Courtesy of Blackberry Farm
The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains boasts the region's best sustainable menu.
These essential eateries across the U.S. use hyper-local ingredients and innovative recipes to create unforgettable meals.
The big names of the original “farm-to-table” restaurant culture in the United States—Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, Washington State’s The Herbfarm, and later upstate New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns—set a high bar for local ingredient-sourcing, with their own foragers and/or gardens and elaborate seasonal tasting menus.
Their respective chefs gained worldwide notice for simplifying U.S. cooking by using the freshest of-the-moment ingredients, often presenting them with classical techniques. These groundbreaking chefs were also conscious of diners’ increasing desire to eat more healthily, with as many organic ingredients as possible.
While these three restaurants are still going strong, a testament to their pioneer status, the term “farm-to-table” has slowly evaporated from the culinary lexicon, as chefs everywhere are serving locally sourced, relatively sustainable food, making what was once radical seem de rigueur.
Enter the new guard, restaurants that have evolved not from a conceptual mind-set about what people want to eat, but literally from farm to table, with hyper-local ingredients from nearby farms, dairies, orchards, ranches, and fisheries, that show up on every plate as wholly new recipes, often breaking with culinary tradition, or honoring it while pushing it to new heights.
Mercantile Dining & Provision is chef Alex Seidel’s homage to the finest ingredients Colorado has to offer. His 2009 purchase of Fruition Farms, just outside Denver, allowed Seidel to raise organic fruits and vegetables for his flagship restaurant by the same name, and the newer Mercantile. The farm also provides heritage breed hogs, Italian honeybees, and a 10-acre East Fresian sheep dairy, the first of its kind in the state.
In Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry Farm is both a beloved summer retreat and a dining destination with a made-from-scratch ethos. Executive chef Joseph Lenn, a native of the state—along with a team of master bakers, gardeners, foragers, cheesemakers, and butchers—has crafted the best sustainable menu in the region on the property’s 4,200-acre estate at Blackberry Farm’s fine-dining restaurant, The Barn.
The team has long studied the cultivation and land-use practices of members of the native Cherokee tribe to understand the soil and what grows best in it. They then transform ramps, mushrooms, blackberries (of course), sumac, persimmons, and other produce into seasonal menu items that appear on the ever-changing menu and even in the house-made spirits that form the base of their cocktail offerings.
A post shared by Blackberry Farm (@blackberryfarm) on Jun 28, 2018 at 12:16pm PDT
HOQ, in Des Moines, Iowa’s historic East Village, is Cynthia and Suman Hoque’s vision of what environmental stewardship looks like through a culinary lens. In addition to sourcing pastured meat, local eggs, and organic fruits and vegetables from their neighbors, the Hoques also serve fair trade–certified, locally roasted coffee and Iowa-made liquors.
Article continues below advertisement
They are committed to purchasing whole animals for their meat dishes, and they compost all their food waste, creating an environment that looks a lot like what living in the rural Midwest might’ve been like 100 years ago, but with 21st-century spices and cooking techniques.
James Beard Award–winning chef Melissa Kelly brought her classically trained, Italian-leaning palate to Rockland, Maine, with Primo Restaurant, along with a 4.5-acre farm that supplies most of the restaurant’s ingredients, including organic vegetables, pastured chickens, ducks, pigs, and guinea hens. She and her partner Price Kushner buy fish fresh off the boat from local purveyors. The menu is pan-Mediterranean, and each dish features produce from the adjacent farm.
A post shared by Chef Melissa Kelly (@chefmelissak) on Jul 15, 2018 at 12:42pm PDT
Arguably, farm-to-table restaurants were born in the West, so it’s not surprising that we see the most envelope-pushing going on here. Anya Fernald’s Belcampo, with hybrid restaurants/butcher shops in multiple California locations, is the first scalable ranch of its kind.
Traceability is ensured and entirely transparent: Grass-fed, pastured cows are raised on Fernald’s ranch, processed at its own USDA-inspected and Animal Welfare–Approved facility, and butchered and sold in-house, as well. Each restaurant menu is different, depending on the local farms each supports for vegetables, fruits, and other ingredients.
Article continues below advertisement
While many sustainable restaurants offer local fish, the ocean hasn’t been a primary consideration for most. But because the Hawaiian Islands are known for fish not easily found in other parts of the United States, it’s a logical place to shine a light on the vast resources of the ocean, which is what ‘ULU Ocean Grill on the Big Island has set about doing.
A Brittany native who grew up eating from the sea, executive chef Thomas Bellec has developed menus that include oysters sustainably farmed onsite and salt harvested from lava cliffs a short walk up the coast. This restaurant, and the other dining spots on the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts property, supports more than 160 farms and fishers on the Big Island, a remarkable (and rare) example of corporate commitment to environmental consciousness.
As farm-to-table cooking became the new gourmet standard, diners were increasingly willing to go out of their way for a great meal, and chef Blaine Wetzel’s Lummi Island, Washington, outpost, the Willows Inn, is among the farthest flung, accessible by a two-hour drive from Seattle, followed by a ride (reserved well ahead) on a 20-car ferry.
The reward is Wetzel’s satiating seasonal interpretation of the island’s bounty. Recent dishes include smoked cod doughnuts and island berries with elderflowers.
Slow, seasonal, delicious: Whether snout-to-tail, ranch-to-fork, or ocean-to-table, these seven U.S. restaurants have taken up the mantle of sustainability and have brought homegrown cooking and environmental consciousness into the 21st century.
Sign up for the Daily Wander newsletter for expert travel inspiration and tips
Please enter a valid email address.