Farm to Table: Restaurants With Gardens
Farm-to-table has become the ultimate food trend of the year. And for some restaurants, the path from farm to table is quite short—we highlight 11 restaurants from Seattle to Maine that are growing their produce for their recipes on their roof, in raised beds, in recycled tires, and in aeroponic towers for fresh, delicious, and truly local and seasonal cuisine.
Chefs cite many logical reasons why restaurant gardens are a good idea: cost, convenience, control, sustainability. The concept of in-house farming is hardly new and the trend has hit far and wide—there are countless restaurants tilling their own soil and planting the seeds for vegetables that will eventually appear on a customer’s plate.
A small farm adjacent to an eating establishment keeps that path from farm to table about as short as it can get. Here are a handful of some of our favorites places around the country where chefs are enthusiastically bringing together the garden and the kitchen.
Jane Lerner is a freelance food writer, based in Brooklyn, New York. Her Twitter is twitter.com/janelerner.
Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, the chefs at Arrows in Ogunquit, Maine, were 20 years ahead of their time when they started cultivating a two-acre garden and erected a greenhouse in 1992 on the property of their romantic, special-occasion restaurant. (It has hosted many a wedding.) The bountiful garden lies alongside an 18th-century farmhouse that contains the restaurant's dining room.
Impressively, more than 80% of what is used at the restaurant is grown on-premises, where you’ll see a wide variety of vegetables and herbs, plus fruit trees and bushes of Maine’s famous blueberries. Like many other restaurants that are deeply connected to the farm-to-table movement, they make their own cheese and smoke meats in-house. A seasonal establishment, they re-opened for the 2011 season on April 23rd.
Bell Book and Candle, New York
Six floors up a townhouse on West 10th Street in NYC sits a garden unlike any other in town. Imagine 60 aeroponic towers filled with plants, and an electronically timed, energy-efficient water-filtration system; from far away the towers look almost like cacti, grown over with herbs, vegetables and fruits.
Bell Book and Candle is a new restaurant (it opened in late 2010) that grows almost 60 percent of its produce on the roof for use in its menu of updated American classics. (The items that the rooftop produces are listed on the menu itself, including four varieties of nasturtium, purple tomatillo, kermit eggplant, poblano peppers, bibb lettuce and fennel, among many others.) Executive chef John Mooney is reliant on somewhat old-fashioned methods of labor: the building lacks an elevator, so they instituted a pulley system to transport goods to and from the roof.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, New York
"The farm dictates what we do in the kitchen," says Dan Barber, owner and chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, New York. In 2004, Barber and his crew had the opportunity to take over an old Rockefeller estate 25 miles north of New York City. They turned the land into a nonprofit farm with greenhouses, livestock, an education center and a world-renowned restaurant.
"At Blue Hill at Stone Barns, there are no menus," Barber explains. "Instead, we prepare multicourse tastings based on the day’s harvest. Each table receives different courses, which allows for a lot more creativity and spontaneity in our cooking."
The broad diversity of crops at Stone Barns includes more than 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs, and the farm is operative year round. "One of our goals has been to produce more and more food between fall and spring through the use of low and high tunnels outside as well as our minimally-heated greenhouses," says Jack Algiere, Stone Barn’s vegetable farm manager. Most importantly, he says, "we love to eat what we grow." Tours of the 70-acre property are available and encouraged.
Atlanta’s Canoe restaurant is well-known for its sprawling gardens and grounds on the banks of the Chattahoochee River—guests often arrive early to take pre-dinner strolls. Now that executive chef Carvel Grant Gould is gardening in 12 raised beds in more than a half acre for use in her new-American dishes—think Carolina rabbit with chard-and-bacon ravioli, sweet potato hash and candied garlic sauce—there are vegetables and compost piles to see as well as flowers and the river view.
In its 15 years in business the restaurant always worked to source as close to home as possible, but Gould stresses how raising bees, cultivating a garden, and using the vegetables in the restaurant really establishes a commitment to a local system. As such, discarded paper menus are regularly shredded and used as mulch.
Huckleberry Café, California
The parking-lot garden at Huckleberry Café in Santa Monica, California, offers some advantages: "There's a fair amount of heat in the back because the sun reflects off of the asphalt. So we usually can get some pretty good growth at all times," owner Zoe Nathan says. Huckleberry keeps planter boxes out back; there you'll find herbs, Tuscan kale, arugula and varieties of edible flowers.
"We have some perennials like our blueberry and strawberry bushes and our figs, plus our passion fruit. Pretty soon we'll plant spicy peppers and different varieties of heirloom tomatoes," Nathan says. Though she admits that the garden is mostly there to showcase what's in season and beautify the lot, their small-scale operation is still impressive.
Watching customers’ reactions to the garden as they walk up the ramp might be Nathan's favorite part of the dinner service, as people are often surprised at what can grow in a parking lot in Santa Monica. "We encourage people to pinch off a bit of the garden as long as they do it in a responsible way." It’s the best kind of doggie bag around.
Roberta's, New York
Roberta's is so much more than a cool pizza place in an industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Out back by the beer drinkers and large parties of pizza aficionados, there's a shipping container that houses a radio station, the Heritage Network. And on top of that radio station is a greenhouse garden.
Melissa Metrick, the head gardener, grows salad greens, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, radishes and herbs for a clientele curious to learn more about where their food comes from. "One of the benefits of growing our own produce here is that we can show people the process—they can participate in it from start to finish,” she says.
With the help of interns and volunteers, this year she'll harvest an even wider selection, including wood sorrel, purslane, saltwort (a Japanese marsh plant) and edible flowers like borage and dianthus. "We can source most of what we want—even the edible weeds are starting to become available," Metrick says. "But we're growing as much as we can because it's financially smarter. And obviously, it's as local and sustainable as we can get."
Spring Hill, Washington
Marjorie Chang Fuller and her husband Mark have seven raised beds in their backyard that supply food for their Seattle restaurant, Spring Hill. Though what they grow at home is generally only used as supplements and in specials, Chang Fuller is an enthusiastic gardener, who is always looking to learn.
She’s interested in trying her hand at unusual lettuces like dancine (similar to a little gem, and in the butterhead family, she says) and breen (an open romaine variety with a delicate rib), as well as heirloom radishes, white currant tomatoes and pea vines (“We use the entire plant!”).
Seattle’s climate allows them at least three crop rotations a year: “We adhere to a fertility rotation so our soil will always be productive and healthy,” Fuller says. “Seattle is mild, so we add season extenders like floating row covers and cloches.” All the better, now diners have more of an opportunity to to enjoy some of chef Mark Fuller’s best dishes, like a salad of butter lettuce with citronette, breakfast radish, tender herbs, parmesan and hazelnut ‘soil.'
Uncommon Ground, Illinois
Uncommon Ground, a groundbreaking restaurant on Chicago’s north side, is farming 640 square feet on its rooftop. “What's neat about having a farm atop a restaurant is that we've created a tiny model of a food system,” says Dave Snyder, the restaurant's rooftop farm director. “All the aspects—planning, planting, cultivating, cooking, serving, eating—are done here, on site. It's fascinating to watch the food go from seed, to seedling, to fruit, to a meal.”
Uncommon Ground’s agricultural operation was named the first certified organic rooftop farm in 2008, and is deeply dedicated to its hyperlocal delivery system: “One of our favorite tomatoes is called the purple calabash. It's a juicy tomato with thin skin, which means it's really difficult to transport. Most farmers would never bother with it, or, if they did, would prefer picking it under-ripe to make it easier to handle without bruising. At our rooftop farm, we can grow these and carry them directly to the chef." And within minutes it’s on the plate.
Poste Moderne Brasserie, Washington, D.C.
Guests have been known to pluck a few raspberries or cherry tomatoes from the organic gardens alongside the patio table at Washington, D.C.'s Poste Moderne Brasserie.
Chef Robert Weland is deeply proud of his restaurant's rooftop plot and looks forward to new varieties and experiments every season: "It's come a long way," he says. "We started very small and now we have 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. We change it up every year and we have a lot of fun with that."
On that tip, the garden is expanding at a rapid rate, with the new addition of fruit trees (almond, fig, apple, persimmon, cherry; two of each variety) and asparagus ("Finally!" Weland says, since he's been waiting for three years for the asparagus to be ready). The finest example of the garden's bounty might be in the restaurants 20 Bites special menu, giving the kitchen the opportunity to highlight the day’s pickings over 20 tiny, vegetable-centric plates.
Cakes & Ale, Georgia
Chef Billy Allin of Cakes & Ale in Decatur, Georgia, tells woeful tales of southern gardening: stinkbugs were a huge problem last year ("The old timers said that happens once in a while," he recalls) and Allin estimates that half to two-thirds of each crop is lost to critters, mostly squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and birds.
Allin's wife Kristin is in charge of the six raised beds in their backyard, yielding asparagus, kale, herbs, carrots and more. They even grow flowers for decoration in the restaurant, since floral services can be a huge expense for a small-scale eatery.
Though this season they're building a containment fence to make sure that more of the vegetables and flowers end up on the tables, the plan is temporary: Cakes & Ale is relocating later this year, and an extensive rooftop garden over the new space is in the works. "If I had my druthers I would keep it to things that we want to cut really fresh right then," Allin says, stressing the flexibility a chef can have with a blooming garden at his disposal. "If we have to send someone up in the middle of service to cut fresh herbs, it's right there."
The garden that supplies Cincinnati restaurant Lavomatic with its herbs and vegetables does triple duty, providing fresh food to no less than three restaurants that are part of the restaurant’s parent company, the Relish Group. Chief operating officer and head gardener Justin Dean is proud that 15 to 20 percent of the kitchen’s produce needs are met by the garden's bounty (other local farms provide the rest).
Lavomatic’s global comfort food menu is expanded through daily specials inspired by what's perfect that week, whether it be one of 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, six kinds of hot and sweet peppers, green beans, peas, or greens like lettuce, collards and spinach. Dean explained that now in spring they're babying over 2,000 transplants for the season ahead. Lavomatic’s garden though, like the seasons, is in flux: it’s their third year at the urban plot, but imminent development plans mean that the garden is soon to be razed. "The garden is beneficial to the whole community," Dean says, “but farming has its ups and downs.”
Lavomatic's compost piles are an integral part of the garden.