Though the locavore movement has been gaining new traction in recent years—both as a political statement against processed foods and a bon vivant buzzword—the philosophy that food tastes best when it’s at its seasonal peak and doesn’t have to travel far to get from barnyard to kitchen is a decades-old one. Join us as we celebrate 10 of our all-time favorite farm-to-table restaurants that embrace the old ways. And we hope you’re hungry because some have shared their secret (and swoon worthy) recipes to help you eat responsibly at home.
Miami Beach, Fla.
When it comes to his daily-changing menu, AltaMare chef Simon Stojanovic’s approach is simple: “Foods that are locally sourced are always going to be of better quality.” Considering the restaurant’s location on Miami Beach’s well-traveled Lincoln Road, it’s probably no surprise that the menu here is seafood-focused. But even on this barrier island, where fish joints are aplenty, AltaMare serves up some of South Beach’s freshest, making frequent—and delicious—use of such native sea creatures as Cape Canaveral shrimp.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
Diners at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York need look no further than outside the window to see how far their meals have traveled. This fine dining establishment is an outgrowth of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, an educational institution and working four-season farm, which supplies the eatery with the bulk of its offerings. Further setting Blue Hill apart is the fact that there are no menus to be had, just a list of 100-plus ingredients from which to choose and have the chef create a customized farmer’s feast. “Great cooking comes out of great farming,” says executive chef/co-owner Dan Barber. “They are one in the same.”
He has been praised as a cooking innovator by a host of esteemed media outlets—everyone from GQ to The Food Network. But Lee Skawinksi, executive chef/co-owner of Cinque Terre in Portland, Maine, is really just going back to basics. The New England native and longtime farm-to-table advocate believes that “memorable dining is less about the chef in the kitchen and much more about the fresh, seasonal ingredients.” In Skawinski’s case, many of those ingredients come courtesy of the restaurant’s own Grand View Farm, which inspires such seminal dishes as Skawinski’s Berkshire pork and speck, served with sautéed Tuscan cabbage and a homemade salsa verde.
The Barn at Blackberry Farm
Southern hospitality and haute cuisine come together under one roof at The Barn at Blackberry Farm, the fine dining enclave at Walland, Tennessee’s famed luxury resort. Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, the restaurant employs a brigade of epicures—bakers and butchers, chefs and cheese makers, chocolatiers and even a jam lady—to help craft its forever-changing menus, all of which are based on what looks best on any given day. Unexpected twists on Southern staples are about the only thing diners can expect, from a duck ham and pear salad to a seared mountain trout with celery root, Clementine and black truffle in a ham hock broth.
A landlocked state may not be the first place you’d think to look for great sushi. But master chef Toshi Kizaki has been challenging that perception for more than 25 years, since opening Sushi Den in Denver, Colorado. When it comes to the restaurant’s eponymous ingredient, the fish is sourced both locally and from Japan’s Nagahama Fish Market (arriving on the restaurant’s doorstep less than 24 hours after it is hand-selected by Toshi’s brother). While that may not seem like the makings of a farm-to-table juggernaut, the restaurant also purchased a six-plus acre farm in order to grow its own produce, including such menu staples as Thai chili, shishito pepper, mung bean and kabocha. “Great chefs always look for great ingredients as flavors are more intense,” says Kizaki. The end result is a modern twist on Japanese classics, like Tequila-cured salmon paired with farm-fresh asparagus, jalapeno and a poached egg.
“My philosophy on cooking is to let the foods speak for themselves,” says Brian Scheehser, executive chef at Trellis in Kirkland, Washington. “I refrain from adding unnecessary ingredients that mask the natural flavors of the food, but instead focus on what’s in season and freshest at its peak.” That explains the minimal number of ingredients in his wild Alaksan halibut, which is served simply with a lemon vinaigrette and shoestring vegetables. And Scheehser makes eating well affordable. On Sundays and Mondays, diners can chow down on three courses of his agrarian fare for just $29, then wash it down with half-priced bottles of wine.
As a cheftestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” Kevin Gillespie didn’t always have a say in the components of his meals. But as executive chef at Atlanta’s Woodfire Grill, this Fan Favorite is calling the shots. “You eat what’s around you because it’s better,” says Gillespie. “In modern times, it’s become a novelty. But we see it as a tradition and we embrace it. It gives the restaurant a much stronger sense of place and makes the experience for the diner more unique.” That farm-fresh philosophy extends to the restaurant’s cocktail menu, too, which includes fresh ingredients like muddled mint, cucumber and ginger shrub to standard cordials. Savoring simplicity, Gillespie’s menu is filled with fire-roasted takes on Southern staples, like fried green tomatoes with spicy Raita.
Ask anyone in the Manchester, New Hampshire area where to find the freshest local grub, and he or she is likely to point you toward Cotton. Chef/owner Jeffrey Paige’s neighborhood eatery that promises “Food, cocktails and the potential for a really good time.” (Considering that the restaurant has been cited as having The Granite State’s Best Martinis eight years in a row, those latter two items are likely related.) “It really is a no brainer,” Paige notes of the decision to focus his menu on local and seasonal fare. In fact, Paige works with more than two dozen local food producers to create his award-winning menu, which keeps things comfortable with retro classics like meatloaf and all-you-can-eat mashed potatoes and of-the-moment with a cool watermelon gazpacho.
The Greenhouse Tavern
After logging hours in the kitchens of top restaurants from Miami to New York, chef/Cleveland native Jonathon Sawyer returned to his hometown with simplicity on his mind. So in 2009 he and his wife Amelia (author of the Chef’s Widow blog) opened The Greenhouse Tavern, Ohio’s first certified green restaurant. By letting the local lands be his guide, Sawyer has amassed a large menu of seasonal gastropub items, from chips and dip to foie gras with clams, and a huge following of hungry gastronomes, who flock to the Tavern for its four-courses for $44 tasting menu.
The Kitchen [Next Door]
Finally, a pub that makes you feel good about whiling away your day on a bar stool! As part of The Kitchen mini-chain (with three locations in Boulder and one in Denver), The Kitchen [Next Door] is helping to push the idea of “community through food” and saving the world, one pint at a time. This family-friendly pub doesn’t just wear their love of community on their menu—offering farm-to-table bar bites like housemade meatballs with polenta and grilled Colorado steak and a bevy of sustainable choices when it comes to the tipple, like a full list of Rocky Mountain craft beers and organic wines on tap, served up in reused wine bottles. The restaurant gives back to the community, too, with daily “Community Hour” deals on food and drink, plus $2 of every kid’s meal is donated to help plant gardens at local schools. Talk about dining for a cause!
—By Jennifer M. Wood, a food writer and travel blogger in New York City, N.Y.