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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Non-Rational Beef

<rmington Steak House is pretty far away, and yet it has a surprisingly loyal following among a small number of Carleton students. It is like the Ryanair of restaurants; their extreme no-frills atmosphere is accompanied by extra charges for almost everything, and yet we keep going back, almost entirely due to the fact that it’s a really cheap place to eat. And yet eating at Farmington Steak House, or simply ‘Farmington’ to us Carls, is a much more humane experience than flying on Ryanair, which as I recall had at one point announced a scheme to charge passengers £1 to use the toilet during flights. However, as I write this I realize that I have never used the bathroom at Farmington, which makes me kind of nervous, but I am still fairly confident that you won’t be subjected to such egregious price gouging at Farmington. In addition to being humane, eating at Farmington is also a much more human experience, which is reflected in the esoteric and highly unpredictable menu. One needs a good grasp on critical theory to translate the deceptively plain menu into an enjoyable dining experience. Allow me to explain.

Due to some obscure reason lost in the annals of band history, the band I play in, Brown Sugar Jamal and the Spice Rack, has a tradition of eating at the Farmington Steak House before every show. So I have naturally eaten there quite a few times, and can relay to you first-hand observations strengthened by experience on the big questions concerning Farmington. For example: what is the difference between the $2.89 Steak Sandwich and the $3.55 Steak Burger? The answer, like all things concerning twists of fate and love, is not simple. These menu items, of course, are Farmington’s most prominent loss leaders, and it is these offerings that have the power to draw students all the way from faraway Northfield to eat at Farmington. First time visitors to Farmington may be tempted to try the other, non-beef items on the surprisingly long menu such as “Butterfly Shrimp,” and the mysterious entrée that is simply named “Fish,” but nobody has ever ordered those things at Farmington before and there is no reason that you should be the first one to do so. The Steak Sandwich and Burger offer the most beef per buck, and the meat for both items is, surprisingly, exactly the same. The difference in price, according to a simple reading of the menu, ostensibly reflects the fact that the Steak Burger includes a baked potato, and your choice of soup or salad, while the Steak Sandwich only includes french fries. But this view is too simplistic. Within the menu of Farmington Steak House, the rational-mathematical way of life characteristic of Anglo and Teutonic America give way to something that is akin to a less hospitable and more unpredictable version of Persian taarof: nothing is direct, and what one says is never what one means… This can be a bewildering experience for the uninitiated. For example, the Steak Sandwich has been known to come with anywhere from zero to two baked potatoes, and either one slice of toast or two. (Yes, even the assumption that a sandwich implies two slices of bread is one that you will have to leave behind.) For some strange reason, I never recall having received french fries on any occasion that I have ordered the Steak Sandwich. The Steak Burger seems to reliably come with one baked potato, but also comes with an unpredictable quantity of toast. Therefore, though I have ordered both the Steak Burger and the Steak Sandwich many times, I am still not really sure what the difference between the two is. In fact, for a long time I was not aware that these exist as two separate menu items. Asking for the difference between the two merely results in a verbal surprise rather than a surprise on your plate, and is therefore a futile act. Recently I have settled on ordering the Steak Burger, which seems to be a more predictable option than the Steak Sandwich, but in any case the result will be a pretty substantial amount of food with decent taste. Diners at Farmington must have the flexibility to be content with variations on this theme.

However, there is one inflexible rule when it comes to Farmington: never, ever order the Chopped Sirloin! This advice was relayed to me during one car ride over to Farmington by my bandmate Omar, who by his own estimation has tried nearly every menu item at Farmington. Being the contrary person that I am, I ordered the Chopped Sirloin without hesitation as soon as we set foot inside the restaurant. Imagine my shock when I received my order, and looked down at my plate and saw––a Steak Burger! (or a Steak Sandwich, see previous paragraph). This is not a joke. The Chopped Sirloin is $2.30 more expensive than the Steak Burger and nearly three dollars more expensive than the Steak Sandwich, but for all intents and purposes, these three menu items are exactly the same thing. It is almost as if the Chopped Sirloin is a trap set in the menu to identify the uninitiated diner. The Farmington menu can be treacherous. Let the immortal cry of Admiral Ackbar be your warning.

Then there is the $8.55 special on the Ribeye Steak from Thursday through Sunday, which are probably the only days of the week that Carleton students would go to Farmington Steak House anyways. Be warned that this is a lot of food. I ordered it once and could only eat about three quarters of it, and Omar finished the rest, after having completely eaten his own order of Ribeye Steak as well. I tipped my hat in acknowledgement of this feat. As I recall, the steak was pretty tough and just okay, but the price I was charged for it only marginally exceeded the price I would expect to pay at the grocery store for that amount of meat. Therein lies the enigma of Farmington Steak House: it is a place that defies rationalism and modernity. The menu, the cooks, and the financial foundations of the business itself all seem to exist on a different philosophical plane from the contemporary United States. So head to Farmington Steak House, perhaps not for the fairly average food, but to catch a glimpse of another way of being in which things cannot be quantified, nor organized on paper…

Our in-resident food correspondent, Kyohei Yazawa, ventures into the field on a weekly basis to investigate Northfield’s eating establishments. Pick up next week’s paper for the third installment of his review series.

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