It’s All in What You Eat
With spring in full swing, our gardens are blooming, and soon growers will be pulling in full harvests of fruits and vegetables.
This is one of the most exciting times for restaurants, as chefs specializing in local, seasonable fare allow their creativity to shine on their menus by highlighting what the time of year has to offer. Two local restaurants take pride in their sustainable, seasonably driven menus.
You’re probably hearing the buzzword gastropub used more often by people across the country. You can even keyword the term when searching for a place to eat, and a number of eateries will pop up because this culinary phenomenon has hit the South-Central Pennsylvania region as well.
A portmanteau of gastronomy (the art or activity of cooking and eating fine food) and pub (meaning local eatery), gastropub comes to us from England and, at its most basic definition, means a pub specializing in serving high-quality food.
Whereas pubs used to just serve beer and wings, or beer and burgers, or beer and some other simple fare, gastropubs are taking more time to produce high-quality, freshly prepared food. It’s a new culinary adventure.
At the Walnut Street Grille—a.k.a., Lancaster Brewing Company—general manager Brent Eshelman has transformed the expectations of brewpub food into high-quality eats featuring unique game, locally sourced products, and house-grown produce and herbs.
“A lot of our appetizers and entrees change according to the season. We try to change a little here and there throughout the year,” said Eshelman.
Walnut Street Grille’s top-selling item is the locally sourced, half-pound LBC Burger, but they also sell a lot of more unusual meats as well. The 3 X Hog thin-crust pizza is a hit with return customers and features wild boar barbeque, glazed bacon, and housemade sausage topped with cheddar and aged mozzarella.
Boar also appears in nacho form with queso fundido, jalapeños, red onion, guacamole, black bean salsa, and chipotle sour cream.
Eshelman places an emphasis on “buy local, buy fresh,” which also incorporates the farm-to-table concept talked about later. With the addition of the new Walnut Street-side patio, the restaurant is even growing its own herbs, mint, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The first year was a bumper crop for cukes!
For the rest of their veggies, the buyers from Walnut Street Grille visit the Leola Produce Auction and other local outlets.
But it wouldn’t be a gastropub if it didn’t have brews. And today’s gastropubs often offer a variety of beers and wines to complement your meal.
Many regional gastropubs feature craft drafts and seasonal selections. Some area gastropubs offer beer flights, which could include a nice variety of styles such as ales, lagers, stouts, and porters. Or, if you already know your favorite, order a pint. At some places, 64-ounce growlers are available to go to quench your thirst.
Keeping with LBC’s mission to “buy local, buy fresh,” local roasters produce the beans used in their Imperial Jo beer, an espresso-infused imperial milk stout.
Knowing where ingredients come from is important to many chefs, and Chef Sean Cavanaugh at John J. Jeffries is no different. He has been running his restaurant with the farm-to-table ideology for years.
The phrase farm-to-table may not be such a strange concept to those living in the fertile, heavily farmed area of Pennsylvania where we live. Roadside stands offer the country traveler a wide variety of fresh, locally grown produce. But city restaurants have not always had the same advantage we do.
The farm-to-table movement gained a lot of momentum several years ago as consumers started to reject genetically modified foods. Restaurants specializing in this practice can follow their ingredients through the entire cycle of harvesting, processing, storage, and ultimately consumption.
The eatery connected to Lancaster Arts Hotel prides itself on being seasonable, sustainable, and farm fresh, so much so it has now taken the ideology to a whole new level. Spearheaded by Chef Cavanaugh, John J. Jeffries now controls every aspect of their most signature dishes.
At the end of March 2016, John J. Jefferies (JJJ) entered into an agreement with their beef provider, Lil’ Ponderosa Farm, and purchased an interest in the cattle ranch. They bought a nearby slaughterhouse and butcher shop. Now Cavanaugh and partner-chef Michael F. Carson are able to process their own grass-fed, organic, humanely raised beef using their exact standards.
JJJ uses the beef in their signature tartare, which is prepared as a small plate and as an entrée. They also serve up beef liver, a dry-aged steak, and an “Amish Pho,” a beef tongue and heart soup with seasonal vegetables, cilantro, Sriracha, and rice noodles.
Cavanaugh and Carson are not the only driving force behind JJJ. For the restaurant’s produce, he relies on Cheryl Young, the former owner of Lancaster’s Expressly Local. She visits 20 to 30 small farms each week looking to source fresh vegetables, eggs, and flowers for the restaurant.
“She’s a pretty big game changer on the menu,” said Cavanaugh. “We’ve been working with her for two years, so she has a really good feel for our needs.”
Starting in June, JJJ will procure its heritage pork from Pecan Meadow Farms of Cumberland County, which also provides the restaurant ducks and guinea hens. The farm is one of few to raise open-air birds, which can be found enjoying the pond any day.
A lot of emphasis has been put on healthier eating. Many local restaurants are building relationships with local farmers and growers, ensuring that the ingredients used in daily dishes are fresher.
Developing a rapport with local producers also allows restaurateurs to be more aware of the conditions of the farm where the product is produced. Furthermore, it cuts down on the food chain; there is a more direct link.
The concept is also important because it keeps more money in the community. The cost from local producers may be a little higher for some items than from a chain store, but the items for consumption haven’t spent time at a processing plant, warehouse, or in a shipping truck.
On average, people eat out about five times a week. Shouldn’t you be thinking more about where your food is coming from and not just about how nice it looks on a plate? BW