Sustainability is a popular restaurant catchphrase these days, but Urban Farmer, the eatery at the base of the Oxford Hotel downtown, puts a fair amount of effort into growing and sourcing the food on your plate, especially for a hotel restaurant. Chef Chris Starkus grows veggies and herbs in planters, on the hotel roof, and on a small property in the western suburbs; sprouts mushrooms in a display case in the basement (you can sneak down and take a look); and maintains his own beehives.
Urban Farmer also breaks down whole pigs, chickens and ducks every week and whole cows every quarter. General manager Susan Wieser explains that the kitchen prefers utilizing whole animals because it can use every part and make sure that nothing goes to waste. “We will use the breast for dinner, the legs for brunch and use bones for broths," she says, referring to the poultry — but pork and beef are handled similarly. "We’re more than just farm-to-table, and we live by a no-waste policy." Composting scraps is part of the program, too, down to the biodegradable straws used at the bar.
Since the restaurant is attached to a hotel, it's open early every day of the week, so brunch can be enjoyed at any time, in case you don't want to brave the weekend crowds. I stuck with tradition on a weekend visit, though, sampling a few different dishes and drinks. I started my brunch with a seasonal sweet treat: pumpkin doughnut holes with a side of rich and creamy caramel sauce. The flavors of these deep-fried treats rotate, so if you miss out on pumpkin, something else will soon be a tempting replacement.
If you've ever had trouble deciding between a waffle and French toast, you won't have to choose at Urban Farmer, where French toast waffles give you the best of both. French toast is cooked in a waffle iron before being topped with whipped mascarpone and a mixed berry compote. To say that this dish is decadent would be an understatement.
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To balance out the sweet French toast, I also tried the duck confit hash, which comes with sliced fingerling potatoes and huge pieces of slow-cooked duck beautifully plated and accented with egg yolk gastrique. If you want to be really healthy, you can try the coconut and chia-seed parfait with mint leaves and fresh berries on top.
The cocktail menu is as intriguing as the food. The Farmer’s Number 4 is a vodka-based cocktail enhanced with St-Germain elderflower liqueur and grapefruit; the giant ice cube in the middle of the drink is also made with grapefruit, giving more fruit to balance out the booze. The Violet Negroni comes out more greenish than violet, and with a bittersweet flavor from gin, Cocchi Americano and Suze (a French herbal liqueur). This drink was the stronger of the two, and also came garnished with nasturtium leaves (undoubtedly grown by Starkus). Mimosas and build-your-own Bloody Marys are also available if you aren’t feeling adventurous enough for a craft cocktail.
Urban Farmer is located at 1659 Wazee Street and serves brunch daily, though the menu is a little broader on Saturdays and Sundays. Visit the Urban Farmer website or call 303-262-6070 for more information. Hot tip: Book your New Year’s brunch now, because the restaurant will be packed!