Restaurant Rooftop Gardens: Five Of America’s Best

beekeepingFrom where I stood on the roof of Bastille Cafe & Bar in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, I could see flocks of seagulls circling nearby fishing boats, as I catch whiffs of brine, gasoline and eau de canal water.

Despite the industrial marine supplies and salmon canneries across the way, up here I was surrounded by buzzing honeybees and dozens of varieties of produce, from heirloom French beans and petit pois to herbs, tomato starts, lettuces and cucumber vines.

Bastille is part of an emerging breed of urban restaurant (many of which are located in hotels) popping up across America. Not content to just source food locally, today’s seasonally- and sustainably-driven chefs and restaurateurs are installing rooftop gardens and beehives to augment the product they purchase from family farms.

Many of these restaurants offer public tours of their rooftop gardens, greenhouses and hives, so even city-dwellers (or line cooks) no longer have an excuse to remain clueless about where their food comes from – and the public can’t get enough. With the urban farming movement – backyard produce, chickens, bees, even dairy goats – at critical mass, savvy chefs, concerned about their carbon footprint and wanting more control over the production and quality of their ingredients, have turned their rooftops into kitchen gardens.

Few restaurants can spare the labor or have staff experienced in cultivating crops, which is where small businesses like Seattle Urban Farm Company and Ballard Bee Company come in. The Urban Farm Company’s services include construction and maintenance of residential backyard farms, rooftop gardens, educational school gardens, and on-site gardens at restaurants and businesses. With regard to the latter, chefs and cooks receive education as well, and become involved in caring for and harvesting crops and collaborating on plantings based on menu ideas.

Corky Luster of Ballard Bee offers hive hosting or rental, where homeowners keep hives on their property, in exchange for maintenance, harvesting, and a share of the honey. Bastille keeps hives, and uses the honey in cocktails and dishes ranging from vinaigrette’s to desserts.

Following is the short list of rooftop garden restaurants that have served as inspiration for imitators, nationwide. Here’s to dirty cooks, everywhere.rooftop gardensBastille Cafe & Bar, Seattle
Seattle Urban Farm Company owner/founder Colin McCrate and his business partner Brad Halm and staff conceptualized Bastille’s garden with the restaurant’s owners three years ago. After substantial roof retrofitting, rectangular garden beds were installed. Over time, beehives were introduced, and this past year, plastic children’s swimming pools were reinforced with landscape fabric and UV-protective cloth, expanding the garden space to 4,500 feet.

In summer and fall, the garden supplies chef Jason Stoneburner and his staff with 25 percent of their produce for Bastille’s French-inspired seasonal cuisine. Housed in a lavishly restored, historic 1920s building, it has the vibe of a traditional Parisian brasserie, but here you’ll find an emphasis on lighter dishes as well as cocktails crafted from boutique spirits and rooftop ingredients.

Every Wednesday, Rooftop Garden Tours are hosted by Seattle Urban Farm Company, and include a complimentary Rum Fizz, made with Jamaican rum, mint, sparkling wine, bitters and (of course) rooftop honey. Cost is $10 per person; limit 10 people. Contact the restaurant for reservations.

honey
flour + water, and Central Kitchen, San Francisco
Thomas McNaughton of popular Mission pizzeria flour + water opened his newest venture on May 9. Both restaurants have rooftop gardens, and Central Kitchen is a lovely, modern rustic sanctuary serving simple, seasonal fare that highlights Northern California ingredients.

In addition to beehives, Central Kitchen is producing peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, berries, figs, citrus and herbs in a 2,000-square-foot space. Lexans (heavy-weight plastic storage containers used in professional kitchens) serve as garden beds, while herbs flourish in a converted Foosball table. Talk about recycling!

Uncommon Ground on Clark, Chicago
This big sister to the new Edgewater location features a 2,500-square-foot garden with solar panels to heat water used in the restaurant. Everything from beets, eggplant, okra and bush beans are cultivated, including rare seed varieties from the Slow Food “Ark of Taste.” The Ark is dedicated to preserving the “economic, social, and cultural heritage of fruits and vegetables,” as well as promoting genetic diversity. Expect refined crunchy granola fare with ethnic flourishes.
tomatoes
Roberta’s, Brooklyn
This insanely popular Bushwick restaurant made national headlines when chef Carlo Mirarchi was named a 2011 Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine for his wood-fired pizzas and way with rooftop produce, including some heirloom varieties.

Mirarchi, who is passionate about urban farming and community involvement, uses two repurposed cargo containers on the restaurant’s roof for cultivating crops, and keeps a blog about the evolution of the garden.

[Photo credits: honeycomb; Laurel Miller; tomatoes, Flickr user Muffet]

In this video, Chef Robert Gerstenecker of Park 75 restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, Atlanta, talks rooftop gardening and beekeeping. He grew up on a family farm and dairy in Ohio.



Got Geoduck? An Epic Clam Dig On The Olympic Peninsula

geoduck clamIt’s a drizzly late March morning at Hood Canal, a fjord-like arm of Washington State’s Puget Sound two hours west of Seattle. The air is briny and pungent. Douglas-fir trees and fog-shrouded inlets dot the shoreline. Bald eagles soar overhead while dozens of harbor seals bob in the water.

Armed with a shovel, a hand trowel and a five-gallon bucket, I’m attired in hip waders and neoprene. I slosh through the shallow water — stumbling over oyster shells, tufts of eel grass and starfish — searching for telltale, two-inch, oval holes in the sand from which the tip of a mollusk siphon may protrude (a visual cue known as a “show”).

The elusive creature I seek is Panopea generosa (a Latin name that will seem far more hilarious when you check out the gallery below), the geoduck clam. At first glance, the geoduck is unarguably, hideously, phallic — there’s no polite way…ahem….around it.

Possessed of a leathery neck, or siphon, that stretches up to three feet in length, the world’s largest burrowing clam tends to freak Americans out. In Asia, it’s revered as a delicacy and aphrodisiac, yet it’s native to the waters of the Pacific Northwestern U.S.

[Photo credits: Langdon Cook]

%Gallery-151127%geoduck clamI, too, found geoduck disturbing, until I moved to Seattle, and found a small pile of it on my plate while dining at Spring Hill, award-winning chef Mark Fuller’s restaurant (recently rechristened Ma’ono). Dressed with a tart lemon peel relish, the meat was slightly sweet and briny, with a subtle, satisfying crunch. Fuller loves geoduck for its ease of preparation, and “mild, clean flavor and snappy texture.” He prefers to serve it raw, with some citrus, olive oil and a bit of coarse sea salt. The “king” clam is also used as sashimi, sautéed or hot-smoked.

Seattle forager, author (Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21th Century Forager, Skipstone Press), food blogger, and back-to-the-land Renaissance man Langdon Cook prefers geoduck in an Asian-inspired ceviche, marinated with lime juice, a touch of fish sauce and brown sugar, and diced red onion, Serrano chile and shredded, green (unripe) papaya or mango.

Since I love tracing food to its source, I asked Lang to take me ‘duck hunting. After catching the ferry to Bainbridge Island, we drove to the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula; Hood Canal has a number of state parks with wild geoduck. While not seasonal, March is when mandatory harvest licenses are issued; you can obtain them here through the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Low tides in July and August are ideal for geoduck harvest, because it stays light late, and the weather is at its best.

At Dosewallips Tide Flat (part of a lovely state park), we discovered the water higher than anticipated, but fortunately, we had Taylor Shellfish Farms manager John Adams to provide his considerable expertise. Instead of digging in sand, we’d be shoveling against the clock in heavy, sticky substrate. Despite this setback and even in drizzling rain, the aesthetics were spellbinding.
geoduck clam
When I finally spotted a show, after much difficulty and with the help of my geoduck-senseis, we laboriously dug a three-foot-deep pit adjacent to the clam in the gloppy, shell-laden substrate. Since it was my story, I had the glory of actually winnowing the recalcitrant little bastard out of its burrow.

Immersed to the shoulder, sodden and stinking of tidal effluence, I finally manage to extract the clam. I triumphantly fist-pumped my three-pound prize in the air, while its leathery siphon drooped to the side like a dehydrated tongue. We capped off the day by collecting a bucket of littleneck clams from the beach, and then Lang took me to his home in Seattle for a tutorial on removing the “gut ball” from a geoduck. Unsurprisingly, gut ball soup is also a delicacy in Asia, but I can safely say this particular food trend won’t be catching on in mainstream America. You can quote me on that.

I went home with my siphon (I generously left Lang with the shell and gut ball; he did, after all, do most of the digging), and made sashimi. You know what? It tasted damn good. So did the clam linguine that followed.

Puget Sound’s Taylor Shellfish, a fifth-generation, sustainable mariculture farm, is the world’s largest producer of farmed geoduck. They’re sold live at Taylor’s retail shop in Capitol Hill in Seattle or online, $24.95 per pound (minimum two pounds). To order, click here. The site also features a video on how to clean and prepare geoduck.

Seattle’s Safeco Field gets food concession with local ingredients, menus by award-winning chefs

Safeco Field Seattle foodBuh-bye, limp hot dogs in soggy buns. Baseball season starts April 1st, and Seattle’s Safeco Field–go, Mariners–is celebrating its first home game on the 8th with some serious food.
Centerplate, the leading hospitality provider to North America’s premier sports stadiums, has developed a partnership with award-winning Seattle chef Ethan Stowell, as well as chefs Roberto Santibañez, owner of Brooklyn’s Fonda/culinary director of Hoboken’s The Taco Truck, and Bill Pustari, chef-owner of New Haven’s Modern Apizza.

The revamped Bullpen Market at Safeco Field will feature fresh, local ingredients and easy-on-the-budget prices. In addition to an Apizza outlet, there is chef Stowell’s Hamburg + Frites, and La Crêperie, and Flying Turtle Cantina/Tortugas Voladoras from Santibañez.

Says John Sergi, Chief Design Officer of Centerplate, “Our mission was to create a restaurant-style experience–the anti-fast food–in a concession environment. We (brought in) Ethan as our consulting chef…in order to help us make the food ‘restaurant-real.’
Safeco Field Seattle food
Stowell is the executive chef and owner of Ethan Stowell Restaurants, which includes Tavolàta, Anchovies & Olives, and How to Cook a Wolf. He is the acting chef at eight-month-old Staple & Fancy Mercantile, in Seattle’s gorgeously revamped Kolstrand Building in the Ballard neighborhood.

Best-known for his use of local ingredients and simple, seasonal food, Stowell was named one of the 2008 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine and has been honored with multiple James Beard Award nominations for “Best Chef Northwest.” Santibañez and Pustari were added to the line-up to create programs featuring the signature concepts for which they are both nationally acclaimed–Mexican food and pizza. I might get into sports if this is the future of stadium food.

Seattle’s Sunday suppers: top restaurants host family-style meals

Remember the good old days, when families used to sit down for dinner together? No? Well, no worries, because a handful of Seattle’s most beloved restaurants are resurrecting the tradition of Sunday supper with a series of monthly or weekly dinners. In a city known for its commitment to green living and locavorism, it just makes sense

Each meal is served at a communal table, and dishes are family-style, passed from one diner to the next. Communal dining is exploding in popularity nationally, for a variety of reasons. The poor economy makes family-style meals a smart choice–for chefs and restaurateurs, as well as diners–and comfort food, even if it’s gussied up, is popular in trying times. These dinners also foster a sense of community, and provide a respite from the shackles of ringing cell phones and pinging in-boxes. Bonus: they’re a great way to make new friends (it’s amazing what wine can do).

The public’s growing interest and concern over our food supply is also a likely factor for the popularity of family dinners, since they usually have a strong emphasis on regional product. Diners get a chance to learn about family farms and seasonal eating, sometimes with the growers in attendance. Some chefs choose a theme for each meal, and plan their menus ahead, while others prefer to wing it, looking to the farmers market for inspiration. Either way, a Sunday supper is a way to engage with the local scene…even if you’re just visiting. Don’t forget to make a reservation.

Palace Kitchen
Sunday dinners debut November 7th at pioneering PacNW chef Tom Douglas’ iconic, downtown restaurant. Chef de cuisine Brian Walcyzk will prepare three courses for $30, including Prosser Farms acorn squash salad with maple-pancetta vinaigrette, Beacon Hill arugula, and ricotta salata, and applewood spit-roasted turkey breast. Dinners will run weekly throughout the month, and into December.

Tavolata
The new, monthly “Sunday Feast” theme dinners featuring chef Brandon Kirksey’s rustic Italian fare start November 7th, with “Lamb.” Future dinners served at the 30-foot-long farm table will feature “Suckling Pig,” and Whole Roasted Goat” at this elegantly casual Belltown favorite. $45-$60.

Volunteer Park Cafe
A cozy spot located in a leafy residential part of Capitol Hill, VPC’s monthly “Sunday Supper” menus are at the whim of chef/co-owner Ericka Burke. Think Moroccan chicken legs with couscous, corona bean panzanella, or wild boar Bolognese. Even if you can’t make dinner, hit up breakfast for co-owner/pastry chef Heather Earnhardt’s sweet or savory baked goods (crack has nothing on her Brown Butter Bars). The brand-new, adorable back patio, with its garden beds and chicken coop, put a little bit of urban farm into this local institution. $30.

The Corson Building
2007 Food & Wine Best New Chef Matt Dillon hosts two Sunday Suppers a month ($60, including wine) at this restored, former stonemason’s home in the artsy-industrial Georgetown ‘hood. Despite the locale against the train tracks and under the Boeing Field flight path, there’s a chicken coop, beehives, and abundant gardens where guests can stroll, wine in hand. Expect to see Corson’s own, and other local, impeccably fresh ingredients prepared simply (hearth-roasting is big), allowing flavors to shine.

Spring Hill
Okay, it’s not technically a communal meal, or a Sunday, but the a la carte, generously-portioned, “Monday Night Suppers” at this sleek West Seattle mom-and-pop spot are upscale comfort food at its best, for $11 to $20 a pop. New: fried chicken dinners for four (by reservation only, $98), with sides that include herb spaetzle, caramelized Brussels sprouts, and jalapeno corn bread with honey. 2009 Food & Wine Best New Chef and co-owner Mark Fuller does down-home right.

Washington’s farm tour season kicks off at Tonnemaker Family Orchard

Despite a late spring, Western Washington is gearing up for farm tour season. At Seattle’s U-District, Ballard, and West Seattle farmers markets (as well as the flock of smaller, seasonal neighborhood markets), stalls are advertising celebratory summer kick-off tours of dairies, cheeseries, farms, and ranches. One of my favorite vendors is Tonnemaker Family Orchards, a 132-acre, third-generation, certified organic farm in Central Washington’s Frenchman Hills. The family grows over 400 different varieties of fruits and vegetables. At the height of summer, their stall is an explosion of color, overflowing with crates and bins of melons, heirloom tomatoes, and up to 230 varieties of peppers. The family’s produce turns up in some of the Seattle region’s most acclaimed restaurants, including Spring Hill, Tilth, Poppy (chef/owner Jerry Traunfeld recently vied for the title on an episode of “Top Chef Masters”), and The Herbfarm.

The Tonnemaker’s are hosting a farm tour on June 27th, to coincide with the beginning of their cherry harvest: they grow over 12 varieties, including esoterica like the Black Republican, and Sonata. There will be a guided walking tour led by the Tonnemaker brothers (farmer Kole, and his brother, market manager Kurt), and a chance to shop at the farm stand. Lunch is by Seattle chef Matt Dillon (not that Matt Dillon, but still a celebrity in the world of chefdom), using ingredients from the farm. Dillon, co-owner of The Corson Building and the opening-at-any-second, relocated Sitka & Spruce, is a 2007 Food & Wine Best New Chef, and champion of local farmers and food artisans.

The Corson Building, a miniature urban farm-in-industrial-neighborhood, is one of my favorite restaurants on the planet. It’s not cheap, but it’s a beautiful example of how the parameters of “locally-sourced” food are changing within the restaurant industry, and how communal dining can be a unifying experience. Did I mention Seattle has what is perhaps the most progressive urban farm scene in the nation, and that summers are spectacular, even if you never leave the city?

Farm tour tickets are $60.00 self-drive, or $100.00 with chartered bus; registration deadline is June 13th. Fees for all farm tours help support family farms, local food security, and education about sustainable food systems. Local Harvest is a great national resource for finding farm tours, markets, and other events in your area.