The focus on local food is as refreshing as it is healthy. It bridges the gap between the farmer and the consumer and allows the consumer to become aware of the provenance of our food. It defines the character of the region and provides communities with a source of safe, healthy food while nurturing the vibrant communities in Niagara. And most importantly it supports local farmers.
The Niagara Region, also known as the Niagara Peninsula, is located between the Great Lakes of Ontario and Erie south of Toronto and is home to the Niagara Fruit Belt. It is about the size of Napa Valley and home to numerous wineries which produce VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) wines. The region is best represented by its famous ice wines.
The success of the Niagara region has much to do with the land itself. This small parcel of land is sheltered by Lake Ontario, the Niagara Escarpment and the Niagara River. The area is considered a cool climate viticultural area and is ideal for the production of our now famous ice wine. The ability to fully ripen fruit, including peaches, apricots and grapes, and then being blessed with cold winters allow us to produce internationally renowned VQA ice wines.
The wines are the basis of the local food movement and are complimented by the local cuisine, which can range from peaches, cherries, apricots, vegetables, etc. along with poultry, meat and even flowers. The Wine Route and Niagara Culinary Trail guide people through the region. There are numerous restaurants both located throughout the communities and at many of the wineries. A great reference book is “Niagara Cooks…from Farm to Table” by Lynn Ogryzlo. www.niagaracooks.com. You can find more information at http://explorer.ontarioculinary.com. The Niagara Region is a wonderful four-seasons destination that encompasses hundreds of attractions. A great way to discover the region is by experiencing its regional food, wine and cuisine. From the quaint towns to the thundering Niagara Falls, fine inns and historic monuments, the region is yours to discover. Take a drive along the Niagara Parkway, which hugs the cliffs of the Niagara River and winds its way through flower gardens (Niagara School of Horticulture and Butterfly Conservatory) and forest. The drive was once described by Winston Churchill as “one of the prettiest drives on a Sunday afternoon.”
Enjoy, Donald Ziraldo, C.M.,LLD
Chairman, Ziraldo Estate Winery
It’s indeed an honor that pioneering Canadian winemaker Donald Ziraldo has agreed to write a guest post for this blog. In 1975 Ziraldo, with partner Karl Kaiser, established Inniskillin, the first post-Prohibition winery in Ontario’s Niagara region. In 1984 Ziraldo and Kaiser produced their first vintage of icewine (see below). Inniskillin icewine would in time help establish Canada as a winegrowing region of importance and cement the winery’s worldwide fame.
Ziraldo is also equally important as a pioneer winemaker in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. There’s little doubt that Ziraldo’s early work there has helped the Okanagan become one of the most important new winegrowing regions in North America. Kelowna in the Okanagan is the fastest growing city in Canada and it’s quickly becoming Canada’s culinary capital.
Since Inniskillin’s sale in 2006 Ziraldo has established his own winery and has been managing a port producer in Portugal’s Douro Valley. I’ve asked Ziraldo to write about the Niagara Escarpment Region. Who better than Ziraldo? Going forward I certainly hope he stays engaged with the blog enough to give us periodic updates.
He may surprise us with important information about the Okanagan too. Ziraldo, like so many winemakers, is a passionate local food devotee. Hopefully his piece will also bring us up to date on what’s happening with the exciting Ontario food culture. I’ll let you know when his piece is ready to go.[Top]
Affordable Local Fare in Gainesville, Florida
On a very cold Thursday in early January I pulled into Gainesville, Florida after a six-hour drive south from Atlanta. I was passed through a year ago for another Orlando conference but didn’t find a go-to farm-to-table place.
I’m writing this at The Jones, a compact college place at 203 SW Second Avenue in downtown Gainesville. I discovered it on the web a week or so ago. School is back in session at the University of Florida (Gainesville’s chief industry) but I hit town at 4pm. Nicely, this place never closes–from the time it opens for breakfast through dinner. And that’s 7 days a week. Wi-fi is available here too, perfect for students.
I hear the breakfast really rocks! That and its vegan dishes is what made the place well-known. Breakfast is a big deal here. That’s reflected by the fact that they offer a few breakfast items, called “Breakfast for Dinner,” starting at 4pm, when they move from a breakfast-all-day approach to their dinner menu. I passed on that, considering I ate 3 eggs before my drive. I’ll be back on Sunday, though, for their Wild Boar Omelette.
The Jones is going through a transition. They closed their small, 35-seat Westside location five months ago and hired a new chef, Michael Sneed, to bring all three meals together under this one 135-seat roof. The building at one time was Ralph’s Burgers and the drive-in window is still in place. That’s no surprise. The generic, sloping metal roof is quite prominent as you approach the eatery.
Inside, the ceiling is being redone. From up there somewhere emanates a great Pandora blues station that they’ve chosen. It’s weaving from Stevie Ray Vaughan to downhome country blues, with plenty of blues harp in between.
The decor is very rustic. I’m not sure what the plan is for it, if any. My suggestion is to start by overhauling the hallway to the bathrooms to make it less forbidding, and completely rehab the Men’s Room. A few planters or an awning at the front door would go a long way to make The Jones more welcoming.
Their mission statement is on the menu: “We strive to source our produce and meat from nearby family farms; organize our workplace around joy and liberation; honor the land and our relationship to it.”
According to the chef (who allegedly picked the groovin’ music) Hawthorne FL grass-fed beef is brought in. (Burgers are $10. Sriracha Sauce is on the table for macho types.) Wild Mayport Atlantic Ocean shrimp (local from Jacksonville) is used in the Shrimp and Grits. Nice heat with Jalapenos on that dish, with organic grits and local wild boar sausage. It’s a very substantial portion ($15.95), served piping hot, and nicely paired with a Left Hand Milk Stout.
My entree was preceded by a tasty cream-based cup of hot butternut squash soup. It was also served very hot. No room at all for dessert. I’d fall asleep at the wheel on my drive to Orlando if I could fit it–which I can’t.
Other suppliers used are Strongtree Organic Coffee, Fox’s Herbs and Jose’s Tempeh Shop. Apparently, Gainesville is also very proud of Wellspring Kombucha, brewed right here in town. They serve it here on tap and mix it into their cocktails such as the Moscow Mule. I’ll report about it on Sunday.
Back at The Jones. Much warmer today but overcast. Spanish Moss on the trees everywhere. This morning’s music selection is oldies. Sorry, but Bill Haley and Roy Orbison isn’t my thing. My waitress raves about the bacon: “The best in town,” she says. How can I resist? I ordered standard fare instead of a Wild Boar Omelette: two eggs over-easy with bacon, two buttermilk pancakes and cheese grits instead of potatoes. A sublime American fried breakfast, I thought, right? What did Steve Coogan say in The Trip?: “Is there anything better than a fried breakfast?”
For $11.95 the portion was huge! Two very large pancakes and a big cup of grits. (The cheese was an extra buck.) Very nice meal! The Cognito Farms Over-Easy Eggs were done perfectly. Yes, the bacon was good. But the Buttermilk Pancakes? They were excellent! Really flavorful and fluffy, and with real butter and real maple syrup! The Organic Grits needed more cheese. Perhaps I should’ve added some Shiracha?
This college place is a really good find, only 15 minutes off I-4. It has a huge vegan menu and they say people are completely obsessed with the Tahini-Ginger Dressing. Did I try the Wellspring Kombucha? Yes. Today’s flavor is Ginger/Lemongrass. Very effervescent and tasty. I can image it fantastic with rum or vodka. But not for me today. It’s 11am on a Sunday and I have to drive to Atlanta. Hasta Domingo . . . .[Top]
Saturday, January 18: The Ravenous Pig
Sunday, January 19: Cask and Larder
Monday, January 20: Prato
Tuesday, January 21: Luma on Park
A year ago I attended at multi-day conference in Orlando at Disney World. I had the good sense, in some ways, to stay at a really comfortable 4-Star Sheraton north of the city. Although I had to fight traffic each morning to get through downtown Orlando to arrive at the conference, my evenings were spent near my hotel and far away from din of Disney. It allowed me to eat my way through four terrific farm-to-table restaurants in the beautiful suburb of Winter Park.
All four are run by two acclaimed James Beard chefs: James Petrakis and Brandon McGlamery. The first two I attended are run by Petrakis, the last two by McGlamery. The four eateries–The Ravenous Pig, Cask & Larder, Prato and Luma on Park–are excellent restaurants where the locals eat and where (I assume, like me) those, sick of the carnival atmosphere of Disney, flee to get a great meal. Generally speaking, for farm-to-table foodies, Winter Park is a fantastic destination, possibly overlooked in the Southeastern U.S.
Winter Park is very picturesque. Its downtown village is reminiscent of Santa Monica or Walnut Creek or Ridgewood, New Jersey: Very posh, very clean, very pretty. The main north/south artery through the old town, aptly named “Park Avenue,” is parallel to the train tracks that support a new commuter line and Amtrak. North of the village, I’m told, are turn-of-the-century mansions. I was too full each night to check them out but I did walk around the village.
Here’s some random notes about my experiences at each place.
An uber farm-to-table spot. Wi-fi available. The menu changes daily. Talking Heads was on the music system. Two CIA-trained chefs opened the place. Its got a very unpretentious vibe, with a double dining room, friendly bar area, open kitchen and outdoor seating.
They have a solid wine-by-the-glass program (43 selections: 24 Old World). Very good, unobtrusive staff. When you taste two wines, they leave the bottles on the table so you can check out the labels!
I had the Gatherer Salad, with Mister McGregor’s lettuces, avocado, pickled beets, radish, goat cheese, pistachios, herb vinaigrette. Great mouth feel with goat cheese, avocado and nuts. Nicely balanced. Herb dressing excellently balanced too. Good Alsatian Pinot Gris pairing with it. Although it was tomato and citrus season, I chose this salad instead.
No bread or gimmicks here, instead really showcasing the menu. A real fun, casual place with excellent, fresh food and a rocking wine list.
Their Pork Porterhouse is a delicious, smoky steak, paired with a side of sweet potato. Ask for more marmalade on the side. The Porterhouse is served on a plank with the savory sweet potato thing in a small cast-iron pan. Be sure to nibble the chop to oblivion!
I finished with a Pot de Creme paired with 20-year Tawny Port. The Pot de Creme was dusted with ancho for complexity, plus dressed with Mascarpone. Local craft coffee from Lineage Roasters is offered. No tea program.
Nice mixed crowd (30s-60s), under control on a Saturday night. Verdict: Come as you are, eat like a king!
CASK & LARDER:
This is Ravenous’ sister restaurant, just as firmly an uber farm-to-table place but, in this case, featuring its own brewery. Essentially, it’s a casual variant of Ravenous, also with wi-fi and a daily-changing menu.
The interior is a large, open place subdivided into two rooms. One is the dining room with an open oven and a bar surrounding a raw bar. The other room is a bar with TVs and the brewery.
Classic rock on the PA: Credence, Clapton, Allman Brothers, assorted funk, etc. If you like keening B.B. King guitar licks, you’ll dig the music.
Nice refreshing lemon notes on the Bibb Salad, well paired with a Muscadet. The wine list is (rightfully) tightly focused because of the brewery.
Cuisine is Southern focused. I ordered Wild Boar with Parsnip Puree, Beets, Carrots, and Bourbon Jus. (I first sampled the Split Pea Soup, with a huge hunk of pork in it.) Wild boar sausage and chops had an exotic touch of cumin in the bourbon sauce. Almost Germanic in preparation, with cumin and parsnip puree with weenies. Nice dish.
Their ice cream is homemade. Ask Kelly to make you a two-scoop dark chocolate float with their stout. Tell her I sent you!
As with Ravenous Pig, they have excellent service. They even remembered to give me the bottle cap for the large bottle of Saratoga water I ordered but couldn’t finish. Verdict: Fun, casual place with solid, very clean food.
Prato, a former Ann Taylor clothing store, sits about a block from its sister restaurant, Luma on Park, on beautiful Park Avenue. On a really mild Monday night, with ten-foot-tall outfoor heaters ablaze and beckoning me, I was able to park just outside the restaurant. The environment inside has some of the trappings of an upscale bar, with very loud music that makes it necessary to scream to be heard. Its vertical bar starts almost from the front door.
It’s a very lively Italian spot, mostly packed even at 7:30 on a Monday night. It has a warehouse feel, with a 15-foot massive pair of arched front doors and a wooden ceiling. Very refined food and space for such a raucous, crowded, loud spot. The menu changes daily and it also has wi-fi, for those who need it.
This establishment strives to be an uber farm-to-table establishment. Purveyors are posted on a Florida map on the wall of the restaurant and on the menu. Being an Italian eatery, with pizzas and pastas comprising a large part of their menu, it’s hard to hit 75% local when you import high quality wheat from Italy.
After a long day at my trade show, I didn’t want to stay too long because of fatigue and the deafening Prato volume. I took a pizza to go for my travels the next day. I started, however, with veal meatballs. A very nice starter over cippollini puree, it was a hearty winter dish with the added Corona beans. Also brought to the table was delicious focaccia with olive oil. My entree was Eggplant Caponata atop a Pork Porterhouse. Verdict: Very fresh well-prepared food. Good staff. Consider going when not as crowded so you don’t have to scream.
LUMA ON PARK:
This is the most beautiful room of the four I enjoyed last year on my Winter Park food odyssey. At Luma, you’d feel as if you were in Atlanta, Los Angeles or New York City. An exotic wine room right in front of you when you enter definitely pushes the “wow” factor! The restaurant’s decor is smart and sophisticated without being glitzy.
There’s an open kitchen and small chef’s table in back. Both bathrooms have ultra-cool, push-button-activated, curved sliding doors. (Be careful you don’t enter the wrong one!)
From Sunday-Tuesday Luma offers a prix fixe three-course menu at $35. It’s comprised of one small plate (choice of 3), one entree (choice of 3), and dessert (choice of 2).
Their reserve wine list has around 20 bottles in 7 categories (Bubbles, Chard, Alternative Whites/Rose, Old World Reds, Pinot, Cab, New World Reds) and there’s one glass pour for each, all at $16. The Cab featured in early 2014 was an Arbios Cab, made by my old friend Bill Arbios. Good choice there!
House water is purified and filtered–same as Prato.
My amuse was a Mote Farm-Raised (“Perfectly Sustainable”) Caviar on a wafer with Ground Mullet Bottarga Roe sprinkled on top. Paired with a glass of Prosecco it was sublime.
The wine list is substantial, with 8 bottles at $20, $30, $40, and $50, and all items are available as a bottle, glass or half glass.
The menu doesn’t list purveyors but says instead, “Luma is dedicated to using artisanal producers, sustainable purveyors, [and] local and organic farmers whenever possible, for the inspiration and direction of our menu.” I was given a list of local purveyors and they’re not messing around. Uber farm-to-table, all the way!
The menu is divided into small plates and mains, with burger, pizza and sides being exceptions. The burger is $14 and you can add a farm egg and bacon for a $4 supplement.
Chef Brandon McGlamery oversees the well-run kitchen and has authored a cookbook, “9 Courses.”
Olde Hearth Sourdough Bread is baked in nearby Castlebury. With delicious, soft, spreadable butter (that’s whipped in-house) or olive oil, it’s terrific!
The wedge salad is contructed unlike elsewhere, with long wedges of Romaine and bleu cheese packed within it, and a beautiful, big slice of bacon on top. The blue cheese allows the natural bitterness of the romaine to come through.
Beautiful citrus notes and a little heat with my scallop dish. Spectacular dish, visually and tastewise! Sea scallops are perfectly prepared: Charred on the outside, luminescent beneath.
Superb service. Each time I stepped away to photograph the dishes I returned to my napkin folded on the table.
The desserts are very good too. Consider sitting at the Chef’s Table, right in the middle of the action, all the way in the back. That way you can hang with the pastry chef and be entertained by all the food preparation.
Verdict: Luma on Park is a destination restaurant. For a special occasion, I’d choose this place over the three others. Dress up if you feel like it or hang at the Chef’s Table in the back. Perfect back there for a special date or a special night. No reason to only go for special occasions, however, because the food is too good to only go sporadically. Take a long walk around the village to work off your meal because you’ll likely over-eat.[Top]
Since the roll-out of 30 individual US and Canada Foodie Guides about a week ago, this blog has been re-energized and re-dedicated. I’ve gone on this week to finish the Nevada and New Mexico Foodie Guides. Kansas is almost done and Arkansas shouldn’t take much longer.
You might wonder why such small population states to start? Why not finish California or New York, for example? My short response is that small states are much less dense by rule, so much easier to finish in a short amount of time.
Time, for me, is a scarse commodity these days. I just changed my career from a traveling wine broker back to an insurance consultant. Insurance sales, not nearly as sexy but far more lucrative, is something I did about twenty years ago. That’s why I’m trying to pick my battles carefully with these less complicated Foodie Guides.
It’s my hope for this blog to bring you interesting content regarding the North American farm-to-table movement. I’ll be heading south on business next week. I plan to check out the scene again in Gainesville, Florida and visit some old favorites (if possible) in Winter Park. I’ll be blogging about my experience at The Jones. I expect to have as many as three meals there, so I’ll have lots of photos and info to share with you.
About a year ago I attended a different conference in Orlando. I spent my evenings in Winter Park, attending four terrific places: Luma on Park, Prato, Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder. Somehow that piece never got posted. I’ll be writing it up today and posting it next Sunday.[Top]
Happy New Year everybody! I’m very excited to announce that, after some four years of work, the US Foodie Guide and Cheap Eats sections of the farmtotableguide.com site finally has content. I had to await my daughter getting out of med school for winter break to oversee the build-out.
Now available as ebooks for 99 cents each are the following Cheap Eats Foodie Guides:
1. Atlanta Cheap Eats
2. Chicago Cheap Eats
3. Washington, D.C. Cheap Eats
4. New York City Cheap Eats
You can download them at PayPal. Places listed in these guides are extracted from my much more in-depth Illinois, Washington D.C., New York City and (forthcoming) Georgia guides.
Also now available for 99 cent downloads are these US Foodie Guides:
5. Illinois Foodie Guide
6 New York City Foodie Guide
7. Washington, DC. Foodie Guide
The next set of Guides to be posted are all 13 Canadian provinces. They should be up in the next few days. Also complete and ready to go are these foodie guides: American Samoa, Guam, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Alaska, Oklahoma, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota. By next Sunday’s post I hope to have all 30 guides available for sale. I’ll then roll out individual guides one at a time starting in March. 43 U.S. states remain.
Between now and then I have plenty to do to get the word out about them. If anyone has any marketing tips, please help. Obviously, radio and print interviews are ideal.
The nickname for the Umpqua Valley is “100 Valleys of the Umpqua.” Recently, a writer called the area “The Valley of Varietals.” I like both. They help describe what you can find in this wildly diverse wine growing region. My wife Sue and I have been making wine in Elkton, in the northwest corner of the Umpqua Valley, since moving here from San Francisco in January, 2002. I believe some history is in order to place that move in context.
I started making wine as a home winemaker in 1975. It was sort of a cosmically funny accident. On a Tuesday evening I got a call from my uncle, who had made some homemade wine as a hobby. By the following Saturday morning I assembled some winemaking supplies, including a used 60-gallon whiskey barrel, and headed off with a college buddy to a vineyard to pick a half a ton of grapes. I guess I was either foolish or naive enough to think I could make a barrel of wine that anyone would choose to drink. We had such a wonderful time with the grower and his family. I knew I stumbled across something that had a much deeper connection to something I needed in my life, that until then I had never experienced. And by luck or by being too scared to screw it up, that first wine turned out to be more than just drinkable.
Then, one night a neighbor stopped by to introduce himself. It turned out that he had been growing grapes in Anderson Valley since the late ’60s. I started to “hang” in AV on a regular basis, lending a hand in the vineyard, helping with harvest, hauling grapes, and making wine with his fruit. Within a couple of years I knew most of the grape people in AV and by then was making Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. All the while, my day job was working on the waterfront in San Francisco. People still say, “That sure sounds different from the wine business,” but I still spend a lot of time on the forklift and much of winemaking is really not that different.
In 1986 I started a bonded commercial winery as a home occupation in my garage. The first vintage included Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. Then I bought a sample bag, threw it over my shoulder after work, and took to the streets of San Francisco. I began to realize how small the wine community really is by knocking on doors and making cold calls to sell my wine. I got to know most of the food and beverage folks in just a few years of selling on the street.
My life changed dramatically once again in 1998. I met Sue at a wine tasting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where she lived and worked and where I had been going to sell my wine since 1990. We were both pretty raw, recently coming off 20-year marriages. To keep it simple we exchanged addresses and started a communication with letters in the mail. Long story short, we fell in love and a year later Sue moved to San Francisco. She’s fond of saying that all the prior stuff is “BS”: “Before Sue.” We both shared a vision of growing our own grapes. After a couple of years searching the cool coastal valleys of California, we came to the realization that we needed to look farther afield. California land prices had become too much for us to get the kind of property we wanted.
Another fortunate meeting led to us relocating in the Umpqua Valley. I had familiarity with the Umpqua, having visited friends from San Francisco who had moved to the area in the eighties. I even got to know some of the pioneering winemakers a bit, including Scott Henry, who told me I could pick my climate, my soil type, elevation and aspect, and find it somewhere in the Umpqua. On a road trip to Oregon in 2000 Sue and I stopped at Abacela Winery and met its owner, Earl Jones, who remains our good friend. I told Earl that he was raising the bar for Umpqua Valley wines and we did some trades with the juice I was carrying in the trunk. He knew our thing was cool climate varieties and he told us to check out Elkton. Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürztraminer had been planted there since 1972, which is old for the Oregon industry. When we got to Elkton I felt very much at home. It really reminded me of the Anderson Valley. I was able to find climate data online and this confirmed that it is indeed a bulls eye for these varietals. Just two weeks later we were riding with a realtor. When he stopped at the bottom of a southwest facing slope and said, “This is it,” I turned to the back seat and told Sue excitedly, “This is it!”
We packed up and headed north just after New Years Eve, 2002. What we have found in Elkton and the Umpqua Valley has exceeded all expectations. I was always very pleased with the wines I’d been making in California but I love the wines we’re making now. Can you imagine a wine region where you can drive from Burgundy or Alsace to Ribera del Duero in one hour? This should give you a good idea of the different types of wine you can encounter in the Umpqua.
The soils of the Umpqua Valley are an amazing amalgam of different types of rock and minerals from three very distinct mountain ranges. These ranges look like an accordion of ridge lines running north and south along the Pacific Coast. The Coast Range is created by the Pacific Plate being sliced off as it dives under the westward advancing North American Plate. To the south, the Klamath and Siskiyou Ranges are composed of some of the most ancient rock in Oregon: Pacific volcanoes that have docked on the North American continent, along with uplifts of volcanic rock from closer to the source. The Eastern Range is the Cascades, a volcanic formation that is much younger.
Umpqua’s drainage is wholly within Douglas County and headwaters form in each of these ranges. All of the minerals, washed into the Pacific through the various river drainages, contribute to this wild diversity of marine sediment. Umpqua’s variety of soils has been called the most diverse and complex array of soil types found anywhere on the planet in a single river drainage.
Umpqua’s hundred valleys have been formed by the meandering Umpqua River as it navigates its way towards the Pacific through these combinations of ancient and more modern ranges and soils. The climate is temperate with a long frost-free period. You can pretty much experience the warming that comes with moving farther inland and away from the Pacific. Elkton, in the northwest corner is the coolest, most maritime climate within the AVA and as you move inland and south along the course of the Umpqua River it warms dramatically. Rainfall in Elkton is 54 inches annually and in Winston, home to Abacela, annual precipitation is only 24 inches. The average July/August high temperature in Elkton is only 83 degrees. If you’re familiar with Growing Degree Days and its corresponding Climate Regions, Elkton is a “Low Region 1” and Winston is a “High 2” or “Low 3.” Burgundy to Spain in less than an hour! You move from deep Douglas Fir forest to oak and grassland savanna.
At Umpqua’s wineries you can enjoy everything you’d find in the classic wine regions of the world. There’s really no other region where so many types of wine are done so well. Sunset Magazine has called the Umpqua the “Now Wine Region” as contrasted to the “Then Napa Valley.” Dan Berger remarked that the Umpqua is the “Greatest Undiscovered Wine Region in America.”
Touring the Umpqua Valley is a real treat. You will most likely meet the owners and winemakers at most of your stops. Most of the area’s wineries are small family-owned operations. Everyone is extra-friendly and welcoming. The area is blessed with remarkable beauty and, besides wine, there is an abundance of outdoor activities to experience. The Umpqua River is world famous for steelhead and salmon fishing. The Dunes National Recreation Area is less than an hour west and Crater Lake National Park is only two hours away in the Cascades. For more information to plan your trip, visit www.umpquavalleywineries.org.
Whenever I travel, I visit as many places as possible that are listed in my Foodie Guide database. It’s a treasure hunt. It gives my day forward momentum. Knowing that a new place and a potentially good meal awaits me offsets the drudgery of flying or those really long drives, often on nondescript interstate highways.
Actually, the reason for establishing farmtotableguide.com and the forthcoming Foodie Guides is because it’s hard finding decent food on the road. It’s one thing to research a good restaurant in a major North American city. But in smaller towns and rural America? Where’s the reliable data for that? My work didn’t always take me to large metropolitan areas and I often drove long distances. I was often on the move, without much time. I found myself more than a few times hunched over my smart phone while eating dinner, researching the next day’s food options. All those complaints on the web about this place and that. It seemed pretty hopeless. How many more disappointing meals could I endure? Eventually, I realized it was time I did something about it. I was too miserable. Now, with my database as a tour guide, each trip is a food odyssey. It’s a chance to discover new favorites anywhere in North America and reconnect with old friends. Soon, the Guides will be posted after three years of research. I hope they help you to find great eats.
In June, 2014, armed with my trusty iPad and tried and true foodie database, I took a memorable three-week road trip from Atlanta to New Jersey and back. On my first day, with clear skies and moderate temperatures beckoning me, the first stop was the Blacksburg Taphouse. This very casual spot, only five hours away, is in Blacksburg, Virginia, a college town just off the I-81 corridor. Blacksburg Taphouse is fiercely engaged in the farm-to-table movement. It serves affordable comfort food (burgers, salads, sandwiches, small plates), has a comfortable outdoor deck and a huge beer list. Its chef, Michelle Smith, spent a great deal of time with me during dinner explaining her plans for the future. Business is so good they’re expanding after a little more than a year in business. They’re already shopping for their own retail establishment/banquet place to do food prep. There’s nothing like it in Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech crowd is taking to it in a very big way. Fortunately, it’s creating a ripple effect: Other restaurants are jumping on the farm-to-table bandwagon. The burger I had was terrific. So was the house-made sausage, part of the excellently assembled charcuterie plate. One suggestion before going: Call and ask about parking.
I always stop at the Roanoke Coop in Roanoke’s Grandin Village, not far from where I typically stay on my way north. Somehow I didn’t notice before that they do made-to-order veggie juices. My default “large beet/carrot/parsley” gave me the energy I needed to motor north to West Virginia and beyond. The Coop’s cafe is a good place to stop for lunch and the store is perfect for loading up on local cheese, bread and other provisions.
Several days later, after setting up camp at my sister-in-law’s in Northern New Jersey, I returned to the terrific Little Falls, New Jersey BYOB bistro Bivio Pizza. Tommy Colao, an alto saxophonist and former jazz club owner, presides over the kitchen. I knew his food was especially savory from several previous visits but I learned this time around that he sources his summer produce from Bracco Farms, a high-end farm that supplies many regional restaurants. Bivio is very small (about 30 seats) and is only open four days a week for dinner. I recommend getting there at 5pm. Everything that’s cooked is made to order in Colao’s wood burning oven. The daily salads and specials are always delicious and sometimes sublime.
About thirty minutes north of Little Falls, in posh Ridgewood, New Jersey, a new juice bar, Super Juice Nation, features cold-pressed organic juices and made-to-order organic drinks. It fills a void, especially since nearby Whole Foods doesn’t have a juice bar. Parking in Ridgewood is a challenge. Alternatively, with some advance planning you can call in your order, prepay, drive up, and have your juice handed to you.
In North Salem, New York I had a great lunch at Purdy’s Farmer and the Fish. They feature SoCo Creamery Ice Cream from Great Barrington MA, some of the best I’ve had anywhere. My blue cheese grass-fed burger included house-smoked bacon. Its side salad was in part picked from their farm/CSA, on the hillside right behind the restaurant. It’s an historic spot, built in 1775, with wide-plank wooden floors and all the charm you’d expect from buildings of that period. Purdy’s also maintains a great take-out market. Try their house-made sausages or any freshly picked produce from their farm.
Also in North Salem, New York is Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard. It’s a country store that specializes in outdoor plants, groceries and grass-fed beef they raise and butcher. Harvest Moon also maintains a broad selection of New York wines. (I bought a spectacular 2012 Atwater Dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes!) Their local cheese selection is especially good. I chose the Toma Celena from Cooperstown Cheese Company, not knowing anything about it. Wow! A Google search unearthed this entry at http://www.palisadesfm.org/cooperstown-cheese-company.html:
“Bob Sweitzer and Sharon Tomaselli started making cheese as Cooperstown Cheese Company nearly three years ago, but in that short time were able to develop a wonderful alpine style cheese and win a second place ribbon at the American Cheese Society annual competition in 2009. Toma Celena, named after the first person to taste it and love it, is a very complex semi-hard and natural rind cheese that is nutty and fragrant, yet has slightly sweet undertones. The flavor lingers and is bold enough to match well with meaty red wines and broad enough to match well with spicy brews. Known iconically as the ‘The Red Roof 6 miles south of Cooperstown on Route 28,’ Cooperstown Cheese Company handcrafts artisan cheeses from locally-sourced, raw cow’s milk. Their Toma Brand Cheeses are made from milk from Brown Swiss cows raised naturally and hormone free on Lester Tyler’s family farm, Sunny Acres Swiss. Their Jersey Girl Colby is made with grass-fed, raw milk from Autumn Valley Farm in Worcester, NY. . . . In mid-January of 2013, Bob and Sharon received a call requesting that they send 40 pounds of Toma Celena and Jersey Girl cheese to the White House, because their cheese was selected to be served at the Presidential Inaugural Luncheon on January 21, 2013. To say they were stunned is an understatement.”
After a two week stay in the New York suburbs, it was time to head home. I took a more easterly route than usual. Veering off from Harrisburg, the plan was to first drive to Baltimore. Then, past Annapolis and across the Chesapeake Bay, the second day’s drive would follow local highways down the Delmarva Peninsula south to Norfolk, finally across the beautiful Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel. I did it mostly to avoid Washington traffic, but also to visit two places new to me. First, however, I had a chance to revisit one of my very favorite places, Woodberry Kitchen. Woodberry is one of the great farm-to-table restaurants in North America. (See “The Movement” for more about my experience and what makes it special.) Spike Gjerle, Woodberry’s owner and chef, recently opened his fourth Baltimore restaurant, Shoo-Fly Diner. In Belvedere Square, it’s diagonally across the street from the tres cool Belvedere Market. I’ll eat at Shoo-Fly on my next visit. This time around, though, after Woodberry I stopped off for a glass of wine and a small plate at Grand Cru. It was around 9pm and Belvedere Market had closed.
The next day it was off to the Eastern Shore. Easton, Maryland’s Out of the Fire does lunch and dinner. That worked out beautifully for the tour since I could check out of my hotel and get there in time for lunch. I also wanted to get to Norfolk/Virginia Beach by nightfall to check out a wine bar with half-price wine by-the-glass. Easton is a beautiful Eastern Shore village, a place I first visited when I was home from college visiting a friend many years ago. Too bad it was a bruising 98 degrees on my recent visit. I would’ve liked to have walked around and taken in the sights. Out of the Fire–an appropriate metaphor for the scalding heat and air conditioning that saved me–is a comfortable, long, casual room with a wood burning oven at the far end. It’s fervently dedicated to the farm to table movement. Very good service and food: I had yet another grass-fed burger, this one also terrific!
Finally in Virginia Beach, I stopped at Eurasia Bistro and Wine Bar. On a Wednesday night, maybe because of half-price wine, the place was surging with excitement. What a great thing it was to feed off of the dining room’s energy after a long drive in oppressive heat! The front of the space has a well stocked wine shop. You can buy a bottle and bring it to your table. Nevertheless, in a value conscious state of mind, I focused on their wine-by-the-glass list, settling on a fine Alsatian Gewürztraminer to go with my Spring Pea Soup with Riccota and Surry Ham. Be sure to ask for Heather, my high-spirited, very talented server. She’s excellent!
Before the last stretch of the drive home, I stopped in Raleigh at the wonderful wine shop Seaboard Wine Warehouse, where I always reload my cellar with Wachau Gruner Veltliner. Seaboard is a fully diversified wine shop that specializes in Austrian wine. The owner, in fact, had just returned that day from Vienna. Because Austrian wines are often hard to find, I always stop in to at least grab a few bottles of Steininger sekt. Seaboard does wine tastings throughout the week. Check their website or give them a call.
Across the parking lot from Seaboard is J. Betski’s, the intimate Polish-German restaurant with superb wurst and an impressive wine and beer list. This time around I had an excellent, locally pastured Smoked Beef-and-Pork Kielbasa with Sauerkraut and Spicy Mustard. Chased by a glass of floral and complex Schneider Weisse Beer, it was a superb pairing. The biggest surprise, perhaps of the entire road trip, was their spectacular dessert: Banana Coconut Rum Strudel with Spicy Avocado Ice Cream (see photo). It was just perfect in terms of texture, balance, mouth feel, and complexity. It was so good, I got another one to photograph and then devour! If you’ve been to J. Betski’s or any of the places I visited, please let me know what you think of them.[Top]
I’m Gary Carner. Traveling salesman by day, Pepper Adams biographer by night. I might as well admit it: I’ve always liked to eat. According to family lore, the first word I learned was “more” because my mother would ask me if I wanted more to eat. My response was to open my mouth and keep eating. The hospital’s maternity nurses labelled me a “problem eater.” Maybe I knew the food was crappy and was awaiting a better entree?
After a life traveling the world, working in the food and wine industry, hanging out with famous chefs and winemakers, and studying nutrition, I’ve become increasingly horrified with the American food chain. Polluted groundwater, denatured soil, irradiation, pesticides, additives, preservatives, GMOs, CAFOs. . . . Yuk! The more I learn, the harder it is to go out and enjoy a meal.
This site is intended as a remedy; a resource for even the pickiest eaters. It’s a way to sidestep the mediocre and find food nirvana. I’m interested to hear your stories, victories, and discoveries.[Top]