The words “Southern cuisine” conjure up the image of a certain kind of dish. Whether soul or farm food, Southern cuisine is often limited to those two categories, which is something Jabari Wadlington, head chef at Farm Bell Kitchen, aims to change.
Opening downtown inside the Dinsmore Boutique Inn, Farm Bell kitchen is the latest restaurant from Ryan Hubbard, who also co-owns the Red Hub Food Company.
Named after a farm bell Hubbard found at an antique sale, which now sits outside the restaurant, he said he and Wadlington found it important to have a menu and experience that was different while also emblematic of the South — much like the titular farm bell.
“With Farm Bell, we’re marrying two different things: the elegant historical setting that’s rooted deeply in Charlottesville and Central Virginia, with 19th-century farm food from North Carolina,” Hubbard said.
Wadlington has worked in restaurants across the South for years, studying and working everywhere from North Carolina to the French Quarter in New Orleans. He even recently won a $20,000 prize on the reality show competition “Guy’s Grocery Games.”
Over the course of his culinary experiences, Wadlington said he learned to appreciate the broader scope of Southern cuisine — something he is showcasing with the Farm Bell menu.
“We’re taking a different route than just soul food. That Southern influence is vast; there’s French culture, Haitian cultures — so much more than what comes to mind immediately,” he said.
Serving well-known dishes while also expanding what Southern cuisine is has become Wadlington’s mission at Farm Bell.
“You’ll see a lot of flavor profiles we’re playing around with, as well as fresh ingredients. It’s not all rustic and in-your-face, even though we’re going to have some dishes like that,” he said. “We’re trying to be more well-rounded when it comes to vegetarian and vegan dishes as well.”
Trying to take the Southern influence while also breaking his recipes down to the basics, Wadlington said it was important to use fresh Central Virginia-sourced ingredients, as well as utilizing whole animals to craft the best dishes.
“Southern food is farm to table. You’re dealing with greens that come out of the garden, you’re dealing with fresh herbs — all that stuff,” he said. “That’s essentially what we’re trying to bring back.”
But the dining experience wouldn’t be complete without following in the tradition of Southern hospitality, something Wadlington said he’s seen a lot of.
“I’ve really got a feel for the Southern culture and the hospitality,” Wadlington said. “I think when you go to Savannah, New Orleans and Charleston, you see this type of hospitality on a level you don’t see in New York unless you’re paying $200 to 500.”
By offering a versatile menu that involves more affordable breakfast and dinner, Hubbard said he hopes to offer a range of experiences for diners.
“There are times when coming to Farm Bell is going to be the convenient choice, and then there are times when it’s going to be the splurge,” said Hubbard.
Farm Bell Kitchen is staggering its openings for various meals, with brunch being available starting on Sunday, and breakfast/lunch the following Monday.
Though it’ll be serving breakfast and lunch throughout March, Farm Bell won’t start serving dinner until March 29.