The farm to table thing has metastasized from fetish to fad to flim-flam. What began as a foodie obsession with freshness and an anti-corporate ethos has become a marketing device for conventional restaurants whose idea of a farm is 500,000 chickens stacked in cages sitting on manure lagoon.
“Farmwashing” is now common with even fast food joints displaying photos of weather-beaten farmers toiling in their fields. Truth-be-told, most restaurants don’t have access to fresh ingredients throughout the year even if they’re intention is to source locally.
It’s hard to know when a restaurant’s claim to farm-to-table is genuine but it’s usually evident in the dish and in the frequency of their menu changes. If they have the same menu every week, they aren’t farm to table. My guess is that Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is mostly on the level with their locally-sourced food—the area is packed with small farms, many restaurants have their own gardens supplying produce, continually-changing, seasonal menus are the norm among the restaurants who advertise FTT, and the fresh flavors were explosive in most of the restaurants we sampled. Another indicator of their commitment to locavorism—lots of local wines on the menu.
Any discussion of local, sustainable sourcing in the Rogue Valley starts with Ashland’s Standing Stone Brewery. They raise their own beef and chickens from which they get their eggs, and which are fed leftovers from the kitchen and brewery. Most of the grain and hops used to make their excellent beer is locally sourced as well as is most of their produce when in season. Nearly 100% of their paper is recycled, 99% of their to-go packaging is plant-based and 64% of their by-products are reused by local farms and bio-diesel. Their goal is to reach zero-net energy use. The burgers from their own grass-fed beef is excellent and their beer line up among the best—try their Jasmine rice-based lager. It’s outstanding.
I have already blogged about New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro—an extraordinary dining experience with produce and herbs sourced from their own garden.
Lorella’s in Ashland has a constantly changing menu of exquisitely prepared, creatively designed Contemporary American dishes depending on what’s fresh that day. The Grilled Celtuce with Braised Frisee, French Lentils, Sauce Gribiche and Grilled Bread (picture above) was one of the more interesting dishes I’ve had this year.
Of the many fine dining restaurants in Ashland, Alchemy seemed to have the most creative and enticing menu and it didn’t disappoint. Seared duck breast with prickly pear gastrique, corn puree, charred nopales, and pistachio brittle was a stand out, as was the crab and sea bean salad.
If you want to take a break from wine tasting in this up and coming wine region, the burgers at Jasper’s Café are unusual. You can get burgers made from Kangaroo, bison, elk, Kobe beef, pulled pork on wild boar—you get the picture.
Even small towns in the area have interesting food. Grant’s Pass features The Haul, a well-priced gastropub advertising local ingredients and featuring an eclectic menu of pizza, pasta, sandwiches, tacos, falafel, etc. all designed and prepared with flare and enough creativity to set them apart.
And in Medford do not miss the holy trinity all on the same corner—the outstanding Rogue Valley creamery for some stinky cheese, Lillie Belle Farms Artisan Chocolates for such delights as chocolate covered bacon and smoky blue cheese truffle spread, all washed down with Ledger David’s great wines.
As I discussed in an earlier post, Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is soon to be on the wine map and they already have a thriving food scene to support it. If you’re into wine and food destinations put this on your itinerary.