There’s a fabulous Italian restaurant a few towns over from me, Tutti Toscani, that grows a lot of the vegetables and herbs used in their dishes in beds right around the outside patio of their strip mall location. I didn’t know about the gardens before my first visit last spring. By the end of my first meal there I was exchanging business cards with the manager, Anna Maria, and forming a blog post in my head. By the end of my second visit to the restaurant, Anna Maria was cutting herbs from the garden to send home with me and treating my family like we were faithful regulars.

The New York Times  recently did a piece on three other New Jersey restaurants that grow their own — some on the restaurant premises and some in their own (or their grandmother’s) backyards. 

Why are busy owners and chefs taking the time to grow their own food when they could easily have it delivered? Well, why do so many people have backyard gardens when they could easily get food from the grocery store? The reasons are very similar.

  • The freshest of foods – Stanley Novack, owner of the Harvest Moon Inn in Ringoes, “picks arugula just minutes before dressing it” and tosses “just-picked sugar snap peas with house-made fettuccine.”
  • Cost-cutting – In the piece, Novack comments that produce, like heirloom tomatoes, can cost more than the protein that’s going on the plate. Robert Minniti, owner of Bacio Italian Cuisine in Cinnaminson, says he saves $2,000 each summer just in fresh herbs.
  • Innovation - Corey Heyer, executive chef of the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville, says that as he and his cooks are out in the garden planting, weeding and harvesting, they come up with menu ideas.
  • Control over chemicals and fertilizers – In Minniti’s three backyard gardens that supply his produce — one in his backyard, one his in grandmother’s and one in his aunt and uncle’s — he’s able to control the growing process and stay away from chemicals and synthetic fertilizers.
One of the benefits that the NYT piece doesn’t mention is the patron appeal. Knowing that a restaurant grows a lot of its own food in the summer is something that will keep many customers coming back – as long as the food is good, too. The food at Tutti Toscani is excellent, but I’m in an area that has many excellent Italian restaurants. The gardens surrounding the patio add the extra appeal for me, and others like me that appreciate fresh and local, that will keep me coming back.

Do you have a favorite restaurant that grows some of it’s own food, either on premises or nearby? Show them a little love and leave the name of the restaurant and a link to its website in the comments, please.

  

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