For more than eight years, the corner of Mason and Turk in San Francisco has been home to one of the city’s top restaurants for a soulful, farm-to-table experience. On any given day, you are sure to find good food, good music and a taste of Southern hospitality when you step in to dine at Farmer Brown.
This is exactly what restaurateur Jay Foster envisioned when he set out to build a concept that reflected who he was, the kind of food he loved and the experience he wanted to offer. Located in the Tenderloin District, Foster loves leaving a little to his patrons’ imagination as they arrive, only to come inside and find a diverse, feng shui dining scene that no one could have organically created more perfectly. “One of the many things that I really love about this restaurant is the clientele. I think coming into this restaurant any time, any day, you’re going to see and experience diversity that you won’t see at any other restaurant in San Francisco. I know because I eat out at a lot of other restaurants. I am just really honored and appreciative that that’s what we attract.”
Although he created the right recipe for a great restaurant, the North Carolina native didn’t arrive in San Francisco with thoughts of being in the culinary industry. A student of mathematics and later art, he actually ran from the idea of a career in restaurants, not realizing how big of a role they played in his life. “My first job was as a dishwasher and every job I’ve had has been in a restaurant and my parents met in my grandmother’s restaurant. I probably was running from a lot of that and ended up finding my way and I just kind of fell into it,” says Foster who owns a smaller version of Farmer Brown called Little Skillet, also in San Francisco.
Soul Food Inspired Daily
At its core, Farmer Brown is not just a restaurant that serves Southern cuisine, but a place that also pays homage to those who helped grow and create the culture of food and along the way fueled the farm-to-table concept way before it became so trendy today. “When I got the opportunity to create what I really wanted, I was looking around and didn’t see much soul food and then began asking myself, ‘What is soul food, what is the difference between soul food and Southern food and Creole food and American food.’ And the more research I did, the more I realized that so much of our food and because of that our culture came from farmers.”
Not one to give in to monotony, Foster meets with farmers at least twice a week to see what they have that may lead to a new creation coming out of the test kitchen and onto the menu. “I am inspired by things that I see the farmers growing,” Foster shares which often leads to new dishes daily. Farmer Brown favorites that are menu staples include the catfish, seafood gumbo, crawfish and shrimp jambalaya, skillet pork chop and of course the Southern fried chicken. While Foster acknowledges that not all fried chicken is the same, the key to Farmer Brown’s is that they brine the chicken for 24 hours and the spice mix is simple yet full of flavor from fresh ingredients. “It is not that difficult. You just have to make it crunchy, juicy and delicious.”
Update: This restaurant is now closed as of 2018.
Listen to his powerful take on San Francisco's hospitality industry on the podcast, “On the Fly” with Marcia Gagliardi.