Lexington, Kentucky is just far enough north to not necessarily be held to the tenets of southern hospitality. Tell me of the restaurant you last visited in Mississippi or Alabama that refused to serve you a glass of cold tap water.
I’ll keep waiting.
Now tell me of the Texas taqueria that refused to sell you less than four tacos at a time.
And if you agreed to the verbal contract of four tacos, were you then further informed that the four pack must consist of the exact same sort of taco?
No mixing and matching of tacos at Farm Market.
There are plenty rules at Farm Market restaurant in Lexington. But no chips and salsa, and an order of rice and beans runs you $6.50.
Which reminds me of something an elderly Greek restaurateur taught me over 30 years ago in Birmingham: “Never forget that this is the hospitality business.”
The hospitality gets lost in translation at Farm Market.
Walking into the cafe on a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, I noted the decor as surely every person who ventures into the concern will. Imagine your dowdy, elderly Mexican aunt who spent the 70s tripping on acid and collecting folk art in Guanajuato. Now auntie Hilda has moved to Kentucky and decided to open a restaurant featuring her collection.
This is Farm Market.
If you’re not in the mood to take down four tongue tacos at one sitting there is a workaround. The restaurant (I can’t call it a taqueria) offers a solo bean taco without working you into a corner. Unfortunately, it’s not a taco.
After a negotiating session that would’ve done Henry Kissinger proud, I finally arrive at an uneasy détente with the owner/waitress. It is agreed that I will be allowed to buy a solo bean taco and a solo pork tamal.
The taco is actually a quesadilla.
Two earthy corn tortillas have been pressed together with a dollop of pureed black beans in the firmament between. The frijoles are dry but have a good flavor once a schmear of the rich, mole-esque hot sauce is daubed on.
The tamal holds promise as a whoosh of heavily corn-scented air wafts up as I tear open the corn husk. Fluffy masa is the dividing line between top bar tamales and ordinary ones. Unfortunately this corn dough has been overly handled and is approaching leaden. A good drizzle of the heavily roasted chile sauce rescues this tamal from mediocrity.
I’m exhausted. I’d intended on dashing into Farm Market to grab a couple tacos and a tamal while I was making my grocery rounds for a cooking party. I did not realize I was going to stumble into a high level, high stress, negotiating table where my meal hung in the balance.
Lexingtonians love Farm Market. I was hanging out at Blue Door Smokehouse chatting with my countermates when the topic of best Mexican in town came up. All the usual suspects were trotted out but special attention was drawn to Farm Market by all the debaters.
While the restaurant is quaint, could they open in Austin and make good money? That’s always the question I ask when I’m a thousand miles from Texas.
They could not, at least in the barrios where blue collar Mexican cats expect a quart of free ice water and a hot basket of fresh totopos brought to the table the moment they sit down.
The minute a Texas vato saw the tariff on the rice and beans he’d make his way out to the parking lot to slash the owners tires.
Next visit to Lexington I’ll drive on by Farm Market, and head out to the infinitely more hospitable Taqueria Ramirez in the neighborhood known as Mexington. Out there the hard-working shopkeeps keep the rules to a minimum and the house stereo cranking Bronco to the maximum.
And if you only want one taco for supper they’re happy to oblige.