| 2014 Q2 | story by SALLY ZOGRY | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
You might not think of the heart of the city when you think about local agriculture, but local products are on display here year round, especially during peak growing season. Many Downtown restaurants feature locally produced ingredients on their menus, and their number is growing as more area farmers increase their offerings to meet the demand for fresh, local food.
Pachamamas (800 New Hampshire) and its chef/owner Ken Baker has been on the forefront of the local food trend since they opened in the late 1990’s. Co- owners Michael Beard and Matt Hyde of 715 Restaurant (715 Mass.) have worked with over 30 local purveyors, not just for meat, dairy, and produce, but also for coffee, bread, and beer since they opened. While these two mainstays of Downtown dining have promoted the importance of local food connections, there are several other restaurants, some new to the neighborhood, which are also part of this movement.
In recent years the local foods and farm to table concept has become more popular, and Kate and Rafael Gonzalez have adhered to this since opening Global Cafe (820 Mass.) in 2007. They have always included as many local ingredients as possible on their extensive breakfast and lunch menus. Kate and Rafael have made supporting and sustaining the local economy a priority and feel it completes the loop. “We buy from local farmers and they come and eat here. We’re all supporting each other. It just makes sense,” says Kate.
Global Cafe presently works with 14 local purveyors, for vegetables, dairy, eggs, meats, tofu, bread, and coffee, and Kate makes all of the sweets herself. She grew up preparing and eating homegrown food on a farm outside of Tonganoxie and is passing that tradition on to their two daughters. Another reason for keeping things as local as possible is that it’s good for business. As Rafael explains, “we can get better, fresher, and healthier food and it shows in our dishes and our customers’ reviews. We have people tell us that our eggs are the best they’ve ever eaten. We love working with these farmers and seeing what they will bring us each season.”
TK and Emily Peterson of Merchant Pub + Plate (746 Mass.) have been getting rave reviews for their 30 craft beers on tap since opening in September 2013. Their menu features items from 20 different local purveyors. Providing the best, freshest food while supporting the local community is of paramount importance to them. Emily puts it simply, “we want to support Lawrence and the surrounding area. We love it and want to impact it. If we can support local vendors, we can support the larger community.”
The Petersons even help their purveyors expand their businesses. They work with several farmers who grow and raise products especially for Merchants. Hundred Acre Farm in Ozwakie is growing San Marzano tomatoes for the panzanella salad on the summer menu and Sweetlove Farm in Oskaloosa raises￼￼chickens and eggs just for Merchants. Emily explains “more and more new producers are coming in, starting relationships with us, and gaining traction for their business. It’s exciting to see the industry grow and see that consumers are more interested in where their food comes from. We love the customer reactions to the map on the back of our menu that shows where everything is grown.”
Another newcomer to Downtown Lawrence is Ramen Bowls (125. E. 10th St.) Owners Shantel & Tim Grace returned to their Kansas roots from Hawaii last year and decided to open the state’s first ramen restaurant. While they fly their specialty noodles in from Hawaii, they use local ingredients in their dishes as well. Mushrooms from Wakarusa Valley Farms are a big hit on their menu. Shantel explains why they work with this farm. “Last week my husband and I went to Kansas City to pick up supplies from Restaurant Depot. We saw a new shipment of shiitake mushrooms, so I grabbed a big box just in case our order from Wakarusa wouldn’t get us through Mother’s Day weekend. Later that day, I opened the box and stared down at this sad bunch of mushrooms. They were tired, dead looking, and I thought to myself, ‘these guys are begging me to throw them in the sauté pan and just get it over with.’ That’s the difference between local, farm- raised produce and the stuff we buy in bulk from a distributor. When we sauté a handful of mushrooms from Wakarusa, the mushrooms do a little dance—they bounce around the pan as if to say, ‘pour some butter and garlic on me and dress me up for dinner!’ And flavor…there’s no comparison.”
What Shantel really likes best about working with local farms is that it’s a reciprocal relationship. They buy from local farms and the farmers eat dinner at Ramen Bowls. The farmers provide them with fresh ingredients as well as education about the products, and they provide them with veggie ramen (with extra tofu). “See what I mean? This cooperative exchange is what makes the local food scene in Lawrence so special. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”