When you think of dining out, you probably don’t think of a farm. The juxtaposition is striking – white tablecloths, the din of the kitchen, mood lighting, and the laughter of patrons, versus bucolic settings, earthy smells, and the braying of livestock. But if you’re eating right – perhaps even righteous – the two divergent scenes should have a close-knit relationship.
Farm-to-table at its most basic means producing food nearby and providing it to local diners, with an emphasis on freshness, sustainability, and oftentimes organic farming. It’s not a new concept, but given its common ground with local food initiatives and the community-supported agriculture (CSA) movement, it has gained significant traction of late, both nationwide and here in Columbus. Newer eateries that incorporate variations on farm-to-table, like The Crest Gastropub, The Table, and Angry Bear Kitchen, have joined the ranks of established restaurants like Café Bella, Black Creek Bistro, Alana’s Food and Wine, Northstar Café, Skillet, and Rigsby’s Kitchen, among others.
“Farm-to-table means [ingredients] sourced from farms within the area, where the provenance is known and can be tracked,” said Todd Mills, owner of the soon-to-open Acre: Farm-to-Table To-Go, the newest restaurant in the agriculture-conscious fold. “When you source stuff locally, and you put an emphasis on quality and freshness, you get great flavors from the actual produce so you don’t have to rely as much on salts and sugars and fats.”
In practice, farm-to-table restaurants vary greatly in what they deem as “local” or “seasonal,” or how much emphasis they place on the number of dishes or ingredients from area farms. Some restaurants may source from anywhere in the Midwest, or only in Ohio, or even just Central Ohio in some cases. Places like The Crest include gardens onsite; Café Bella has in-house aquaculture; the award-winning Blue Hills at Stone Barns in New York makes its home on a farm.
Traditionally, farm-to-table has experienced the most success in midscale and upscale restaurants, but Mills aims to change that with Acre, a fast food concept that focuses on healthy, affordable, local food that’s more accessible to the general public. Opening this fall in the former Talita’s space in Clintonville, the quick-stop joint will even attempt to provide meals via the preexisting drive-thru.
“I realized that a lot of people want to eat well, and they wanna support the Central Ohio food system. They want to be buying from local farmers,” Mills said. “My hope is that this provides an outlet for folks who are trying to make good decisions about food.”
Acre’s menu will feature entrée bowls, salads, tacos, and wraps that infuse globally inspired dishes with fresh Ohio ingredients. Mills will compete with traditional fast food by charging $5.50 to $8.75 for most meals, and if the restaurant is successful, the farm-to-table movement will have access to a new demographic of consumers, and perhaps a new legion of locavore believers..
To illustrate the direct relationship between cuisine and local agriculture in a farm-to-table restaurant, Mills shared the ingredients for two of Acre’s dishes along with corresponding local suppliers.
Mexican Molé Tacos with Braised Ohio Pork
• Corn tortillas (Koki’s Tortillas, Columbus)
• Chopped, spiced, and seared cider-braised pork shoulder (Bluescreek Farm Meats, Columbus)
• Rich homemade molé sauce with dried peppers, peanuts, dark chocolate, and spices
• Finished with quick-pickled cabbage (Great River Farms, a CSA collaboration of eight farms in Central Ohio), green onion, and crumbled feta cheese
Kale Caesar Salad with Focaccia Croutons and Grilled Ohio Chicken
• Blend of Ohio-grown, organic lacinato kale and green kale (Great River Farms)
• Topped with chopped, grilled chicken thighs (Brown Brothers Farms, Paris, OH) in a blend of spices
• Toasted focaccia croutons (Lucky Cat Bakery, Pataskala) tossed in olive oil, parsley, and red pepper flakes
• House-made Caesar dressing with capers, shredded parmesan cheese, Dijon mustard, and organic lemon juice