If you’re looking for a unique, farm-fresh dining concept in Central Jersey, search no further than The Farmer & the Chickpea. Co-founders Ashley Stratton and Jillian Kressley have garnered a devoted following for their eclectic, comforting menus centering on locally-sourced ingredients. The rustic-chic storefront in Whitehouse instantly sets the mood for a homestyle market experience, from the wood board floors, to the lighting fixture made of whisks, and charming chalkboard signage. Entering the dining area, guests are greeted by a hand-penned sign that sums up Stratton and Kressley’s vision perfectly: “Ingredients Matter.” At its core, The Farmer & The Chickpea is a celebration of honest food and the people behind it. The food is wholesome, hearty, and very generously portioned.
To characterize The Farmer & the Chickpea’s cuisine simply as “seasonally-inspired” would be an understatement. The menu changes weekly, featuring dishes that are crafted with the freshest selections from a range of suppliers including Hlubik Farms (Chesterfield), Flaim Farms (Vineland), and Stillwell Farm (Colts Neck).
Stratton and Kressley invite guests to “meet their farmer” by providing sourcing cards at the entrance and signs in the display cases citing the inspiration behind each dish. It really doesn’t get more Jersey Fresh than this! In fact, I was honored to have been present at the store last month when New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture, Douglas Fisher, and Assistant Secretary, Alfred Murray, visited for lunch.
As it would be impossible for me to cover all of the dishes I’ve enjoyed at The Farmer & the Chickpea, I will highlight a few of my favorites. First, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention their take on macaroni and cheese. There are few dishes more comforting than Macaroni and Cheese done “right” and Stratton and Kressley do not disappoint. With a mixture of ten cheeses, the sauce is smooth, creamy, and utterly indulgent. On a recent visit, they offered a “Caprice” variation, layering the classic baked pasta dish with mixed heirloom tomatoes. The sweet, juicy tomato slices complemented the sauce beautifully, balancing the richness of the dish with a bright taste of summer.
I’m never able to pass on the focaccia when I visit. The fillings change weekly, though I’ve been delighted to find the sausage and cheese version on several of my trips. On my last visit, I very much enjoyed the mushroom, onion, and brie focaccia (pictured at top). The earthy mushrooms and sweet, caramelized onions paired well with the delicate melted cheese. It was a delicious lunch.
Other favorites have included the weekly quiche recipe (I especially enjoyed a gluten-free selection over the summer that paired a leek, scallion, and goat cheese filling with a cauliflower-quinoa crust), white bean “meatballs”, and chicken wellington with portobello mushrooms, spinach, and mozzarella. Don’t miss “St-oup Row,” a hearty self-serve soup station, as well as sandwiches, rustic lasagnas, muffins, cookies, and pies.
The Farmer & The Chickpea is open to dine in or carry out from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can also be found at several farmer’s markets throughout the state from Wednesday to Saturday, the full schedule of which is available on their website. Weekly store menus are also available to preview online. Whether dining in or carrying out, bring your appetite!
The Farmer & the Chickpea
3523 US Highway 22
(Eastbound, next to Arvin Produce and Garden Center)