It doesn't take a marketing expert to know that local food continued its upward trajectory in 2011. As Ecocentric looked back at last year, we couldn't help but think back on some of our favorite sustainable restaurants across the country, so we put together a list. We've included some of our favorites here in New York City, and we also did a little informal polling of our friends. The criteria for inclusion in our list mirror the standards we use in our Eat Well Guide -- a firm commitment to using locally sourced, sustainably produced food (and you can find more info on all of these sustainable businesses and more in the Guide). Without further ado, here are our favorite sustainable restaurants of 2011.
There are tons of New American and soul food restaurants - and we love them, but it's exciting to see farm fresh ingredients used in more exotic fare.
Ngon, St. Paul, MN Jim Harkness, President of IATP told us about a Vietnamese restaurant owned by locals, "Ngon is very cool, and very St Paul. It's a Vietnamese restaurant (owned by locals: St Paul has a very large Indochinese community and was serving kickass SE Asian food long before New Yorkers started mispronouncing pho.) with a strong commitment to local sourcing, and a great, all-MN beer list. (Fortunately, their wine list is more cosmopolitan.)"
Buttermilk Channel, Brooklyn NY Buttermilk Channel is nostalgically named for the time when the tidal strait between Brooklyn and Governor's Island was used by dairy farmers to bring their milk into the city, which some say was churned into butter when it was taken across the choppy channel. It has become well-known for southern farm-to-table delights like buttermilk fried chicken and cheddar waffles. Ecocentric blogger Jennifer Bunin says, "Buttermilk Channel is my go-to place for a classy meal with a down-home feel. The fare is an innovative take on soul food and, best of all, they have a separate and extensive vegetarian menu that, just like the other menus, changes seasonally. It's perfect for dates, because while Buttermilk Channel enjoyably lacks pretension, the food is delicious and exhibits the transparency locavores are drawn to."
Husk, Charleston, SC A college friend sent me a note about Husk in Charleston South Carolina, which has the by far the most impressive list of suppliers I have seen in my four years of working at Eat Well Guide.
Bamboo Sushi, Portland, OR Caroline Silver, a former Eat Well Guide intern now working with Mercy Corps, told us about Bamboo Sushi in Portland, Oregon. They are the only certified sustainable sushi restaurant in the world. All of the fish comes from sustainable populations. In addition, their meat is all grass-fed and comes from local ranches in Oregon and Idaho.
American Flatbread, Waitsfield, VT Dan Stein, a Sustainable Table Facebook fan, wrote to us about American Flatbread. "Hands down, one of the MOST sustainable restaurants in the country is (American Flatbread), located in Waitsfield, VT. I believe 70% of their food is sourced locally, if not directly from the farmer. They have their own farm on the land, with solar panels and compost piles, etc."
Elevation Burger (locations across US) Local, sustainable restaurants have a reputation for being expensive, which is well-earned by some higher and mid-end joints, but there are lots of down-home eateries, too. Elevation Burger was submitted to us via Twitter after we wrote about Sustainable Burger joints here. The chain has locations across the US and is quite affordable.
Green Truck, San Diego & Los Angeles, CA Sustainable food trucks are popping up all over the country, and we were thrilled to add this trendy new category to Eat Well Guide. We are recent fans of the strict certified organic ingredients in burgers, salads, wraps and more from the Green Truck in San Diego and Los Angeles.
Sweet Stem Farm would like to nominate John J. Jeffries of Lancaster, PA as the Best Sustainable Restaurant of the Year. We can say first hand that John J. Jeffries has made sustainability its true mission. Not only do they buy their produce locally, they also purchase meat locally and sustainably - which seems to be much more difficult for many restaurants. John J. Jeffries purchases pork from our farm, and what is really impressive is how they make use of the whole animal. Not a single part of the pig goes to waste.
For a livestock farm, it is extremely important to find a home for all the parts of an animal...even some of those less popular cuts. Having a restaurant like John J. Jeffries consistently buying whole animals from our farm is not only beneficial to our business, but their nose-to-tail philosophy is inspiring and beneficial to the community and a mindset which we should all follow!
We received so many great recommendations from our foodie colleagues. Here is the remainder of that list, organized geographically:
Scottish Bakehouse, MA Ali Berlow, editor of Edible Vineyard told us about an affordable locally minded restaurant on Martha's Vineyard (yes it exists!): "I suggest the Scottish Bakehouse. Daniele Dominick has worked with farmers the whole way and has developed strong community relationships and great menu items because of it. It's essentially a take-out. Price-points are really reasonable for anywhere (not just the Vineyard). She's introduced Brazilian menu items and included the Brazilian immigrant population. Great gluten-free baked goods and the best local egg sandwich. She buys local meat and chicken and makes it work in an affordable way. And you can get a lamb burger at 7am if you want."
The Farmhouse, Burlington, VT Greg Plotkin, from American Farmland Trust said, "There are obviously lots of good ones, but best story is the Farmhouse in Burlington, VT. The city actually ran a McDonalds out of the space and replaced it with a farm-to-table restaurant. Beautiful space and great food/drink."
Fore Street, Portland, ME Megan Saynisch of Brooklyn Farmhouse says, "I love Fore Street in Portland, Maine -- Farm to table-y AND sea to table to boot - Maine is the bomb." Just a note: the lovely carrot photo shown above was taken at Fore Street by FoodieMommy.
Le Farm, Westport, CT Sherri Brooks Vinton, author of the Real Food Revival, keyed us into a restaurant with its growers prominently and proudly listed on their site. "We have an off-the-charts local/seasonal restaurant here in CT called Le Farm in Westport. Bill Taibe is the chef. It is warm, cozy, relaxed and the food is absolutely mind-blowing."
Van Leeuwen, New York, NY One of my favorites - Van Leeuwen - is an ice cream truck that parks in various locations in New York City and uses locally sourced dairy to create many delicious flavors. My personal favorite is peppermint and chip which uses organic peppermint from Oregon and organic dark chocolate.
Sun in Bloom , Brooklyn, NY My first time at Sun in Bloom was a recent crisp autumn morning en route to the office. I was greeted by the owner and promptly handed a pumpkin muffin fresh out of the oven. It proved to be a warm, seasonal treat that was the perfect start to my day. I've become fond of another notable specialty: the sprouted vegan burger. I would choose it over a burger any day. Well, maybe. I dig this unassuming vegan bakery for the transparency with which they disclose their ingredients and the innovative ways to they've found to replace dairy in delicious muffins, breads, sandwiches and more.
Vimala's Curryblossom Café, Chapel Hill, North Carolina Allison Bland, a friend of mine, sent a glowing recommendation for Vimala's Curryblossom Café in Chapel Hill. Vimala uses produce and meat from local family farms ingredients to create tasty Indian dishes.
Grano, Baltimore, MD Ecocentric editor Leslie Hatfield spent a two-year stint in Baltimore and has a soft spot for the Charm City's Grano. "I've never even been to the flagship restaurant, only to the adorably tiny and authentic Pasta Bar. The sauces are incredible and I was so excited to find meatballs from pasture-raised beef. It's been two years since I've been there and my mouth is watering just thinking about it."
Soupergirl, Washington, DC Facebook fan Danielle Tergis keyed us in to budget-friendly locale in the capital area, "Check out Soupergirl. Sources from local farmers, very eco-savvy."
Motley Cow, Iowa City, IA Wendy Wasserman of USDA tells us "When it comes to Iowa City I'm a bigger fan of the Mötley Cow. Creative menu, open space and do so much locally sourced food for so long that they can't keep track anymore. They have great relations with the local farmers, especially the small guys, and they do their food gracefully and with respect."
Greenhouse Tavern, Cleveland, OH Meredith Modzelewski of Brooklyn, NY says: "Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland! They source locally and sustainably, plus they have a rooftop garden. They have great relationships with local farmers and incredible food. The chef Jonathon Sawyer has been recognized by Food & Wine and I believe James Beard."
Nelle's, Paonia, CO Stephanie Ogburn from High Country News said, "In Paonia (the middle of nowhere, Colorado), we have a little burrito place in town called Nelle's. It is so awesome and delicious and they buy quite a bit of their stuff from local farmers. It's a great hangout, too, and the walls are posted over with happenings in local entertainment and politics, so it's a good place to get your news too, and catch up with neighbors."
Biga Pizza, Missoula, MT My sister Shannon, a former resident of Missoula, Montana, tells us, "Biga Pizza has the best artisan pizza in Montana. With such pizzas as flathead cherry pizza (with local flathead cherries from one hour away) and sweet potato, bacon and maple chipotle (in the fall and winter of course!) how can you go wrong? The prices are pretty unbeatable as well."
The Sidecar Restaurant, Ventura, CA : Rose Hayden-Smith of Santa Barbara, CA said, "One place that is wonderful is The Sidecar Restaurant, housed in a 1910 Pullman dining car that somehow ended up in my neighborhood. They source locally and utilize things from their own garden. Chef Tim Kilcoyne is creative and keeps things fresh and fun. It's an unexpected treasure in midtown Ventura, behind a carwash and on the old Ventura Highway (U.S. 101), where the motor lodges now house those with marginal housing opportunities in this expensive seaside town. An up and comer in a transitional neighborhood."
Flea Street Café, Menlo Park, CA : California native and fellow Ecocentric blogger Dawn Brighid,shared with me one of her favorite spots in the bay area, Flea Street Café. "Being in Menlo Park, California makes sourcing seasonally and locally easier than in some areas, but Flea St. Café also makes it more delicious than most! I have never been disappointed eating at this off-the-beaten-path and cozy restaurant - and the service is impeccable, but in a really down to earth and friendly way. They have always sourced not only the food, but also the wine regionally and sustainably. Being a vegetarian has never been a problem there either; they always have a vegetarian tasting entrée that is out of this world. I love it here!"
Peter Lowell's, Sebastopol, CA Leslie Hatfield dished her NorCal favorite: "I was in Sonoma County last fall and good food advocate Naomi Starkman (who wrote about it for the San Francisco Chronicle) took me to Peter Lowell's, where the service is casual but attentive, the food is 'hyperlocal' and the cheese plate will blow your mind."
Our Eat Well Guide lists thousands of restaurants like those featured here -- with a commitment to locally sourced, sustainably produced food -- so we know we're sure to have missed some of your favorites. Don't be shy -- share them with us in the comments section!