ll also always find wood-fired oven-roasted oysters on the menu (they typically use briny bivalves from Lady’s Island Oyster). The current incarnation features black garlic butter, chili oil, and scallions and served with buttered saltines (trust us, you’ll never look at saltines quite the same).
Carter also prides himself on his crudo—a dish of raw fish or seafood, typically dressed with oil, citrus juice and seasonings. Think local favorites like amberjack, snapper and tuna drizzled with preserved Calabrian chili, Castelvetrano olives, orange zest, garlic, ginger and chives. Other veggie-focused and seasonal small plates include a kale salad with farro, roasted squash, apple, Manchego cheese with a blackberry vinaigrette, and tempura mushrooms with leeks and a smoky aioli.
For the meat (or seafood) lovers, small plates feature such seasonal and/or regional options as seafood purloo with clams, octopus and squid, octopus paella, and charcoal lamb kabobs or chicken.
The main dishes are the perfect amalgamation of all the food groups.
We’re talking combinations like whole grilled snapper with cabbage, red onion, sunchoke, salsa Verde, and arbol chili, served with blue corn tortillas; grilled striploin with smashed potatoes, arugula, shallot and truffle butter; and grilled pork chop with spaghetti squash and cabbage pancake, cider honey, apple, arugula and furikake (a dry Japanese condiment made from toasted sesame seeds, nori, salt and sugar).
As mentioned, the a la carte sides are always stellar and should not be overlooked. Familiar southern options including charred okra, brown butter cornbread or tempura eggplant are perfect for sharing. Be sure to save room for dessert. The house made hand pie (rotating flavors, but always on the menu) should not be missed! For our money, though, splurge on the four-course Chef’s Tasting Menu. The full table needs to participate, but you not only get a sampling of dishes on the current menu, but also off-menu items created at the whim of Chef Carter specifically for the tasting menu, and, at $55 per person, it’s a bargain (again, from experience, trust us).
If Sunday brunch is more your thing, FARM delivers the goods. In a twist on the classic meat ‘n three, you choose one “main” from a list including buttermilk fried chicken & waffle, frittata, cornmeal pancakes, shrimp & grits, or one of Carter’s classic burgers, along with two sides from an ever-changing menu. We can never get enough of Carter’s sides, so we’ll often put together a veggie plate of three, four or five of the addictive salads, veggies and grains and combine it with one main (which comes with two sides) and get to taste all the varied side options.
FARM serves in their intimate farmhouse-chic dining room with views of their tiny you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it kitchen— including a full bar for dining or imbibing—or front patio overlooking Old Town Bluffton. They also have a private dining room on the second floor which can accommodate up to 48 people for parties, wedding dinners and corporate events.
Beaufort and the Lowcountry is filled with some spectacular dining. But, for us, sometimes you’ve just got to take a trip to FARM to be reminded what lush landscape and beautiful bounty we’re lucky enough to call home.
1301 May River Road
Bluffton, SC 29910
Dinner: Monday-Thursday 5pm-9pm
Brunch: Sunday 10am-2pm
Beaufort-based travel journalists Lynn and Cele Seldon (www.seldonink.com) often cover culinary travel around the world, and Lowcountry Weekly recently lured them to write a monthly feature covering the local food scene. This will include articles about restaurants, chefs, food-focused stores, farms, farmers, farmers markets, and more. They welcome suggestions for topics.