Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bona Terra

There have been a couple of articles lately about restaurants that are pledging to use local produce. For example, there's Chipotle, the fast-food Mexican restaurant, which will, "This summer. . . purchas[e] 25 percent of at least one produce item for each of its stores from small and mid-sized farms located within about 200 miles. Those purchases could include lettuce, onions and peppers" for their 730 restaurants. They have to source from farms of 500 acres or more, they say, though, because "tiny" suppliers are too unreliable.

Also, Eat N' Park has been buying local produce for years, and pledges to use 15% local produce. And there's now a new non-profit group that's trying to organize the farm to restaurant/ grocery store distribution: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08175/891930-85.stm.

Fast food and mass markets are all well and good, and extremely important, but the really fun part is going to a fine dining establishment that uses local produce. I was lucky enough to go to the only one in Pittsburgh to be recognized by Gourmet Magazine as one of the best farm to table restaurants in the nation, Bona Terra in Sharpsburg. Here is the four star review from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette: http://www.post-gazette.com/dining/20031114dine1114fnp2.asp.

Many people write restaurant reviews in blogs and on websites, and you can easily find a ton on Bona Terra, which won Pittsburgh Magazine's best new restaurant in 2004 after it opened and continues to be on local best lists. I don't think I can do the genre justice. I would just like to say that the restaurant is in a very unassuming location, next to the St. Vincent dePaul thrift shop and across from Jocko's Pub. And its decor is likewise unassuming. Its prices assume a more consumptive clientele, but the menu, which supposedly changes daily, reflects an appreciation for using local, in-season produce. Almost each menu item mentioned something which came from a local source from the Firefly Farms goat cheese, through the local pork, and on into the local kale. Strawberry sauce figured into one dessert I heard about and strawberry vinaigrette was part of the salad menu as well. Honestly I expected a little bit more from local souces, thinking that all of the produce would be local, but it was not. However, many, many items were. So, if it's your anniversary or something and Uncle George has sent you some money, you might want to splurge on a local restaurant that supports our local farms.

Other upscale restaurants that serve the best possible food, that is food that is freshly produced locally, include Casbah, Lydia's, Cafe at the Frick, Six Penn Kitchen, Legume, and Ubuu 6.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Strawberry Festivals

Sorry I've been away for a while. Taking a full-time job for the first time in eight years will do that to you. Anyway, school's out and so are the strawberries.

Yesterday, after being inspired by the food section of the PPG about local strawberries, the kids (ages 7, 5 & 3) and I headed to Triple B Farm in Monogahela to pick our own. There were plenty of big, juicy strawberries, but there also were plenty of people arriving in a steady stream. "Pick your own" hours were 9-2, including a hay ride out to the strawberry field. Call for updated information about hours (724) 258-3557. If you bring your own containers, you can get a discount. They have some there if you don't have any. I can't tell you exactly how much the strawberries were, but your containers will be weighed and then you pay by the pound. They take credit cards. Our totals were confounded by our buying of fudge, pickles, cookies and "Pop's pop" at the Triple B farm store. Then we sat in the shade on their porch swing eating our goodies. Afterwards, the kids played on the playground (my 3 year old could sit on the tractor all day) and checked out the four-legged animals. I think they were mules, or perhaps they were ponies. I'm not sure.

And tomorrow and Sunday they will be having a strawberry festival. We went there for the pumpkin festival in the fall and it was crazy busy. I imagine unless it is pouring rain (which it is supposed to), it will be the same Kennywood-like atmosphere. Other places are having strawberry festivals tomorrow including Soergel's in Wexford and Trax Farms . Still more places have "pick our own" hours including Janoski's Farm (out by the airport) and Paskorz Berry Farm in Cheswick. We went there last year. The berries were teeny-tiny, but the propieter blamed that on the lack of rain last year. There are no facilities there. It is a straight-up farm -- note the lack of website.
And of course, after we picked about 15 pounds of berries (thanks to my industrious seven-year-old) we got two more quarts in our CSA from Harvest Valley Farms. So, I decided to freeze two trays worth to make jam, ice cream or sorbet as soon as I have a little time.
You can get fresh-picked local strawberries from just about any farm store right now, I imagine. Let the tasteless California ones rot at Giant Eagle and enjoy a sweet/ tart juicy bit of heaven today.