There’s a lot to like about Plow Restaurant, a farm-to-table operation that opened on Main Street in Cambridge three years ago.
The restaurant operates in a building that dates back to 1848, when it was a grist mill, and its historic roots are apparent in the structure’s wood and stone composition. It was converted to a restaurant in 1992, according to Plow’s website. Since then, the building has housed nine restaurants.
Owners Treena and Charles Fiesel hope their farm-to-table concept fares better with more longevity. The couple purchased a farm in Sun Prairie in 2010 and opened Plow six years later, hoping to “revitalize Main Street around a foodie movement,” they write on the website.
The restaurant specializes in slow-smoked prime rib and pork roast, using pork, lamb and produce from the couple’s farm.
Plow offers a thoughtful menu that includes appetizers, flatbreads, small plates, soups and salads, seafood and vegetarian pasta, and vegetable entrees. But, of course, the emphasis is on pork, lamb and beef.
The restaurant has two dining rooms and a front patio along Main Street. The front dining area includes a full bar opposite a line of windows that provide a view of Main Street. It also offers a view of the kitchen and a clay oven that turns out some delicious flatbreads, while an interior dining room provides a strong sense of the building’s history through its woodwork and stone.
A friend and I visited Plow on a Saturday evening when the restaurant wasn’t especially busy but served a steady stream of customers. For the most part, we liked the food and the service.
A plate of buttermilk catfish ($8) featured hand-breaded cornmeal pieces of fish served with tartar and lemon. It was tasty, but the fish was a tad undercooked, so it was less flaky and a little more “fishy,” as my companion put it, than we would have liked.
A dinner salad of fresh greens, onions, bell peppers, radishes, tomatoes and cucumbers ($8) was better than average, as was a terrific Margarita flatbread ($11). The latter featured outstanding crust and was topped with marinara sauce, basil, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. We loved the pie’s pure flavors and simplicity, especially its crispy crust that gave way to airy, tender dough.
From the small plates list, we checked out the kitchen’s delicious meatball plate ($8). It blended ground pork and lamb with basil, topped that with melted Parmesan, and then smothered the mix in a rich marinara sauce and served it with crostini. This is a nice little plate, and I have to admit, it tops the meatballs I remember from my childhood.
Despite its current popularity, we were less thrilled with another small-plate option—pork belly ($7). (It seems half the restaurants in Madison now have pork belly on the menu.)
The flavor of the dish was all right, but the order is not as appealing due to its small fat-to-meat ratio. The menu describes the plate as “glorified bacon,” with thick-cut slabs of bacon that are smoked and finished in the wood-fired oven. They are then topped with a balsamic reduction sauce and garnished with microgreens.
We thought about ordering the prime rib because it is considered a house specialty, but we decided to go with poultry instead when we learned it came directly from the Sun Prairie farm (the beef doesn’t). It was a good decision.
An order of garlic chicken ($14) featured breast meat marinated in garlic and finished with scallions, mushrooms and white wine. The meat had just a hint of garlic, which is a good thing if you’ve ever experienced chicken when the meat’s flavor was secondary to the garlic. A generous portion of poultry was complemented with nicely done rice pilaf.
Our server was attentive and provided good service. She was friendly but apologetic almost to a fault. Three times she apologized for perceived shortcomings in service that we hadn’t noticed.
I found that a bit perplexing until my companion, who had a clear view of the kitchen (I was seated facing the opposite direction), described what she considered an almost hostile work situation in which the kitchen boss was agitated and short-tempered with service staff. I hadn’t noticed anything disturbing, but the tension my dining companion witnessed left her feeling unsettled and concerned.
So in the end, our dining experience was mixed. The food and service were mostly good, but something behind the scenes was not right, and we’re not sure if it was an anomaly or standard operations for this kitchen.