Comfort food and charming history at Friendly Farm

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We live in an age that glorifies home cooking.

Accomplished chefs across the region strive to recreate the flavors, smells and experiences of their grandmothers' kitchens. "Comfort food" is an haute cuisine buzzword.

Though it's been open for more than five decades, with capable home-style cooking and kindly service, Friendly Farm is a restaurant for these times.

Jack and Dorothy Wilhelm opened the restaurant in 1959, after an accident left Jack unable to work their 200-acre Upperco farm. For the first several years, Friendly Farm was run right out of Jack and Dorothy's home; in 1964, they moved the operation into another building on the picturesque property.

The original menu included only three choices: chicken, steak or ham, plus family-style sides with each.

Today, Friendly Farm is run by the Wilhelm sons, Gary and Larry, along with Gary's wife, Jane (Jack passed away in 1976 and Dorothy has retired). The menu has grown, though it still includes those three original dishes.

Scene Friendly Farm's space is large; it feels like a banquet hall dressed up as a country kitchen, with charming curtains and large windows overlooking the farm. On a recent Thursday night, the room was about half full, mostly with families and older couples.

Its set-up is a little different than most restaurants. Diners order entrees and pay at the front counter, then are shown to their seats. When we stepped inside, we must have looked confused; two nice employees in the lobby took pity and walked us through the process.

With our orders placed and bill paid, we settled into a table. A waitress — as kind and efficient as the ladies in the lobby who showed us the ropes — took our drink orders (tea and soda; Friendly Farms does not offer alcohol) and offered us a glass of V-8 or apple juice to start.

Appetizers are included with every entree — as are drinks, side dishes and dessert. Instead of choosing one or two appetizers and sides, diners simply tell their waitresses which dishes they don't want.

Appetizers The appetizers arrived on a large tray, an enormous collection of small white bowls, each with a dish to share. Some were a bigger hit than others.

Pickle slices and celery stalks were crunchy, but unremarkable. We left both nearly untouched, while fighting over the last of the sugar biscuits — warm spheres of airy fried dough covered in sweet sugar.

Coleslaw, made in-house, was creamy, with finely chopped vegetables and tangy sauce.

Pickled beets were earthy; soft apples, sprinkled with cinnamon, were sweet and tart. Neither offered any surprises, but in both cases, the simple presentation made us smile. Friendly Farms saw no need to gussy up the beets with goat cheese, or serve the apples in a fancy salad. They stood on their own.

Apple butter was a welcome sight. We ate the spread two ways: slathered on thick slices of whole grain bread and mixed, Pennsylvania Dutch-style, with cottage cheese.

Entrees After the appetizer smorgasbord, we nearly groaned when our entrees appeared. One plate was piled high with fried chicken ($16.95); on the other, three large bone-in pork chops ($18.95) laid in their own juices.

The chicken was just as we like it: tender on the inside, surrounded by lightly fried, well-seasoned, crispy coating.

Broiled pork chops, each about one-quarter inch thick, were surprisingly juicy. With a flavorful brown sear on the outside, the chops were cooked just until done — they would have dried out with only a few more seconds under the broiler.

With the meals, our waitress brought more dishes to share: French fries, corn and green beans.

The fries were passable, if unexciting, and the corn was a sweet reminder that summer is on its way. But the green beans, mixed with small chunks of ham and cooked until soft, stole the show with their porky flavor.

Dessert Dinner at Friendly Farm ends with a scoop of Hershey's ice cream — for us, the neon green mint chocolate chip and coconut-studded Almond Joy flavors.

After checking in one more time to make sure we didn't need anything, our waitress sent us off into the evening with a friendly goodbye.

Bottom Line Watching a flock of geese fly over the Wilhelms' land, it was easy to imagine how the farm looked in the early '60s.

Both the farm and the food have changed little since the middle of the last century. But thanks to careful cooking and good service, dinner at Friendly Farm is more than a field trip to the past.

It's simply a study in good comfort food, whatever the year.

Back Story: Jack and Dorothy Wilhelm opened Friendly Farm Restaurant on their two hundred-acre Upperco farm in 1959. Now run by the Wilhelms' sons Gary and Larry, and Gary's wife Jane, Friendly Farm's focus on simple, well-prepared food and friendly, efficient service has ensured its place as a popular dining spot for multiple generations of Baltimore residents.

Parking: Lot in front

Signature dish: Friendly Farm's fried chicken is moist and juicy, with a coating that is light and crunchy. Piled high on a plate, it makes a satisfying centerpiece for a meal filled with many appetizers and sides, all served family-style.

Where: 17434 Foreston Road, Upperco, MD 21155

Contact: 410-239-7400; friendlyfarm.net

Open: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Credit Cards: All major

Rating: 2.5 stars

Reservations: Accepted for parties of ten or more, except on Easter and Mother's Day

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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