By DOANE YAWGER
Five miles west of Turlock on the way to Patterson is an unassuming little restaurant that is a magnet for many in the Crows Landing community. The Farmers’ Den is a place where friendships are forged and a western theme is served up along with traditional breakfast and lunch dishes.
Co-owner Jeff Green and his dad Ted and brother Rod opened Farmers’ Den 11 and a half years ago at the busy corner of West Main Street and Crows Landing Road and operate it seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We have a country-western vibe, a hole in the wall,” Jeff Green says. “It’s very homey and chances are good you will see somebody you know. This is about as non-chain restaurant as it gets.”
The restaurant, dominated by wood paneling and farm-themed pictures and memorabilia, serves omelets, steak and egg dishes, an assortment of sandwiches, hamburgers, fish and chips, chicken dishes, salads and their trademark barbecue prime rib on Thursday nights.
Joe Romano is the chief cook and general manager of the restaurant that can seat 72 people in the main dining area. The 63-year-old Romano started in the restaurant business in 1970 as a dishwasher and has managed or owned restaurants in Salinas, Gilroy, the San Francisco Bay Area and Turlock before joining the Greens in the summer of 2005. He can’t think of any other career he would like.
“I love the challenge and working with people,” Romano says. “Every day is different; there are never days that are alike. I enjoy the reaction to good food and I love cooking. I always wanted to be a chef.”
There is such a close-knit, friendly atmosphere at the Farmers’ Den that some area farmers have a key to the restaurant and come in about 4:30 a.m., start making coffee and turn the sign on when it’s time to open to the public.
“They’re all great people. You come here to get fed big portions. We are known for breakfast and our best-sellers are a lot of omelets and biscuits and gravy. Nobody goes away hungry,” Green says.
The restaurant’s décor includes a replica “Mae West” gasoline pump from the 1930s, and plenty of shelves with pictures of local people, cowboy hats, horseshoes and models of wagons and stagecoaches, trucks and tractors and rodeo posters. The curved lunch counter has 12 seats where diners can visit with Romano as he cooks.
Green points out the restaurant makes 25 to 50 omelets each day on the weekends. They go through 100 pounds of bacon a week along with 40 to 50 pounds of linguica.
“Nothing we do is fancy but it’s all about doing a good job,” Green says. “We keep it simple and do it right.”
Romano says restaurant staff are moving fast to get the food out. But he adds it’s still a relaxed atmosphere, mixing families, local farmers, dairymen and a large number of tourists bound for the Sierras or the Pacific Coast along well-traveled West Main Street. Gas stations, corner markets and other enterprises have been on that corner since the 1930s.
“My dad Ted Green had a dream about opening a restaurant and found this spot,” Green, 42, recalls. “We spent six months gutting the place out and it all came together. We haven’t looked back since.”
Romano boasts Farmers’ Den has the best prime rib and there’s nothing else like it. Green says more than four hours are spent preparing the prime rib with a special rub, cooking it “low and slow” while putting a sizzle on it. Thursday’s dinner runs from 5 to 8:30 p.m.
Romano stresses the staff of 12 have built a rapport with their patrons. Diners can see him working in the kitchen and he doesn’t mind being interrupted by conversations as he cooks.
Romano says wants all his customers to come back. He estimates easily half and maybe more of the diners are repeat customers.
Green points out the restaurant does catering in-house for special events like birthday parties and weddings and on-site. The restaurant also makes homemade ranch, thousand island and blue cheese dressing.
Romano says his specialty is scrambled eggs and he loves cooking eggs. He says his customers love their pancakes.
Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and editor.
IF You Go
9952 Crows Landing Road
Crows Landing, CA 95313