Founding Farmers: An Exploratory Passage on the Nature of Time


All photos by Ash V.

It was a cold day at sea in 1915. Keganoush Aghababian stared down at the ever-shifting waves below her, and, when she looked up, she began to see land ahead of her. Still unsure whether it was solid ground or merely an illusion, she uttered one of the few English words she knew: “America.” This vast nation that spread before her represented an unknowable miasma of vague ideals. Nowhere is that miasma more present than in the Founding Farmers restaurant at Tysons Corner. 

This restaurant initially caught my eye due to its close proximity to BASIS Independent McLean and its status as a somewhat trendy local eatery in the D.C. area. Because of these factors, I came to the conclusion that this restaurant, brimming with potential for a BIM Bulletin food review, would require not one but two visits in order to get a sense of the quality of the restaurant. In preparation for the first visit, I began to research the restaurant’s menu and history, and while I learned many things, one aspect caught my eye: an article about the restaurant by Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post, a famous food reviewer in the D.C. area. His scathing review of the establishment calls the pasta “gummy,” the biscuits “arid,” and compares the shrimp and grits to “a swamp.” This review took me aback when I first read over it. I had only heard good things about Founding Farmers, but was the praise merely a siren song leading me to crash into the jagged cliffs of mediocrity? No, it couldn’t be, at least that’s what I promised myself as I brought myself to sleep. Tomorrow, I would enter the gilded gates of Founding Farmers. I could not prepare myself for what would happen between now and when I would leave through those fateful doors.

I woke up on the morning of the eighth in a cold sweat. The growing anxiety of Founding Farmers’ mysterious quality had been swirling around my stomach all night. I truly wanted to believe that this restaurant would fulfill my unquenchable desires for a memorable lunch, but I had no way to be sure that this event would come. Time seemed to fly by as I thought over this dilemma. However, ‘fly into’ might be the better terminology, as it seemed like the unstoppable march of time decided to blindside me out of nowhere. Before I could process my surroundings it was 2:30, the time of my reservation. Those wretched gilded gates were imposed before me. I opened the door warily, discovering that the restaurant was practically brimming with people, despite it being that awkward time of day between lunch and dinner, 

where I would expect a restaurant like this to be a bit less crowded. Luckily, we were seated quickly, and I began to make myself at home in the booth. Soon enough, drinks were served and I helped myself to a refreshing Diet Coke, which was served with a compostable, yet still plastic, straw. However, I could not revel in these minor details for much longer, as I saw my waiter approach the table with our first order, an appetizer, the skillet cornbread. I cut into the bread with anticipation, and as I positioned the first slice towards my mouth, I breathed deeply, took account of my surroundings, and took my initial bite with confidence. In all honesty, it was a wonderful experience. Individual kernels of corn were bespeckled within its soft and doughy interior, which itself was succinctly packaged in a hardy yet approachable crust. While creating a bad piece of cornbread is an incredibly difficult task, I can confidently say that the Founding Farmers skillet cornbread is the best cornbread I have eaten.

As the number of slices left in the skillet began to deplete, I started to think less about the plate in front of me, and more about the plates to come. However, the noise of the restaurant started to distract me. The restaurant was packed with people. In fact, it almost reminded me, once again, of the story of Keganoush. Stuck in the ocean for weeks, surrounded by strangers, she had begun to wonder if the aching she felt was just the product of sea sickness or an illness she caught. She was just a body within a larger, writhing mass of aching bodies. She felt completely alone, despite being surrounded on all sides. However, although the situation was not ideal for either of us, she was escaping an oppressive government in her homeland, while I decided to enter this restaurant out of my own volition. 

As my thoughts began to drift away from me, I was soon approached by a gleaming figure, our waiter, holding three beacons of a bountiful harvest, our entrées. I had ordered one of the restaurant’s most iconic dishes, the Fried Chicken & Jefferson Donut, while my parents had ordered the Steak & Enchiladas and the Chicken Bolognese Bucatini. When I first took a bite into the beef in the Steak & Enchiladas, I was met with a savory taste but a somewhat tough exterior. This contrast was likely due to the fact that the steak was ordered to be cooked at medium, making the meat’s hardened carapace an expected byproduct of the added safety the extended cook time provided. The enchiladas were a bit moist, but not soggy. However, the chicken encased within the enchilada tasted vaguely of the vast unknowable expanse of space, devoid of matter and devoid of any flavor as well. Next, I carried my fork over to the Chicken Bolognese Bucatini, which I found to be an interesting title as Bolognese, a type of meat sauce, is traditionally made with

beef, pork, or veal, not chicken. Soon after taking my first bite of the pasta, I discovered why chicken is usually avoided in this dish. While the pasta itself was well cooked at a firm al dente, the sauce was an unfortunate result of the nature of ground chicken. I understand that I may be delving into the realm of opinion with this next clause, but I think we can all agree that ground chicken is an objectively bad preparation of chicken. At least within my own experience, it always ends up having an unmistakingly gummy texture which is just unappetizing.

After that experience, I felt wary of the dish in front of me. Could it have been that Tom Sietsema was right? Was Founding Farmers ultimately an underwhelming and overrated restaurant? I swallowed my anxiety and prepared to swallow my food. I tried the side of macaroni first and the melted cheese began to melt away some of my worries. The sauce was decadently creamy, but not in a way that became overbearing, and it was topped with breadcrumbs, a component of which I have alway been a proponent. The green beans were next, and, truthfully, they really just tasted of green beans. There wasn’t any innovation, but I don’t think they really needed any. After I had tasted both of the sides, I gazed at the pile of chicken that laid before me, grabbed a piece, and took a bite. When I did this, a strange thing occurred. Once my teeth had made their way through the crispy shell of the fried chicken, a familiar taste stared directly at my soul. It was the void again. 

Suddenly, I was no longer in a crowded restaurant, the chicken had transported me and I was now floating through the abyss. It can be a scary place sometimes, but you get used to it, and as the inky expense enveloped me, I welcomed it like an old friend. True tranquility can be hard to find, but as I looked down at my hands only to be met with more nothingness, I realized I had found it. This state of inner peace lasted for about thirty seconds, ending when the countenance of Tom Sietsema began to form in the distant constellations. 

“So, it looks like you were right.” I said, defeated.

“Aren’t I always?” Replied the booming, omniscient voice.

“Well,” I paused, “I just really hoped it would live up to the hype, you know?”

“I know all.” He stated succinctly.

“Okay, well, I think I might just stay up here for a while,”  I sighed.

“You may not.” The stars shone brightly as he responded.

“Why’s that?” I asked quizzically.

“Ash, my child, you must complete your mission, you must finish the review.” 

The moment he finished speaking, I could feel myself being sucked back to the material plane. Once again, the chicken laid before me. I grabbed a piece, this time dipping it in the provided honey mustard sauce, and took a bite. Honestly, while the chicken was definitively bland, when combined with the sauce, it tastes pretty good. 

Soon enough, the final course came, we had ordered the Virginia Peanut Butter Mousse Pie for dessert. My waiter, my dear waiter, had presented it in front of me, and while the large quantity of food I had consumed prior would usually prevent me from fully enjoying a dessert like this, a monstrous entity had begun to make itself at home in my stomach. I bit into the creamy surface of the pie and the smooth yet rich taste began to overcome my senses. I had entered a blind frenzy, in which I would continue to insert portion after portion of pie into my mouth past the point where all of my bodily functions indicated it was time to stop. Soon enough, I was directing my fork to a clean plate, and as I realized the horror of my situation, the monstrous entity escaped the confines of my body, leaving only my own mind to reflect on the carnage I had created. I had a pretty bad stomach ache afterwards. However, while it was a bit heavy, it was a very good pie.

It was around 12:30 the following Wednesday when a familiar image burned itself into the front of my mind. I opened the door again, this time more confident than before, but still careful of what undiscovered mysteries might lie ahead. After we had gotten ourselves seated, a certain menu item caught my eye: the Garlic Black Pepper Wings. We promptly ordered this dish. However, a strange occurrence followed. I waited and waited, but my waiter was nowhere to be seen. Had he betrayed me? But why? My previous waiter would have never done such a thing yet by some cruel twist of fate this new waiter had completely abandoned me. I was all alone, stranded on a long forgotten islet in the treacherous waters that were Founding Farmers. A viscous storm was pelting at what little safety I had as the raging tides attempted to swallow me whole. That was, until my waiter came back with the wings. When I first laid hands on them, I could feel the incredibly crisp carapace of the chicken, and as I took my first bite, an orchestral crescendo of crackling followed. The sauce itself gave the wings a kick of garlic flavor, but did not end up overpowering the chicken. While it can never truly redeem the chicken of Founding Farmers, this dish, as well as the skillet cornbread, definitely goes to show that the appetizers are not something to skip.

Eventually, our entrées arrived at the table and I braced myself for another rollercoaster of an eating experience. The first entrée was the Texas Chili Dog. While the hot dog itself was savory with a kick of sweetness and the chili was hearty and filling, the amount of chili was truly just insubstantial, I would’ve really hoped for a bit more. The hot dog also came with a side of diner-standard fries, served with some diner-standard ketchup. There really wasn’t anything special about them, but I do enjoy diner food. My entrée (which I will keep a mystery for the time being in order to induce suspense) was served with a side of the Pickled Veggie Potato salad. I enjoyed it a good deal as, unlike most potato salads, it wasn’t completely slathered in an unfathomable amount of mayonnaise. However, there was one other item on my plate, an item with a story like no other.

The year is 1920, and there is a spectre haunting Omaha, Nebraska. Reuben Kulakofsky enters the poker room at the Blackstone Hotel. He takes a seat, examines his cards, and asks an unusual request from a nearby waiter: a sandwich containing corned beef and sauerkraut. Charles Schimmel, the Blackstone’s owner, overheard this order and immediately became entranced. Such a simple sandwich ignited a tremendous fire in his mind. The sandwich was brilliant, but there was something missing. Over the next few days, Schimmel locked himself away in his study as he devised what he believed to be one of the greatest inventions in the history of humankind. He refused both food and the comfort of his family over this period of time, his work was too vitally important for distractions. After two weeks, he left the confines of his chamber, emaciated and estranged with a dirtied parchment in his hand. Corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and Russian dressing, all on rye bread. This was his masterpiece. He put it on the Blackstone’s menu under the name of the beautiful man that inspired it: The Reuben.

Meanwhile, in New York City, Keganoush Aghababian enters the doors of Reuben’s Delicatessen, a local store owned by Arnold Reuben. While she may not be able to afford any of the food, she loves to absorb the aromas of the kitchen. As she browses the various entrées on display, she discovers a peculiar sandwich among the group called “Reuben’s Special,” an invention of the owner, a corned beef sandwich with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on rye bread. It didn’t sound very appetizing to her and she left the store soon after.

No one really knows where the Reuben sandwich came from, it seems to have just appeared one day out of the primordial aether of the universe, the last words of a dying star. In a way, we all invented the Reuben, but this paradox of an origin was not what I was thinking about when I first began to eat my sandwich, I was too preoccupied with judging its taste. First of all, Founding farmers seemed to have a bit of their own take on the classic Reuben. The corned beef had been replaced by pastrami, a common substitute, and the sauerkraut seemed much less sour and a lot more fresh. Personally, as someone who has eaten many Reubens throughout my life, I have come to prefer Reubens that are incredibly moist and greasy, so I was a little concerned when the bread was dry to the touch. However, when I took my first bite, a feeling that no Reuben had ever given me before came over me. I felt refreshed, rejuvenated even. It was different from the greasy trash pile that I had grown to love, but it was still a great sandwich. By the time I had finished the sandwich, a small melancholic feeling entered my mind. Despite the fact that Founding Farmers had betrayed me so many times, I was still going to miss the experience I had there.

The final dish was laid in front of me, a single scoop of coffee ice cream in a bowl. It was the simplest menu item I had ordered from this restaurant, but it held so much symbolic weight. When I raised the first spoonful to my tongue, I was met with a truly ideal ratio of flavors. It was bitter enough for the coffee flavor to be heard but sweet enough for it to not be at a forte. The texture was decadently thick and smooth, but as I started to finish what was left, I found myself in an unfortunately familiar location.

I was nowhere, yet I was everywhere. As I floated through the void, I found myself beside Schimmel in his study, beside Sietsema in his office, beside Aghababian at sea, the waves rising up and crashing down around us. I turned to her, but she kept her eyes ahead at the confoundingly wondrous continent ahead of her, while she may have not been able to detect my astral presence near her, we seemed to share a brief moment across time and space dedicated to the indescribable awe of the world. But that moment could only last so long, as the waves of time soon whisked me away yet again. I was once again sitting in a restaurant’s booth, but from a different perspective, as across the table from me, I saw myself, moments before I took a bite of that dreaded fried chicken. Time is a fickle thing, and here, I could see all of it. The splendor of the fourth dimension, something that used to only reveal itself to me at a slow yet consistent rate, was spread forth before my eyes. It was scarily beautiful, the history of everything repeating over and over as I stood in disbelief. Founding Farmers had revealed to me the incredible complexities of the universe, and I had let these wondrous truths permeate through my form.

The void had never been so alive, but alas, the void was not my home, and I couldn’t stay there forever. An opening began to form in the great hot soup of all things, I took one step through it and said goodbye. Then, all of a sudden, I was in the comfort of my own home. I was finished.


Finally, it is time to give Founding Farmers my rating. Overall, while some of the dishes were a bit of a disappointment, the incredible qualities of others resulted in Founding Farmers getting a 4/5 on the basis of Taste. Secondly, while it could’ve been worse, some of the menu items seemed pretty overpriced, so they’ll be getting a 3/5 for Affordability. Finally, while I appreciated the quality of the service, the restaurant got incredibly crowded, making it a quite loud experience, resulting in a 3/5 for Vibe as well. While I was really hoping that it would have scored better, Founding Farmers will be getting a 10/15 on the BIM Bulletin Restaurant Rating System. However, if you are still interested in going, I suggest you do! I just advise you to be careful when choosing which menu item to order. I beg of you, don’t make the same mistake I did. Skip the fried chicken.