Farm to Ladle
675 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta
Just the other night, as I was walking through the food court at Ponce City Market toward Farm to Ladle, I was reminded of that old psalm: “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of fried chicken and cheeseburgers, I fear no burrito or hot and numbing pork belly.”
Is that not the version in your Bible? You must not have the food writer edition.
Once I reached Farm to Ladle, I leaned over the glass counter and picked out a dinner that included a creamy soup with a trio of mushrooms, roasted broccoli and cauliflower doused in balsamic vinegar and Sriracha, spaghetti squash cooked down into tender strands, penne pasta tossed in a mild artichoke and hearts of palm dressing, and half of a sourdough sandwich with thin layers of chicken and salty prosciutto.
The only difficult thing about it was leaving Ponce City Market without stopping for a beer and chicken wings. (OK, I’ll admit I stopped for the beer, but I held back on the chicken wings.)
Everything at Farm to Ladle is served to-go, so when I got it home and out of the plastic containers, I found that it was a colorful, pleasant weeknight spread for two, the kind that is satisfying without being overfilling. It put me in mind of that nugget of Michael Pollan wisdom: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
Farm to Ladle is a place that makes Pollan’s deceptively simple, virtuous-sounding edict seem easy. You choose between a few prepared bowls of salads, a few pots of soup, and a few simple sandwiches, or make a combo of all three.
You may have a little stewed chicken in your soup, a few salty slivers of soppressata tossed in with your wild rice, or a hunk of hoison-glazed salmon atop your salad, but in all cases you’ll eat simple, recognizable food, reasonable portions, mostly plants. At the end, you’ll feel satisfied, but not stuffed, maybe even a little smug for living up to Pollan’s expectations and resisting the chicken wings.
The neighboring restaurants wouldn’t matter so much if Farm to Ladle weren’t in one of those newfangled “food halls,” the buzzy trend of cheffed-up food courts, where ordering at a neighboring restaurant is as easy as stepping from one register to the next. Farm to Ladle is plopped right along an alley full of hyped-up stalls run by chefs that include Linton Hopkins, who’s attracting big lines selling fried chicken and cheeseburgers at Hop’s Chicken and H&F Burger, and Sean Brock, who has brought his Charleston-ified taco and burrito chain Minero.
Farm to Ladle isn’t the type of place to make that kind of food-culture buzz. The flavors aren’t big or foreign or clever. The dishes are too homely for Instagram. There’s no sense of place or big vision or famous chef backing it. The owner, Geoff Melkonian, started Breadwinner Cafe, a decidedly unbuzzy soup and sandwiches bakery in Sandy Springs.
Farm to Ladle is a light update of that style. Yet, when I try to imagine what it would be like to live or work above the food court at Ponce City Market, I sometimes think Farm to Ladle might be the place I would end up eating at most often.
Nearly every item on the short menu changes every week. That umami-rich, creamy mushroom soup will become a lighter, more delicate cream of asparagus. That artichoke penne pasta salad will become a tuna bowtie pasta. There’s always some vegetable tossed with quinoa. Sometimes, the sandwiches are light, like that soft sourdough chicken saltimbocca with the thinnest layers of prosciutto, chicken and smoked gouda. Other times, they’ll be heavy, like a recent muffaletta topped with a thick layer of pimento cheese.
Despite deploying the common “locally sourced” marketing, this rotation isn’t the result of the kind of carefully seasonal and local sourcing that chefs like Steven Satterfield, Hugh Acheson or Terry Koval have made regular practice. Farm to Ladle does offer the occasional local ingredient — eggs from White Oak Pastures, apples from Mercier Orchards in North Georgia — and, if they continue to push the local, farm-styled marketing, I hope they’ll work with more local farms in the future.
In any case, that would be just one more reason to enjoy the virtues of Farm to Ladle and have a nice workaday lunch, an easy spread for dinner after a long day. It’s a place that makes me want to eat my vegetables.