Spring is the time of rebirth, and the emergence of new downtown restaurant Thomas & Dutch from the shuttered Farmhouse Evanston is well worth celebrating. Same owners, but all-new look, ethos and menu.
The southeast corner of the Hilton Orrington Hotel is prime downtown real estate. Co-owner Ferdia Doherty told me Farmhouse was the highest-grossing restaurant in Evanston for many years pre-pandemic.
Post-COVID, Doherty and business partner TJ Callahan decided they needed to shake things up a bit. To that end, they closed Farmhouse and modernized not just the interior, but made the grand outdoor patio structure permanent and year-round with doors, heating, etc.
The once-cluttered space – filled with farm-related tchotchkes and plenty of rough-hewn wood – has been dramatically streamlined and painted a soft white, and the restaurateurs have invested in more comfortable seating, added soundproofing to the ceiling and made it more modern overall.
The overhaul extends to the kitchen, where new executive chef Mike Carroll (Alinea, Band of Bohemia) rules benevolently over a delightful menu of beautifully plated but approachable seasonal food. He is joined by pastry chef Brittni Hill, whom Callahan and Doherty hired away from a North Shore country club. Her desserts are instant classics – clean, flavor-forward and eminently craveable.
Thomas & Dutch (named for Callahan and Doherty’s nicknames; the logo graphic is their own handwriting) had only been open for a week when I ventured in, and yet they were already firing on all cylinders. I was struck by the simple luxury of the room, a true departure from the previous restaurant. It was filled with happy diners, including several that called me over to their tables to tell me what I absolutely had to order. An auspicious beginning!
After deciding to share all the food we ordered so that we could maximize eating our way through the menu, the four of us started with some of the house special cocktails, and my Honeydew Spritz ($17) tasted like spring – a bright, verdant green, not overly sweet, and so refreshing. Appetizers sampled included the fried artichokes ($13), tempura battered and served over bed of garlicky, lemony hummus; the house-baked bread and butter ($8), a crusty sourdough served with salted Kerrygold butter; and the scrumptious Prince Edward Island mussels ($15), floating in a creamy broth seasoned with tomato, garlic and paprika. I’m not too proud to admit that we asked for soup spoons when the mussels and bread were gone so that not a scintilla of that precious sauce went to waste.
A second course of oven-braised beets ($13) perched atop creamy goat cheese and pistachio-basil pesto and shingled with triangles of grilled rye bread; mushroom rigatoni ($18) in a creamy sauce studded with mixed wild mushrooms (which could’ve used a few more mushrooms, though the flavor was lovely); and the roasted maitake ($15), a sort of deconstructed mushroom pot pie with celeriac purée, chunks of buttermilk pie crust, and a cocoa-nib tuile.
For entrées, we shared two items from the “Sea Change” portion of the menu. The pasta in the shrimp fettucine ($21) was cooked perfectly al dente, and there were plenty of plump shrimp to go around, although the dish needed more seasoning. The fried walleye ($20) was crispy on the outside and tender within, served with tiny beluga lentils and a sprightly celery-citrus salad that counterbalanced the richness of the fried fish. Our last dish – from “The Great Hunt” – was the roasted Berkshire pork tenderloin ($25), which came with grilled apples, corn purée, potatoes and sautéed escarole. In retrospect, I wish we had ordered the beef Wellington ($36), which Doherty tells me is their “runaway bestseller,” and also the dish named by three of the people who emailed or texted me the following day to rave.
Don’t sleep on dessert, all of which can be easily shared. That’s especially true of the chocolate Nutella toffee cake ($24), which is large enough for a table of four to split (thus the price). The moist chocolate cake is glazed with chocolate ganache and contains Nutella buttercream within, plus toffee crumbles and a few dollops of vanilla whipped cream. (I’d like to see more generous dollops to offset the richness of the cake.) Other options that we didn’t explore on this visit include a peach cobbler tart, Key Lime cheesecake and lemon and vanilla bean panna cotta.
Prices are very much in line with other eateries around town, and the portions are quite generous. You shouldn’t be shocked by the 20% service charge added to your bill, because fair warning is given both on the website and by a note on the table. That, and it’s the right thing to do. If you feel the service warrants it, feel free to add extra when you pay the bill. Doherty told me they are “trying to educate people on why tipping is complicated. This way is better for our employees, more consistent.”
Currently, Thomas & Dutch is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Eventually the owners hope to be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Only staffing issues (the true plague of the hospitality industry right now) are preventing it, but Doherty says they’re working on it, and shares that there will also be a small retail space in front selling locally made goods, including Spice House mixes and honey from their own Brown Dog Farm in Mineral Point, Wisconsin.
“We want to welcome the wonderful people of Evanston in. We want this to be a neighborhood hangout, a place where everyone can feel comfortable,” Doherty said.
If what we saw and experienced was any indication, they are well on their way to that goal.
Thomas & Dutch, 703 Church St. Reservations accepted online or call 847-492-9700. Open 5 to 11:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, closed Mondays.
Sounds spectacular—my husband and I will have dinner there soon.
It is annoying that the 20% they automatically add as a tip is subject to sales tax, which regular tips are not.
That is strange! Not sure why it’s set up that way.