Like most everyone else, we first walked into Farmer & The Cow a little tentatively. This is it? They’re open? On this late Monday afternoon, there are still a couple people at the bar and owner Mike Day is behind the counter, humming along to Mumford & Sons and offering a hearty greeting.
Yes, we will have a burger. A Rodeo King with chipotle BBQ, onion straws, bacon and cheddar, please. Fries. Tots? Truffle tots? No, just fries. No, we will not have a bourbon. It’s 1:30pm on a Monday, OK? OK, one cocktail. Those salads look really good. Chicken skins would be too much for one person at lunch, on top of a burger, right? What about the fried pimento cheese? Wait, you have a milkshake called Saturday Morning Cartoons made with Apple Jacks, Fruit Loops, Cinnamon Toast and Capt. Crunch? Stop. Just stop. We have questions.
Q: You guys had the stealthiest opening of any restaurant on Market in years. Was that intentional?
Mike: Yeah, we did it very, very quietly. Shocked a lot of people. We opened the doors on Thursday at 4 o’clock after that weird rogue snowstorm on a Wednesday. I think the fear of anybody opening a new business, a new concept, is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. You could open the doors, and nobody shows up. Or you can open the doors and they show up and they don’t like the food. So far, we’ve opened the doors, they showed up, they loved the food, they loved the atmosphere, they loved the renovations, they loved the beer selection, they loved the bourbon selection. It’s been going swimmingly.
Q: So, you actually opened the same weekend as Stitch House Brewery?
Mike: Yeah, so that was awesome. Hey, I love those guys down there. I couldn’t believe we opened up essentially the same day. But talking to folks in Wilmington, there’s a lot of business getting lined up to open. And I’m not upset about that. The more business you have open, the more restaurants and bars and places that bring people downtown, it gives everybody more life. So now people can come down here for dinner every night of the week, versus one or two.
Q: How did you come up with the name?
Mike: It was much debated. Myself, chef, two of our business partners, we wanted to portray farm to table without calling it farm to table. We wanted an upscale burger bar, great drinks, great cocktail menu, great bourbons. We came up with Market Street Burger Company at one point, but we rejected that.
Q: What else didn’t make the cut?
Mike: The funniest one that we will put on record is SaladBurger. It was the worst name I’ve heard in my entire life, and that was definitely our chef who said that one. He just shouted “SaladBurger!” one day. We wanted to represent things like burgers, bourbons, beers, but we still wanted to say that we have salads for the lunch crowd looking for something a little lighter. SaladBurger was immediately rejected. He was a little hurt, but that’s OK. He got over it.
Q: Oh, hello Chef Rob Schneider, who just joined us. Tell us about your burgers.
Rob: We have two gigantic grinders back there that are running all day long. Everything is fresh. The specific grind for the burger is one-third brisket, one-third chuck, and one-third filet mignon. The next closest place that puts filet mignon in their burger is Village Whiskey in Philly. After that, it’s downtown New York City.
Mike: People hear about the burgers, see them online, and then when they actually see it in front of them, that’s been an awesome sight. What’s popular? There’s the Moo Caliente burger. [Editor’s note: That’s with charred habaneros, ghost chili aioli, and pepper jack cheese to cool it down, we guess.] It sounds hot and I also warn people that it is hot, and they take a few bites and then realize, yes, this is hot.
Q: What’s your favorite on the bar munchies list?
Mike: I love the chicken skins. Folks from the south are like, oh, it’s like cracklin’? Yeah. It’s just fried chicken skin. You think about fried chicken. What’s the best part? Nobody eats it for the chicken. Fried skin is where it’s at.
Q: Tell us about the bourbon.
Mike: We’re still looking to grow it a little more. We have one more shelf available. The surprising choices so far have been things like Noah’s Mill, Traverse City Whiskey Co. Port Barrel Finish, Clyde May’s, McKenna’s. And then there’s your Elijah Craig, your Four Roses, your Angel’s Envy. We’re trying to represent the small guys, as well as having those common names people are used to.
Q: Chef Rob, the names of your burgers are sometimes a bit cryptic. How did you come up with…
Rob: Oh, I let the other owners take creative license with the names.
Rob: Yes. “SaladBurger.” Because that was, well, see, OK, listen, it was really dumb, and I shouldn’t have said it. But we must have sat for 30, 40 hours, just spit-balling names and texting each other lists of names we thought were cool. We were sitting here one night, after working all day rebuilding the place, and I think Matt, one of the other owners, was the one to say, “Farmer & the Cow.” And we thought, that’s kinda catchy and it says what we do. Done. Let’s end this now.
Did Mike come up with any terrible names?
Rob: Ohh man, he came up with so many bad names. Man, I don’t remember them. I don’t think text messages go back four months on my phone. But he had some really bad ones.
This profile comes courtesy of New Market Wilm. New Market Wilm (@newmarketwilm) is a blog and lifestyle campaign focusing on the stories of Market Street and downtown Wilmington, focusing on destination restaurants, emerging living spaces and entertainment venues.