Many restaurants claim to offer fresh food. But what exactly is on your plate?
Some establishments around Severna Park take the farm-to-table concept seriously.
Cafe Mezzanotte owner Kosmas “Tommie” Koukoulis used to peruse farmers markets, searching for ingredients. He has built enough connections that he now has a network of growers and purveyors.
His preference is to work with farmers that are certified organic, without genetically modified organisms or GMOs.
“I’m getting a non-GMO, cleaner product,” he said. “I can assume it’s been raised in a healthier manner. The grower cares a little more.”
For vegetables, he tries to stay within a 100-mile radius to buy local as much as possible. That radius includes Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For meat, Cafe Mezzanotte wants products from animals that are grass-fed.
One of Koukoulis’ business partners is Green View Hydroponics, a Queen Anne’s County family farm that opened in April 2022. Green View Hydroponics grows lettuce, greens and herbs in a 24,000-square-foot greenhouse.
Hydroponics is a soil-free growing method that utilizes less water, energy and fertilizer than field-grown crops. Also, with lettuce being grown indoors, it is not exposed to outdoor conditions like weather and pests.
“As the water flows, it goes back to a tank … and we’re able to recycle that water,” said Alan Eck, who grew up as a grain farmer and a livestock farmer on the Eastern Shore before Green View Hydroponics opened. “In the greenhouse, we’re able to control the temperature so lettuce grows in optimal stages.”
Garten owners Jeremy and Michelle Hoffman have their own garden onsite for growing culinary herbs. Jeremy said it’s Michelle’s passion project to grow basil, sage, sorrel, thyme and edible flowers that can be incorporated into menu offerings.
The Hoffmans are also particular about finding local partners. Some of their food and beverages come from Chesapeake Smokehouse (Annapolis), Binkert's German Meat Products (Baltimore), Lyon Bakery (Hyattsville) and Pherm Brewing (Gambrills).
“The most important thing is that the product is spectacular,” Jeremy said. “We are very fortunate to have so many local businesses providing the restaurants with beautiful sausages, bread, smoked salmon and beer.”
Another couple, Steve and Janet Sumner from Founders Tavern & Grille in Pasadena, also grows their own herbs. Their bar menu features a strawberry basil gin drink, and they are growing lavender for a gin sour that patrons can enjoy starting in June.
On the kitchen side, the Founders staff purees their own watermelon, and makes their own bread and apple pie crust in-house.
“For us, when you buy seasonal ingredients, you are getting fresh ingredients,” Steve said. “It definitely comes through on the plate. You don’t have to doctor everything.”
While buying locally is great for the quality, it is not always easy, Koukoulis said. It’s often quicker to buy from a conventional produce company, and their available produce is more predictable. Despite those challenges, the benefits are worth it and Koukoulis tries to make the partnership work for both sides.
“It’s not just buying what you need; it’s buying what they have,” Koukoulis said. “If I only want 60 heads of romaine lettuce but they need to sell 100, I am going to try to come up with a special to use all that lettuce so I can help them out.”
None of the restaurant owners claim to be completely local or seasonal, but it is a priority. If local is not an option, regional ingredients like North Carolina strawberries and Georgia tomatoes are ordered. Diehl’s Produce in Severna Park offers some of that produce to Anne Arundel County businesses.
“They say 75% of the taste of any dish comes from the ingredients, independent of who prepares it,” Koukoulis said. “With ingredients that are much fresher comes more nutrients and flavor.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here