June 25, 2014

Area Restaurants With Their Own Gardens Offer Fresh, Flavorful Summertime Specials

Summertime specialties gathered right from the garden are hard to resist. They are unmatched for freshness and flavor, and more and more restaurants in the area are featuring adjacent or nearby gardens.

“The greatest benefit is to provide the freshest, best quality produce to our guests,” points out Eben Copple, executive chef at The Yardley Inn in Yardley, Pa. “Anyone who has a garden will agree that something grown to maturity and consumed quickly after harvest has much more flavor than any competing item that might be commercially available.”

Adds Stanley Novak, owner/chef of the Harvest Moon Inn in Ringoes, agrees. “The benefit for us of having our own garden includes freshness, quality, convenience, sustainability, and it’s economical. We compost everything possible throughout the year, and take out about a 55-gallon bucket every week to the compost pile. All of the landscape clippings, decorations (hay bales, pumpkins, corn stalks, old flowers, when the flower bed changes), go into the compost.”

The Terra Momo restaurants, including Mediterra and Teresa’s Caffé in Princeton and Eno Terra in Kingston, all use their 2-acre canal farm a mile south of Eno Terra, which they began to cultivate in 2009.

“We grow 300-plus varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs,” says executive chef Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra. “We send Terra Momo employees, including cooks and servers on tours of the farm, and some participate in planting and harvesting.”

The Yardley Inn has two garden sites, notes Chef Copple. “One is a small herb garden across the street from the Inn, and another much larger plot is a mile north on River Road. We have two and a half acres in total.”

Primary Goal

“The primary goal with the garden this year is to supply the restaurant’s needs completely for three items: mixed greens, green beans, and tomatoes. We grow much more than just these three items, however. Some of our produce includes asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb, French breakfast and ping pong radishes, golden beets, sugar snap peas, salt and pepper cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, raspberries, blackberries, and blue berries.”

A variety of herbs, including oregano, sage, thyme, parsley, chives, cilantro, basil, rosemary, and garlic chives, are also grown.

The Harvest Moon Inn’s 14-year-old garden includes a half acre fenced area on the property, plus a raised bed only steps from the kitchen door, says Mr. Novak. “I also use herb plants as landscaping around the building. The herbs include lavender, mint, basil, thyme, tarragon, sage, rosemary, chervil, parsley, and oregano.”

“We have a wide variety of greens, including lettuce, arugula, micro greens, Swiss chard, and spinach. We also grow approximately 30 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, also peppers, green beans, wax beans, snow peas, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, rhubarb, bok choy, broccoli, egg plant, and asparagus.”

In addition, the garden includes yellow and red raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and grapes, as well as flowers for cut flower arrangements, and cake decorations.

Mr. Novak enjoys planting and tending the garden himself, he adds. “It is considered my ‘therapy’ from being in the kitchen all the time. I like being outside with nature and watching everything develop. I start the majority of my plants from seed, and I consider them ‘my babies!’”

Team of Three

Chef Copple of The Yardley Inn has turned over the tilling, planting, weeding, and harvesting to a team of three, including a master gardener. The larger garden is fenced to protect from deer, but there are occasional problems with other pests, he reports. “Last year, the staff woke up early every day for about two weeks, and turned over the leaves of the raspberry plants to find and get rid of some little invasive beetles. Pretty time-consuming work, but we don’t use pesticides, so it’s the only way to do things.”

All the restaurants include products on their menu from local farmers in addition to items from their own gardens. “Products that take more land to grow, like sweet corn, watermelons, and cantaloupes, we source from Sweet Valley Farm, only a couple of miles from the restaurant,” says Mr. Novak of the Harvest Moon Inn.

And, adds Chef Copple: “This extends to protein as well from time to time. We are unable to use local farms exclusively due to the size of our operation and the desires of our guests, but I strive to reach that goal.”

Menus are continually evolving as the seasons change, and having the gardens is a tremendous advantage in providing delicious new tastes for diners. “Our menu changes quite often, notes Chef Albrecht. “As crops become ripe or fresh, we transition into the next one.”

Summer Menu

“Our menu is always based around vegetables,” points out Mr. Novak. “We change the menu seasonally, and the summer menu always incorporates summer fruits and vegetables.”

Many customers appreciate knowing that the restaurants have their own gardens, and they often like to take a look and even stroll through them, he adds. Chef Novak also says he can’t resist sampling the garden harvest when he is tending it. “Picking cherry tomatoes and green beans from the garden — sometimes, pick one, eat two!”

Mr. Copple takes great pleasure in simply walking through the garden on a summer afternoon. “Being able to walk across the street for our herbs allows me to use them at their most flavorful and aromatic. Cilantro straight from the ground tastes completely unlike the herb at the supermarket.

“Also, he continues, “one of the secondary benefits of the garden is that we have access to things not easily available through commercial means. An example would be very small beans, picked before they would be considered ready by someone else, or the tendrils off the tops of the snap pea plants. I love checking on the progress of ripening, sampling here and there. It keeps me in touch with the growing cycle, seasonality, and the truth of our food. I think it’s easy for most people to forget about what it takes to produce food. I want to understand more about the process.”

“We mention to almost all of our guests that we have a garden, and it is written on our menu,” adds Mr. Albrecht. “What we enjoy most about the farm is providing the learning experience — seeing and tasting plants right at the farm — for all our guests, the cooks, and managers.”

Patrons of these restaurants have a treat in store when they can order items on the menu that have been grown right on the property. No wonder summer dining is special!