Is it a trend or a deep rooted ritual that the community has dug back up? People are eager to enjoy the fruits of their labor more so today than ten years ago. There has been a giant resurgence of gardening, farming and foraging local food but not only from a personal standpoint.
Restaurants also want the freshest ingredients. They need them. We are their critics and we know what fresh tastes like from tending our own gardens. However, many Chester County eateries are taking the local food concept to a whole new level, crafting backyard gardens and infusing the goods in more than just food. Some are creating herb, fruit, and vegetable based drinks so delicious they have diners mistaking cocktail glasses for garden vines.
Big, small, unconventional and cliche, it’s time we took a closer look, beyond the plates of Chester County. This place is crawling with restaurants offering garden fresh food, and we’ve got the dirt on it!
Their house garden came as a package deal when Katrina Schmidt was brought on in May as the new Food and Beverage Manager. With changes taking place all over, including new Chef Jamie Nafe in the kitchen, Bordley’s General Manager deemed it a wonderful idea and they started right away. Katrina’s west coast background, which ranged from Culinary School in California and a short stint in Oregon, had her viewing freshness from a different standpoint right off the bat.
“The focus is all about freshness, local growers, sustainability, and using products within their season. No one there [West Coast] would even think to do business otherwise. It just made sense to me as the best way to do things if you want to serve a quality product at its peak of flavor and freshness.”
She certainly knows her stuff and continues to learn as the main tender of the garden. While the garden-to-class cocktails are Katrina’s personal favorite use of the fresh produce, many guests rave about the award winning mac-n-cheese, featuring the home grown rosemary and a few other local products. If it doesn’t come from their own soil, they aren’t going further than NJ to get it!
If you’re already getting hungry, don’t hesitate to pop in for the Fried Green Tomato and Arugula Salad special. It’s all your tastebuds need until their heirloom tomatoes ripen. There’s a good chance the dishes to come will include mint and lavender, a few of Katrina’s favorite underused herbs. There’s a definite chance they will be delicious.
The garden at this fine dining spot in Malvern has seen its fair share of vegetation come and go for 25 growing seasons. Fifty basil plants and ten Better Boy tomatoes made the first crop cut back in 1987 but The General Warren Inne’s inventory has grown greatly since then, thanks in part to the Inne’s Proprietor, Patrick Byrne, Chef Phil Dersch and a few other hands not afraid to get dirty.
While the GWI crew happily harvests their unusual garden section (a patty pan squash they call “The Amazon”), it’s the usual suspects like basil, thyme, oregano, lettuce, and lots of tomatoes and peppers that are transformed into delicious dishes which diners enjoy night after night.
“We have been able to run salads entirely from our garden here. The last one we ran featured our own lettuce with sliced green and purple peppers, red cherry tomatoes and a green tomato and basil dressing, garnished with squash blossoms. The cherry tomatoes from the garden are like candy, so plump and sweet…”
Daily menu additions are based on ingredients at hand, but if it’s not in the garden or in stock, then The GWI crew hits up a local farm stand. There are so many in the area and it’s not uncommon for Chef Phil to go directly to the farmer, skipping the road side stand, and pick from the fields. The surveyors “often suggest neat items that they have in small quantities” which make for interesting menu offerings.
Garden fresh ingredients will be on the menu year round, so don’t hesitate to stop by once Summer ends. Chef Phil says “we have sown in our fall/winter crop of pumpkins, blue Hubbard squash, radish and fennel. Should be a great turn out and festive to see when it all starts filling in.”
A visit to Ella’s American Bistro in Wayne is never just an ordinary restaurant outing. You know upon entering that the Main Line eatery is above average and the same goes for their cuisine. However, guests might not be raving about Chef Jajczyk’s red lettuce with champagne vinaigrette or caprese salad featuring tomatoes if it weren’t for the fresh garden that sources them.
Cortie Wetherill III, part owner of Ella’s, can date his gardening resume all the way back to childhood. “My family has always lived on a farm of some sort and have been blessed to be able to grow our own vegetables to ensure the highest quality and taste. Since this restaurant is an extension of dining at my family’s home, we wanted to provide our customers with the best ingredients we could, the same they would enjoy when they’re dining at our home.”
The garden includes summer squash, zucchini, artichoke, chives, basil, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, tomatillos, French radish, Turkish eggplant, snow peas, different variations of lettuce, Chinese kale, Oriental pumpkins, and so much more.
Everyone pitches in when it comes to selecting, picking, and collecting but Rich Cosgriff takes care of all the “back breaking work”. The Ella’s crew keeps produce healthy by monitoring water levels and using a natural mulch weed barrier. Think their inventory already looks lengthy? Cortie III says they’re just getting started.
“We have recently expanded the garden this summer so look out for more bountiful harvests. With our brunch coming back soon we plan on starting another chicken coop for fresh eggs, similar to the one I had as a child.”
The Wyebrook Farm is among the most unique locations in Chester County. When discussing this farming community in Honey Brook, which boasts a market of take home goods and an on site cafe of consumable cuisine for the public, the spotlight typically falls upon their meat production. They “produce the healthiest animals and best food without the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics” so it’s no wonder people point positive fingers in their direction. However, in an effort to “experiment, see what would work and have some fun” the crew at Wyebrook Farm added a garden in 2012.
“We try to serve as much product from the farm as possible and this was a way to add to the meat we produce.”
Farmer Dean Carlson and Sandy Michenfelder (“the plant lady”) keep a careful eye on the produce that’s currently growing such as various lettuce greens, tomatoes, peppers, beans and cantaloupe. The farming lifestyle has always gotten by on a shared chore approach since “back in the day” and it’s no different at Wyebrook. When the weeding needs to be done, they all pitch in.
If you’ve ever popped into the the Wyebrook Cafe for a farm fresh bite to eat on more than one occasion, you’ll notice the menu is everchanging. They alter their options depending on what’s ready to be picked from the garden that day, so the diner is enjoying the very best with their meal. If a menu item calls for produce or another element not found on the farm, they still keep things local by finding ingredients nearby. Their favorite go to spot for extra needs is B&H Organics of Morgantown.
Since this was their first year using a garden, Farmer Dean has “learned a lot about what things get used in the cafe and in what quantities.” He’s excited for next year when he can put these learnings to use and plan accordingly. No matter what he decides to plant with the help of his Wyebrook Farm crew, guests should have no problem enjoying it!
Executive Chef Michael Giampa of Paramour has a special passion for plants. If it weren’t for him, several employees and a very dedicated gardener, Lydia Wisner, the dishes at this inviting and energetic restaurant wouldn’t be nearly as memorable. But it’s not just the dishes stirring up conversation, it’s their ingredients, too.
The herb garden that feeds Paramour’s kitchen is very non-traditional, hidden within other plants that surround the property. Guests showing up for a quick bite or a decadent sit down dinner tend to make a game of the intertwined growings spotted before the entrance asking themselves “what herb will we find today?”
The hotel has always had a perennial garden but, since Paramour just opened in 2011, this newfound hodge podge of herbs and edible flowers began in 2012. Guest’s eyes are invited to fall upon a variety of their personal selections such as pineapple sage, opal basil, chives, tangerine mint, spearmint and nasturtiums before chowing down on them inside. You may see more basil than anything else since it’s a personal favorite of Chef Giampa.
“We especially like to use basil flowers with our heirloom tomato salad. We know how to trim the herbs before they go to seed to produce a better harvest.”
What about the ingredient world beyond herbs, you ask? No matter how great Paramour’s harvest is, the restaurant still dashes to Kennett Square every once and awhile for the best darn mushrooms around and focuses on seasonally inspired modern American cuisine all year. They aren’t picking produce from personal employee patches since “most employees live in the city and are unable to garden at home,” but the passion their crew puts toward the restaurant’s supply is unrelenting and will continue to bring fresh dishes to your table for quite some time!
Not every restaurant is fortunate enough to have a garden right out back but as so many say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. That is exactly the attitude at Ron’s Original Bar & Grill, which is no stranger to fresh produce. The will that seems to have created a way for even more locally sourced, healthy offerings to reach the menu is a personal garden at Ron’s home.
“I have been using some of my personal garden produce to enhance dishes at the restaurant. The fresher, the better as we know. This is in the infancy stages and I expect to increase the volume at my farm next year and probably every year thereafter until we are out of room. I can plant about three acres.”
Ron not only practices the art of growing but he regularly reads up on where the local food industry is headed to stay one step ahead. While the restaurant’s inventory isn’t technically sourced from a “house garden”, we felt that the dedication behind it and the passion for sustainable agriculture from Ron and his crew deserved a definite nod.
Station Taproom’s much anticipated personal garden was well underway through this summer’s growing season. The restaurant’s first-ever garden has planting beds installed, loaded with dirt and seedlings. This new addition to the Taproom’s facility will allow them to utilize the freshest microgreens, herbs and produce from the garden in the production of their usual delicious fare.
Keep an eye out, or really your taste buds, as their signature dishes will be popping with even more fresh flavor than they already are. Learn more about Chef Kristin McCouch and her green efforts by clicking here.
Photographs credited to Nina Lea Photography, Ella’s American Bistro, Amy Strauss and Paramour.