It's that time of year... when I share my list of my favorite farm-to-table restaurants. This is not a scientific list. It's simply a roster of the places I've eaten in the past year that have fulfilled my criteria for a great farm-to-table restaurant: locally sourced organic food, cleanly cooked; not too pretentious; and most important of all, delicious and yummiful!
1: The Dressing Room--Westport, Connecticut. Chef Michel Nischan and his lovely wife Laurie serve food grown from their own garden. But most important, it's comfort food cooked with love and passion. I've been meaning to get here for years, and it turned out to be an easy on/off from the highway on the way up to Maine. The salad is divine. Corn bread with honey?! YUM. Ribs. And the cold cucumber soup was amazing, too. I highly recommend you find your way here.
2: Weczeria--Saskatoon, Canada. This restaurant is a little farther off the beaten path...actually, much farther! But that makes it all the more appreciated. In the land of cold, flat winter, to find a warm, vibrant flavor-packed gem of a restaurant was a total delight. Local trout on a bed of local lentils with salsify (last of the season) and buerre blanc.... I'm still thinking about it.
3: Inn at Blackberry Farm--Walland, Tennessee. This place is just too amazing to limit yourself to only one meal. Fortunately, you can stay here and enjoy so much amazing food that it's almost unfathomable. We stayed here over the summer for about five days, and there wasn't one bad meal--and there were tons of fascinating new dishes to surprise and delight me: okra caviar on teeny weenie corn-flour blinis; fried red beans (the way I fry my garbanzos); mac and cheese with homemade sausage; soaked basil seeds that turn into really cool-tasting stuff. I was never bored, never hungry, and never wanted to leave.
4: Paolina's Way--Camden, Maine. Funny, we went to another restaurant in Camden; I expected it to make this list. It didn't. But then I saw a little chalkboard sign pointing to this little pizza place right by the water, and IT DID. The proprietors have their own farm, and everything is organic; but more important, the pizza cooked in the wood oven is some of the best pizza I've ever eaten. They have great soups and salads, too. We ate there twice!
5: Bolete--Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. My hometown favorite (in fact, I'm going there tonight!). It's amazing. I've never met the chef because he is always cooking in the kitchen; his lovely wife Erin defines what a great restaurant proprietor should be. But it's the food, the food, the food that keeps me coming back. Last meal I had there was a perfectly cooked piece of fish on top of an elegantly chopped mixture of seasonal vegetables with a gentle hint of browned butter. I almost cried, but was with a coworker so I controlled myself.
6: Back Forty--New York, New York. Chef Peter Hoffman (of the Savoy) runs this little casual East Village establishment. I love Savoy, too. But I really love the casual, homey yet yummiful food found here. This past year I had a kale Caesar salad with deep-fried capers. It does not sound that good--but it was AMAZING. I was bummed that I ordered it to share with someone...because then I had to share. I hate when that happens.
7: Tayst--Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville has some amazing restaurants--not that I would call most of them farm-to-table. But after a few meals of fried chicken, biscuits, and hash brown casserole, there is nothing a person wants more than vegetables. Lots of them. Well cooked. This is where Tayste excels. This is also where I had my first taste of fresh baby field peas, served with trout and a delicious gravy. Oh my God, you haven't tasted food until you've tasted little fresh baby field peas cooked right. And I knew they were in season because I saw bags and bags of them that morning at the farmers market. Tayst was tasty!
8: New Leaf Café--New York, New York. This restaurant is a bit of a trek to get to (it's up near the Cloisters in Manhattan), but definitely worth the trip. It's like going to the country and eating amazing locally grown and perfectly cooked food, without leaving the city. It's magical and delicious. And the profits of the restaurant benefit the New York Restoration Project, which cleans and greens New York City by creating community gardens and pocket parks all over the city--so you can really feel good about what you spend.
9: Prairie Fire--Chicago. This unassuming little restaurant in Chicago is really, really good. I hosted an important business dinner there, and it all went beautifully. I like to host business dinners in places that reflect our company values--organic, local, healthy food, not pretentious, with great friendly service. And this restaurant delivered.
10: Rouge Tomate--New York, New York. This place doesn't LOOK like a farm-to-table restaurant. It looks more like one of those hip, trendy, boutique-hotel, chillaxing-type places (dark, trancelike music). But one look at the menu and you know you are in a place that respects local, seasonal, organic food. And the food is very, very good. I had a carrot salad there the other night that had so many subtle and delicious carrot flavors (hey, it didn't look like any carrot salad I've ever made!), that I really had to slow down and savor all the tastes. For a non-drinker they also have really good fresh and in-season juice cocktails that are very delicious. I don't usually like to drink my food...but sometimes even I need a "drink!"
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.