A Field Guide to Field Guide
By Marisa Marsey
Introduction: It sounds like a place to purchase birding binoculars or maps for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. It looks like a fire station with garage door frontage. But Field Guide is the latest fun-fueled restaurant co-authored by David Hausmann and John Porter exhibiting their uncanny aptitude for elevating food by bringing it down to earth. Sandwiches on house-baked bread and salads, ebullient with colorful, fresh ingredients in flavor-packed compositions, ooze optimism on downtown Norfolk’s Granby Street and, just like at their wildly popular Handsome Biscuit in Colonial Place, the brothers-in-law forge their own classification for idealistic eateries that prove an easygoing, jovial, and unstarched nature can put out serious – and seriously delicious – product.
Orientation: Grab the single sheet menu while you queue up to place your order at the counter (peek into the bustling kitchen through the multi-textured glass-framed pass-through); seat yourself at one of three communal tables or pitch yourself against the plank by the garage door (open on pleasant days) where your meal will be delivered on a quaintly mismatched plate. Bus your table when finished.
Gear: Anything goes; T-shirts and tats bump elbows with straight-laced suits. More importantly, when you pick up your fork and knife (recommended even for sandwiches; they’re generous) – secure a bunch of napkins. Killer dressings such as “gold relish” (preserved lemon, yellow pepper, peach, mango and jalapeno) may well trail down your chin.
Habitat: The hip loft look pops with poplar. Tables, shelves, light fixtures, even the rough chopped art installation along one wall: all poplar. Between running orders and manning point of sale on an iPad, John Smith, whose sweat equity and artistry went into the build-out, guided me around. “Let’s go to the bathroom,” he said with unadulterated glee. En route, he highlighted air plants in terrariums from nearby Studio Posy that incorporate kids’ toys (“See the miniature backpacker there?”) and beer tap handles fashioned from bike brake levers (“Norfolk Bicycle Works let us rummage through their stuff”). The lavatories display still more playful ingenuity – handle bars repurposed into hooks – that make them side trip worthy, indeed (whether or not nature calls).
Evolution: In 2012, Grow, a digital agency with extra space, sought proposals for “the most incredible neighboring restaurant imaginable.” Hausmann (who previously injected adrenaline into our local culture via Relative Theory Records and The Boot) and Porter (whom Hausmann describes as “generally a quiet guy who enjoys the problem solving perspective of small business”) won the kinda-contest, reaping a leg up on renovations and reduced rent. Although they originally envisioned rooftop seating, structural limitations grounded those plans. But when the garage door rolls back, the border between inside and out blurs leading to common calls such as “Hey!” shouted by a passerby when spotting a friend inside; “Where’s the Wells Fargo building?” murmured by the occasional lost pedestrian at which diners standing at the garage door plank point up and over in unrehearsed unison; and “What’s that?” by salivating strangers of whatever your feasting on as these are beautiful, contemplative creations – not just slapped together sammies.
Flora and fauna: A sample of the three salads (herba salata) and 10 sandwiches (panus delicious) comprising the lunch menu ($4-8), each with a quirky name sprung from Hausmann’s dreams or a mind-blending of his favorite things…
Green and White One (salad) – A cascade of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare, a member of the family Apiaceae, formerly the Umbelliferae), arugula, celery, apple, goat cheese, pecan, and lime vinaigrette.
Chiccoli (sandwich) – A protein-rich mingling of mashed rosemary chickpeas (Cicer arietinum, a legume of the family Fabaceae) and confit broccoli (in the Italica cultivar group of the species Brassica oleracea) with curry dressing and pickled beets to leave you breathless.
Walkabout (sand.) – Turnips (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa) with arugula, peperonata, and honey ricotta that could be called life-changing without hyperbole as even vegetable haters will do a 180 upon tasting these root veggies rested overnight in salt, pepper, oil, and limes, then roasted in oil that slow-poached the broccoli for Chiccoli (see above). Observes Hausmann: “It…hides most of that turnip stank.”
Unexpected Friend (sand.) – Raspberry cherry jam massages pork shoulder (Porcus umerus humerus) studded with hot pickles.
Twice Lost (sand.) – Split sausage (Salsicia scissus) erupts with corn, pickled red cabbage, and horseradish remoulade (for expert eaters).
Note: Sides range from a mountain of sweet potato chips ($1) to lip-searing greens (elephantine leaves of emerald collards), slick with lime and pickled jalapenos ($3).
No guideposts: Whether a sandwich arrives on springy white bread or a roll isn’t indicated on the menu. You can’t go wrong either way – both possess a wonderful, moist crumb – but when I’m all over the map on what to order, such info could sway me.
Breaking camp: Dessert ($2-3) might be a maple popcorn ball or oatmeal cream pie sandwich cookie, reminiscent of something mom wrapped a note around in your “Ranger Rick” lunch box.
On The Horizon: An ABC license was recently snared, so local beer and a few wines will flow.
Experimentation is underway with vodka/whiskey slushies. (“Brain freeze is no pitfall,” claims Hausmann.) Full-service dinner starts this month, breakfast may follow soon.
429 Granby St., Norfolk. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.weekdays (expanded days/hours with dinner), no phone, inchoate website.
Got restaurant, food or beverage news? Contact Marisa Marsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.