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 40—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!”
If you’re ever in Baltimore, here are a few restaurants that source a lot of their ingredients from local farms: Woodberry Kitchen, Dogwood, and Feast at 4 East. If you’re in DC, check out Nora’s. One of the first organic restaurants. They also source a lot of their ingredients locally.
Two restaurants in the Boston Area that are strong contenders are
Oleona in Cambridge and the new Journeyman in Somerville.
What about Chez Panaisse in Berkley?
If you’re ever in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, try Thistle in McMinnville. Not only is all of the food locally sourced, all of the furnishings, dishes and glasses are reclaimed including a 100-year-old chandelier and countertops crafted from an old bowling alley lane. My cauliflower au gratin appetizer was served in an old Corning ware mini-casserole dish like my grandmother used (right down to the periwinkle flowers on the side). Very cool.
We have more and more of them appearing in Northern California. This is a great site: http://www.americanfarmtotable.com/
I love that you select restaurants based on the quality of character of the proprietors, food being the expression of our souls.
I am going to check out the Dressing Room in Westport, CT. Thanks for the suggestion.
I applaude your efforts, but the East Coast bias misses a lot of great West Coast eateries. What about Manressa in Los Gatos, CA? David Kinch and his connection to Love Apple Farm helps him produce some amazing food. (p.s. I do not work for either of them)
Maria, you’ve recommended the Dressing Room once before. I’m near there in a few months and am looking forward to going there, even with some bad reviews.
The Cloisters is in the Bronx, not Manhattan, from what I remember. Close enough! Definitely looking to eat at most of these places when I travel near enough to them. Thanks again for the updates and thanks to the other readers for chiming in with other recommendations.
Oh, if only I had time to travel all around the country and just eat at good places. Thanks every one for recommending places I will try when next I travel to that area — and also for the corrections!
Great list! My favorite farm-to-table restaurant in Tennessee is Joe Natural’s. It’s just south of Nashville in Leiper’s Fork. Everything they serve is either from the owners’ farm or local farms. They have a really great local farm store as a part of the restaurant too. http://joenaturals.com/
any recommendations west of the mississippi river?
Lento in Rochester New York uses local foods to develop wonderful recipes. You should try it.
You should check out GustOrganics in NYC. Ate there twice. Organic food was delicious. Here’s a link.
BTW I loved the t-shirt worn by a few servers so much that I bought one. It says “FARM OVER FACTORY.”
Thanks for the comments about our Dressing Room in Westport, CT. As fairly new residents in this lovely town, we have embraced the locavore movement that is thriving through wonderful restaurants like Dressing Room, and also LeFarm, as well as the Westport Farmers’ Market (there is even a new Winter Market, located nearby in one of the greenhouses at Gilbertie’s Nursery… inspirational!).
My daughter and I are doing our part by raising our own little flock of hens so that we can enjoy fresh eggs from our own back yard. There are abundant opportunities for people to enjoy delicious food from local farms and even neighbors who grow their own produce. Everyone can do their part by frequenting farm-to-table restaurants and their local farmers’ markets, even if they lack the time to grow their own food. Happy eating! Enjoy our blog: http://www.chickswithchicksinwestport.blogspot.com
Maria, I just have to thank you SO MUCH for recognizing Paolina’s!! I was one of the four young farmers who worked on the Well Fed Farm in its pioneer season last year, and the Rodale Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening was our Bible. there wasn’t a single day on the farm when we weren’t poring over the pages for advice. This means so much to us!
Donna fronm Delaware–the Cloisters is most definitely in Manhattan!
I love the Dressing Room. I was doing a show in Westport and once I discovered it, I went every night!
Of course, Bolete is great, paying attention to every detail.
Will have to check out the others-
Thanks for the list. Went to Prairie Fire in Chicago, and it was wonderful, as was Terzo Piano at the Art Institute (http://www.terzopianochicago.com/). A fabulous sustainable restaurant in NYC is Print, located in Hell’s Kitchen (http://www.printrestaurant.com/). Favorite farm-to-table eateries in Philly (home base) include: Lotus Farm to Table in Media (http://www.lotusfarmtotable.com/index.php); Styer’s Garden Cafe in Glen Mills (http://cafe.shopterrain.com/); and White Dog Cafe in Wayne or Philly (http://whitedog.com/).
Seasons52 has 21 locations across the US, I highly recommend it!