While in NC, we took a little day trip to Asheville, and also spent an evening at the Biltmore for their Candlelight Christmas event. The Biltmore is an old Vanderbilt mansion (the Vanderbilts had a lot of money), actually the largest private residence in America, and is extravagant, to put it mildly. We visited a few years ago when we were in Asheville, but wanted to head back when everything’s all nice and lit up for the holidays. Of course, I couldn’t take pictures inside the house (there are some on the website), but I got a few outside – any assumptions you make based on looking at the exterior are probably accurate 🙂
In many areas of the country, there are regular produce auctions that enable growers and buyers to meet in a pretty informal setting. We’re just about in the middle of Amish country, and there are lots of traditional farmers in the area. In Geauga county, there’s an auction in Middlefield three days a week (twice weekly in October), and I finally went to my first one last week. It’s a pretty neat place, but unless you own a store or restaurant, you’ll probably need to go in on things with multiple people, or get really busy canning, because most of the lots are large quantities, like 200 pie pumpkins, 24 bushels of tomatoes, or 48 head of cabbage. They do have some smaller lots, but even the small are pretty large for one person or family. I was mostly an observer for this one, but did end up with about 60 lbs of potatoes (the smallest potato lot they had there). Right now, obviously, they’re very heavy on squash and other standard fall fare, but I’d like to go during different seasons to see what’s available. Of course, buying in bulk and direct from the grower yields some pretty good deals, but again, definitely for multiple people. If there’s one around you, I’d check it out sometime, if for no other reason than the experience.
Several weeks ago, S and I had the opportunity for a pretty unique dining experience, one that’s popping up around the country. Spice of Life Catering, who put this one on, calls it a plated landscape (I’ve heard it called different things by different people), but it’s basically a meal held at a farm, and dinner consists mostly of food from that farm. So, just like picking some stuff from my garden and brining it in for dinner, just a lot fancier. My food, I mean.
They do maybe eight or ten of these throughout the summer at various local spots, and this one was held at Valley Ridge Farm in Hunting Valley. Affiliated with Case Western Reserve University, this is one of two adjoining farms that were donated to the college years ago. Several classes and programs are held here, and they recently started providing some of the food that they grow for the campus’ dining services. Before dinner, we were given a tour by the farm’s director, Ana, who (along with her husband, Ivan) was very gracious and welcoming. The farms are open to the public, and since we didn’t have a ton of time to explore, we do plan on going back again sometime to look around some more.
The five-course meal is cooked on-site, and, as expected, was fresh and delicious (two of C’s favorite words right now). We started with a creamy sweet corn soup, followed by a mixed greens salad with fresh tomatoes and a nice goat cheese. The heartier dishes consisted of a grilled chicken thigh and ratatouille, then a pork tenderloin, sausage, Swiss chard, and potato salad. Dessert was a paw paw custard and shortbread cookie. Without getting into too much detail, everything was outstanding – no complaints about the food whatsoever. There was also a glass of wine served with each course, so it’s a good thing one of us was pregnant and unable to imbibe anything… Now for some pictures.
This was a totally cool experience. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it for a special treat.
We’ve got quite the backlog of pictures around here, which means I need to start posting more… Labor Day weekend means the Air Show (with the Navy Blue Angels) is in town, so we went down last Sunday for a couple hours to give C some excitement. Actually, daddy was probably more excited, but C enjoyed it too 🙂 We sat right on the water over by the Rock Hall and Science Center, so we had a pretty nice view of everything as they flew right overhead.
So many places to eat, so few date nights…
We managed to get out again last weekend and visited The Greenhouse Tavern, a relatively new spot downtown on E 4th. One of the things that originally attracted us was chef/owner Jonathon Sawyer’s dedication to sustainability. He epitomizes the slow food, farm-to-table movement, and also had Greenhouse certified as the first green restaurant in Ohio. Of course, while all of this is great, the key to success is having good food. And oh, is it ever.
The menu is divided up by relative size, and the meal is designed as a series of smallish (sometimes) courses. It tends towards a French-American style with a twist, but there’s plenty here to meet anyone’s taste, including several vegan/vegetarian options.
For starters, we ordered the Warm Bread and Butter Board, which was just that – a variety of breads and crackers served with (on this night) six different buttery spreads, including beet, lemon-honey-mint, beef, tomato-basil, vanilla, and a citrusy ricotta-style. Each was unique and really offered a great new take on the typical bread and butter that’s served before most meals.
The next plate was Corn Carbonara, consisting of local sweet corn, pancetta, sheep’s milk cheese, black pepper, and bread crumbs. The pepper was quite noticeable, and there was also a hint of something else, maybe caraway? The pancetta was nice and chunky, and the contrasting textures of crunchy top/creamy center is always pleasant. Think of this as a very grown-up take on mac and cheese.
S opted for something lighter for her main course (good idea), and went with a fantastic Tomato Quinotto Summer Stew – quinoa, barley, millet, fresh tomatoes, tomato nettles (never heard of them), and garlic scapes. Very fresh, very tomatoey, and just a great summer night stew, also serving as a nice counter to my dish.
Speaking of my dish… the highlight of the evening, and not just for me. One of their signature dishes is the Roasted Pig Head. Sounds pretty crazy, and I guess it kind of is just for the shock value, but it really just ends up as pulled pork from a different part of the pig. It’s served with a tangy-spicy barbecue sauce, raw veggie salad, and a couple superb brioche buns. It’s only a half head, and the brain, eye, and tongue are removed, so it’s not that crazy, but it’s still a big piece of pig, served, literally, on a silver platter. The head is a pretty fatty cut, but there was still a lot of meat, and all of it completely fall-apart, melt-in-your-mouth tender. On such a beautiful night, we were sitting outside, right up against the main thoroughfare through the alley. As a result, my dinner elicited many stares and comments until I was able to deconstruct it enough that it didn’t look like a head. It was kind of amusing to be eating, then get to the jaws and have a mouth full of teeth smiling at me…
We also had one more course (admittedly, we probably overdid it, but everything sounded so good), some lovely pommes frites, topped with bacon (chunks again), two fried eggs, whole grain mustard, mozzarella cheese curds, and brown gravy. Seasoned nicely, but a bit heavy following so much pork. Most of this one was brought home for lunch the next day.
Finally, for dessert, we tried the signature summer dish, kicked up a notch, with a S’more Torte – smoked chocolate cake with chocolate caramel, graham cracker, and chilled marshmallow, all of it made in-house. The essence of the campfire s’more was there, but with so much more depth. Just try it.
The verdict: Greenhouse Tavern receives 6 1/4 stars out of seven. The food was superb, even though we did get a bit carried away, service was great (big thanks to our knowledgeable and pleasant server Jody), and prices were reasonable (though there are a few splurges on the menu, like the $59 dry-aged rib steak). So yes, not only do they share many of the same values that we hold, the food also makes sure this is on the list of “Gotta get back to someday.”