Farm-to-Table Dinners at The Thicket

Lillian Stone headed to Green Thicket Farm in search of an innovative, laid-back take on farm-to-table dining. Dinners at the Thicket occur twice a month on Saturdays, and the last dinner of the year is in October.

By Lillian Stone

Oct 2017

Photo by Brad ZweerinkGuests become friends when they enjoy courses served in the Howertons’ garage-turned-rustic dining room.

A hush falls over Green Thicket Farm at sunset. The pigs settle into their pen. The clucking of the chickens lowers to a soft buzz. Twice a month, however, lively conversation fills the air as friends and strangers sit around a long table lined with wildflowers. They’re gathered for Dinner at the Thicket (1008 E. Farm Road 54, Springfield, 417-593-2335), one of 417-land’s newest farm-to-table experiences.

I brought my boyfriend, AJ Haener, to a recent Dinner at the Thicket. We were met by Klaire Howerton, who owns and operates the farm alongside her husband, Caleb. The Howertons are warm, friendly and extremely knowledgeable about modern farming. That’s impressive, considering that they’re both only 23.
Dinners at the Thicket begin with a social hour and farm tour. Klaire led our group of 10 on the tour. Our first stop was the rabbit barn, home to dozens of plump meat rabbits. Klaire explained that the recent surge in farm-to-table dining has boosted business for small farmers like the Howertons, who serve restaurant clients like Metropolitan Farmer.

Photo by Brad Zweerink

We continued on the tour, observing the softly peeping quails, the three lazy pigs and the noisy chickens and ducks. We strolled past the Howertons’ sheep flock, stopping to pat the three huge dogs who call the farm home. As we made our way toward the back of the property, we were approached by Annie, Klaire’s horse. Watching Annie munch the grass reminded us of our own rumbling stomachs.

Klaire led us to the Howertons’ garage, which had been transformed into a rustic dining room. The long table was set with a burlap runner and adorned with wildflowers. On the wall to my right was a little sign that read “Slow Your Dinner Down.” I liked the sound of that. We sat and passed pitchers of tea around the table, striking up conversations about careers and hobbies. We were hungry, but we were in no hurry.

green thicket farm caleb howertonEach course was served by Caleb, Klaire and Klaire’s sister, Klee. Caleb prepared the food with a largely self-taught expertise. “I just love food,” he says. “Growing, cooking, eating and sharing it.” As Caleb set the first course in front of me, I was struck by how personal it felt to be served by our hosts. Laughter and quiet chatter peppered the air along with sounds from the farm. It felt like a family Thanksgiving.

For our first course, we were served beet and sweet potato stacks with thyme Terrell Creek goat cheese. The dish was earthy and subtle. I wasn’t blown away by the flavor, but there was something pleasant about the firm texture of the veggie stacks contrasted with the creamy, crumbly goat cheese.

Our second course was a carrot blini topped with deviled quail eggs and asparagus-top sour cream. The blini was an innovative take on carrot, and the quail eggs were rich and creamy. The sour cream left an impression on my date, who called it “the only sour cream [he’s] actually enjoyed.” It was savory and palatable in a way that sour cream usually isn’t, and it was topped with mossy green asparagus dust for visual appeal.

green thicket farm plateNext, we had bowls of homemade pasta topped with Edgewood Creamery cream sauce, cherry tomatoes from Millsap Farm and oregano from Klaire’s mother’s garden. The hearty, no-frills dish was my favorite of the evening. For the main course, we were served fried chicken tacos (pictured left) featuring the Howertons’ own farm-raised chicken topped with shredded kale and crumbled Terrell Creek goat cheese. Everyone around me seemed delighted by their juicy chicken strips, which were wrapped in homemade tortillas.

Dessert was crème brûlée with an Askinosie Chocolate center. The dish was chilled and almost solid—more like ice cream than pudding. That didn’t deter me from finishing every last bite. The dark chocolate ganache in the center was a tantalizing surprise, and the homemade whipped cream on top was thick and fluffy.

After the final course was served, Klaire and Caleb joined us at the table. We sipped coffee and watched the sun set over the surrounding fields. I enjoyed the simple, eclectic dinner, but my experience at Green Thicket went beyond the food. Our hosts provided all of the culinary goodness of an upscale restaurant—minus the stuffiness. The Howertons have succeeded in slowing dinner down.