A Sweet Success: Farmer’s Almanac in Danville
Farmer’s Almanac offers Bay Area cuisine with a shot of Southern comfort.
My first dish at Farmer’s Almanac—a country-chic, farm-to-table restaurant in Danville that showcases casual Bay Area fare with a Southern twang—was a riff on ham and peas. The dish, a hearty appetizer, brought a cascade of chilled, lemon-scented sweet peas from Iacopi Farms (a vendor at Danville’s Saturday market) and shavings of aged hickory-smoked ham from Tennessee. The dish’s “vessel,” as chef Timothy Humphrey calls it, was a thick toasted slice of local French-style brioche slathered with Burrata made by a family-owned California dairy.
Bay Area cuisine at its best.
With Farmer’s Almanac, Humphrey has emerged from the shadow of his brother and mentor, Michelin-starred chef Joseph Humphrey (The Restaurant at Meadowood, Murray Circle at Cavallo Point). But the family connection remains strong. The two chefs—Joseph now heads Limewood Bar and Restaurant at the Claremont Club and Spa in Berkeley—“fight” over the small batches of cane syrup produced by their brother Chris at Grandpa Humphrey’s old farm, which is tucked away in a national forest outside Tallahassee. Timothy Humphrey incorporates the distinctive syrup in—to name just a few dishes—a cranberry vinaigrette on his farmers market salad, his house-made breakfast sausage, and the mustardy South Carolina BBQ dressing for the lush pork loin—my second delicious discovery on the compelling menu.
Humphrey’s style is such a seamless fit with the rustic-refined concept at Farmer’s Almanac that it’s astonishing to learn he came to the restaurant just a couple of months prior to its opening in July. Alamo resident Darren Matte, who also owns Per Diem restaurant in San Francisco’s Financial District, designed and conceptualized Farmer’s Almanac. Humphrey simply responded to Matte’s Craigslist ad while casting about for a job where he could express his soulful cooking style.
“It was almost like we were having the same dream,” says Humphrey about his first phone conversation with Matte. When it came time for an interview, the two, along with Devin Aloise, the general manager of Per Diem and now Farmer’s Almanac, ended up talking for hours.
The new eatery, previously Amber Bistro, has been smartly renovated into two parts—to the right, a vibrant bar and lounge reserved for walk-ins; and to the left, a homey-yet-stylish dining room, with a full exhibition kitchen and artifacts honoring the historic Eddy House structure and Danville’s agricultural past.
Humphrey’s menu pays homage to his family in many ways. His scallion hush puppies, for instance, are inspired by the ones his grandpa served at family fish fries, and come with butter sweetened with the farm’s cane syrup. (The hush puppies also come in sixes, one for each member of Humphrey’s immediate family.) He wants his dishes to tell stories and hopes that, in sharing those stories, diners might share their own. (There’s an “inspiration board” in the kitchen, where staff can jot down their ideas.)
At brunch, indulge in “My Mama’s Breakfast Plate,” a play on a Sunday Humphrey family tradition: chewy bacon, coarse-and-creamy grits, crumbly buttermilk biscuits, eggs your way, and that sugar-kissed house-made sausage.
Having also worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, Humphrey is as adept at refined techniques and presentations as he is at country cooking and crowded breakfast platters. A delicate ring of avocado mousse comes studded with whittled produce, including a vibrant julienne of watermelon radish. And the duck on my visit brought together slices of moist breast meat with house-made tortellini filled with slow-braised and shredded leg meat.
Humphrey’s real talent is producing plates that are at once hearty and light. The strip steak is both a stew and a salad, yet neither. Farro, knobs of cooked carrot, and utterly fresh parsley sprigs leave you sated yet intrigued. The steak is rubbed with ground cacao nibs and smoky dried guajillo pepper, mimicking a deep char, but by grilling it gently over low flame, it seems more like slow-roasted beef.
While Matte and Aloise have let Humphrey run free with the farm-to-table concept, the pair did have one dessert in mind: a trio of milk choices—like a flight of wines, but for kids. Humphrey, of course, expanded on the idea by pairing each with a cookie and drawing on his childhood. Toasted-coconut milk that mimics the specialty Yoo-hoo drink he adored as a boy comes with a ginger cookie baked with the family farm’s cane sugar. Peanut-infused milk comes with a chewy chocolate cookie, and strawberry milk with a soft lemon cookie. Like Matte, Aloise, and Humphrey, it’s a trio that clicks; and like Bay Area and Southern cuisine, it represents the kind of harmonious interplay that Humphrey has pulled off beautifully.
Contact: 500 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 718-5168, almanacdanville.com. Dinner daily, lunch Mon.–Fri., brunch Sat.–Sun.