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.

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.
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.

16 great farmers’ markets

Farmers’ markets are not only a great way to sample a community’s natural bounty, they’re also a unique setting to experience its culture. While each farmers’ market is different, a really good farmers’ market brings a sense of community to the cities and municipalities where they operate. Wondering where you can experience some of the freshest produce, tastiest snacks and friendliest people across the country? Check out our picks for 16 of our favorites below.

Saint Louis – Soulard Farmer’s Market

The Soulard Farmers Market began in St. Louis in 1779, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers market west of the Mississippi. In addition to the fresh fruit, produce, baked goods and flowers, the market includes a craft and flea market in the two wings of an old train terminal. A bit “Old World” in atmosphere, shoppers can buy live chickens, barter with vendors and enjoy a festive, energetic atmosphere all year round.

Indianapolis – Indianapolis City Market
The Indianapolis City Market was built in 1886 and today includes an arts market on Saturday, a farmers’ market on Wednesdays, cooking classes and ethnic theme events that may focus on the foods of Asia one week or the spices of the Middle East the next. The common thread through it all is that homegrown goodness of corn, tomatoes and other produce from the soil of Indiana.

Madison, Wisconsin
The Madison Wisconsin Farmers Market fills the grounds of the state capitol building and draws a huge crowd to the pedestrian-only mall and shops nearby. Fresh produce is only part of the fun. One Saturday, Wisconsin’s famous dairy cows may be on display; at other times there might be an iron man competition underway. Since it’s the state capitol, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to sign a petition or happen to see an up-and-coming politician working the crowd.

Kansas City – City Market
Kansas City’s City Market
overflows with activity weekend mornings all year when as many as 10,000 people have been known to shop for produce and bedding plants one more, artwork on another and bargains from the community garage sale another weekend morning. Valet service is available for big purchases. Some of the city’s most prosperous farm-to-table restaurants have found a naturally successful home here.

Des Moines, Iowa
All products sold at the Des Moines Farmers Market must be grown within the state of Iowa and that means 160 or more booths carrying the freshest produce grown in some of the world’s best farmland. There are also hand-made items, such as dried flower arrangements, seed murals and wheat weaving. A miniature train for children is a standard fixture and most Saturday mornings, you’ll find musicians, clowns or dance troupes performing.

Woodstock, Illinois

Voted the best farmers market in the state of Illinois in 2008, the Woodstock Farmers Market could easily be called a “producers market” because everything must be grown, raised or made by the seller. Located on the town square of this historic community, shoppers are accompanied by folk music performed live from a nearby gazebo on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

Holland, Michigan

The Holland Michigan Farmers Market literally overflows with blueberries, cherries, strawberries and other fresh fruit from the fields of western Michigan. The market also carries farm fresh cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. In the craft area, handmade furniture is an unexpected treat. But just wandering the aisles, munching on freshly baked Danish and feeling the breeze from Lake Michigan is a treat in itself.

Columbus, Ohio – North Market
Columbus Ohio’s North Market comes with its own kitchen and James Beard-award winning chef to prepare meals right on the spot from items bought at the market. In addition to fresh dairy products, including ice cream, and prepared foods from international vendors, the North Market sells just the right utensils and cookware to bring any meal together.

Lincoln, Nebraska – Historic Haymarket
The Historic Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska was originally a place where livestock and produce were sold in the state capitol, but now it is the site of the trendiest restaurants and retail outlets in the city. Every Saturday morning from May to October, the activity jumps another notch when more than 200 of the Midwest’s best farmers bring their produce. It’s also the best place in the city for Kolaches and coffee.

Little Rock, Arkansas – River Market

As polished as any supermarket, the Little Rock Arkansas River Market, located in the historic Quapaw Quarter, is a year-round destination for ethnic cuisine, entertainment and in the summer months, some of Arkansas’ famous tomatoes and watermelons. Something is always happening at the adjacent park overlooking the Arkansas River, and just a few blocks from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library.

— The above was written by Diana Lambdin Meyer, Seed contributor

Washington D.C. – Eastern Market

Casualty of a fire that ripped through the stalls in April of 2007, the historical Eastern Market has made a comeback and continues to serve meats, poultry, breads and gourmet goodies throughout the week in the South Hall, where many employees of nearby Capitol Hill migrate for lunch. On the weekends, stalls extend to the surrounding outdoor areas and offer antiques, crafts, photography, handmade jewelry and other collectibles. On our last visit, we purchased some vintage fruit labels and stocked up on distinctive greeting cards for less than a dollar apiece.

Santa Monica, California – Virginia Avenue Park
There are several markets that sprout up over the course of the week in this beach city. The best is the Saturday one in Virginia Avenue Park where weekly appearances are made by local restaurateurs featuring the best of their menus.

New York, NY – Union Square Greenmarket
One of the best markets in New York City is the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which extends the length of the west side of the square. Stalls are filled with local fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, poultry, fish, spices… just about anything you can imagine. At the tail end, you’ll find tables with artists selling their wares. We picked up some local goat cheese and wine, plus a hilarious comic-book version of the Grimm brother tales, handed to us directly by the author.

Chicago, IL – French Market
Inspired by European markets, the French Market was recently developed as an effort to promote community in the city. It’s located adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. The vendors sell delicious pastries and prepared foods as well as produce, meats, cheese and seafood. Grab some mussels and delicious Sicilian sandwiches before hopping on a train to the Chicago suburbs. Make sure to stop by Chicago’s world-renowned Green City Market while you’re in town.

— The above was written by M. Fuchsloch, Seed contributor

Portland, OR – Portland State University
Portland has long relished in its status as one of the country’s most eco-conscious, sophisticated food cities, and the town’s wealth of farmer’s markets certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each Saturday the shoppers of Portland flock to the grounds of Portland State University, home to Portland’s biggest and most famous of the city’s six recognized downtown markets.

San Francisco, CA – Ferry Building and Plaza
No list of farmers markets could be complete without mentioning this titan of the food world. Ground zero for the birth of slow food and much of the current revolution in local, organic eating sweeping the nation, San Francisco and the Bay Area is king and its historic Ferry Building and nearby Plaza Farmer’s Market is the capital building. Stop by for delicious favorites like locally produced cheeses, more mushrooms than you’ve ever seen and some tasty gelato.

My favorite Detroit dive bar: The Old Miami

The building at 3930 Cass Avenue in Detroit doesn’t look like much. A short, squat brick square with a green awning proclaiming it as “The Old Miami,” the space has actually had several different names throughout the years.

In the 40’s and 50’s it was called The Miami Lounge and was an after-work hang for car salesmen in the area. The 60’s saw it transition into Ken’s Lounge, a sleazy joint popular with prostitutes and pimps and the site of several shootings. It then did a brief stint as the New Miami, but a fire quickly ended that life.

In 1979, the building was purchased by a local Vietnam Vet, who created The Old Miami (Miami is both a nod to its former name and an acronym for Missing in Action Michigan) as a haven for all war veterans. Over time, as more young people and struggling artists have moved into the neighborhood, The Old Miami has stayed true to its roots as a veterans bar. Only now, the vets rubs elbows with the new crowd.

On any given day, you’ll likely find the older generation camped out at the bar, while the city’s younger residents sprawl across the beautiful backyard (complete with porch swing and fish pond) hidden behind the building. On summer nights, it’s the perfect place to catch one of the bar’s many live music shows.

The Old Miami gets my vote for best dive bar in Detroit because there’s no pretense here. It’s as much a space for veterans as is it for those fighting a different kind of battle, working to make Detroit a better city. It’s a true community bar, the kind of place where everyone knows your name, even if they’re likely to forget it by the next time they see you. Plus….all the drinks are served in plastic cups, and you just can’t get more dive-y than that.

A Canadian in Beijing: Lost in the Market and Laughing

With a rickety gate marking one of the main entrances, the market spills out on both sides. There are stalls of all shapes and sizes featuring all kinds of items whose colours cascade down tiered bins and flowing displays. All of the visual action splashes into my senses. The different smells from each stall curl into each other in comfort as we pass through and into the heart of the market.

I am taking it all in.

We are caught in the current of the Sunday shopping crowd and we move slowly through the stalls examining the wide variety of items for sale. I have a moment of feeling like we blend in well (despite the fact that I’m obviously a “waiguoren” or foreigner.) Well, perhaps we don’t exactly blend in considering I look so different and we’re speaking English together, but shopping with David, my Chinese-Canadian friend, makes it a little easier than shopping with a bunch of other non-Chinese folks. People are curious about us but kind and open. Before long, we are having lots of conversations about where we’re from and why we’re here. I don’t see any other foreigners in this market except for us.


Maybe it’s because the market is tucked away in a western Haidian area where tourists rarely go. This is the kind of market that I love the most. It’s slightly dirty with rinds and pits and lychee skins all over the sidewalks from snacking shoppers. There are stalls that look like hovels and/or temporary residences. Kids with dirty faces, bare bottoms and round open eyes are playing with dried nuts from a dried food stand. Vendors are taking naps everywhere in the thirty-two degree heat. (In fact, is there something about garlic that makes people sleepy?!)

Strung everywhere are tarps for shade. Because they are strung up by the individual stalls, they are all different colours as though we’re at a summer campsite where space is extremely limited forcing all the tents to intertwine. Some of these tarps hang a bit low and graze the tops of our heads as we pass. Sometimes we even need to duck.

David complained about the dangling ropes from the tarps reminding him of dangling spiders and I stopped to consider such an image before photographing the offending twine. These ties sometimes catch your head as you pass and if you haven’t noticed them, then it is a slightly creepy feeling, I agreed. Although I’m not arachnophobic, I probably wouldn’t appreciate a bunch of spiders in my hair! We steered around them after that, laughing each time.

Dave and I first discovered this market on the way to The Summer Palace a few weeks ago. At that time, we glanced in at the entrance but couldn’t tell what kind of market it was but agreed to return and investigate. Besides, we were headed for history. Today, we were on a market mission.

Mission successful. This is my favourite marketplace so far.

In this market (whose name I still don’t know), there are fruits and vegetables, breads, steamed buns, oils and nut butters, meat, fish, household supplies, clothing, tea, dried foods of all kinds, antiques, you name it. In fact, I couldn’t quite identify this market as anything but a “general market” if I tried. I could buy lingerie, hoses, brooms, tea, jewelry, fruit and fresh bread while also stocking up on my plumbing supplies if I so desired! It’s amazing.

Row after row of stalls kept making our bags heavier as we purchased dried foods to send home, mangosteens, lychees, and this nut butter that is sort of a combination between peanut butter and tahini. The one cloth shopping bag I brought wasn’t enough for our spontaneous purchases that were now spilling out of additional plastic bags.

Then, we found ourselves at a teashop.

I have been into tea this week, as you know, and I had already bought some chrysanthemum flowers for tea at a different stall – a flavour I truly love here and haven’t seen back home in its raw state. But, the woman at this tea stall was extremely warm and gracious. She spoke Chinese clearly and slowly and we soon found ourselves seated on stools inside the shop and accepting her offer to let us sample various kinds of teas.

She started with a type of tea that looks like a ball. When put into the water, it opened up into the flower that it is and is extremely beautiful. She said that one cup of this tea in a local downtown restaurant or tea house (like the one I went to this week) is about 160 kuai (very expensive by Chinese standards) and Dave confirmed her story. She made one cup of this tea for us and it was a beautiful flavour to top off the beautiful presentation. I watched it opening like a little kid staring into an aquarium. After tasting it too, I knew I had to have a few of these incredible bulbs to bring home for a special (tea) occasion! 40 kuai got me about 8 of them… and that’s pricey but sure beats the cost of tea in the tourist districts.

Of course, that was not all. She began to make us another pot of tea and each time heated the water perfectly, warmed the cups, measured the tea with precision and handled all of the tea tools like the pro that she was. A cup of “pu-er” tea was next on the list and we sipped and exclaimed as she described the properties and why this tea was good for you and when to drink it, etc.

An hour later, we were still in this little tea stall and we had sampled about ten different flavours of tea and had become quite chummy with the shopkeeper and several other customers. She would have kept pouring, too, had I not felt suddenly that we should buy our many items and get heading back home. In fact, I’m not sure the tea would have stopped flowing had we not stood up to leave, protesting yet another flavour she was pulling from the shelf. I laughed out loud at the feeling like I was going to float away!

We all laughed.

Dave bought a lot. In fact, he is the perfect guy to shop with because he is easily convinced to buy more when it’s cheaper to do so and vendors love him! He came away with several different flavours of tea as well as some “feng mi” or honey. (The honey here has a different flavour – it’s sweeter!) I also bought two metal travel mugs for a mere twenty-five kuai each (around $3 Canadian) that come with a built-in infuser. Those will be a welcome addition to our travelling supplies.

We left the stall in great spirits and with bellies sloshing, filled with tea of all kinds. I wondered if all of those medicinal properties combined together would cancel each other out, but if our moods were any indication of tea’s effects then I’d say that it’s all positive!

Losing oneself in a tea stall nestled deep in an authentic Chinese market in an outer district of Beijing feels like a luxurious weekend pastime. I smiled at my life. “Look at me!” I thought, “I’ve tucked myself into this corner of Beijing and it is just my size.”

Then, I popped a lychee into my mouth and let the sweetness roll around in my smile.