Howard Co. Restaurant Weeks Drum Up Interest for Local Food
Columbia eateries are flocking to farms for food.
Many Howard County independent restaurants said they have embraced using fresh, top-notch ingredients from nearby farms—not just for the Restaurant Week promotion going on until Aug. 8—but as much as possible throughout the year.
And, judging by this year's Howard County Restaurant Weeks, diners are feasting with gusto.
“Monday was the busiest day we’ve had so far in July,” said Rachael Mull, an owner of Victoria Gastro Pub. “People were taking photos of their entrees and posting it on Facebook.”
All items on the restaurant’s special prix fixe menu of $19 two-course lunches and $29 three-course dinners were created especially for the Howard County Tourism and Promotion’s event that started Monday.
All 23 county restaurants participating in Restaurant Weeks were asked to purchase “locally sourced” products from within a 50-mile radius of the county, said Amanda Hof, in charge of the event for Howard County Tourism & Promotion.
At Victoria Gastro Pub, a pulled pork lunch sandwich, for example, is served with “Boyer Farms peach barbeque,” and a dinner appetizer uses heirloom tomatoes from the pub’s own gardens in western Howard County.
Mull said Executive Chef Joe Krywucki also orders produce from local vendors once or twice a week.
On 52 acres, Boyer Farms grows a variety of fruits and vegetables and is well-known for its 20 peach varieties on 2,500 trees, which are available through mid-September.
“People like farm-fresh and are more health-oriented these days,” said Brenda Boyer-Gibson, who owns and runs the farm with an extended family, with ownership dating to the 1840s.
Other county restaurants such as Aida Bistro and Wine Bar and The King’s Contrivance are regular clients of Gorman Farm, said Dave Liker, who, with wife Lydia and brother Mark Moreau, grow mostly vegetables on 15 of 58 leased acres.
Although the bulk of the farm’s business is subscription produce sales, Liker said, “Howard County restaurants are wonderful to deal with.”
But he would like to add more.
“It’s been a 'hard sell' to restaurants, he said.
Yet once chefs come and see the farm, they are “amazed” at the quantity and quality of the farm’s 40-plus kinds of veggies.
Chef Sugunya Lunz, of The King’s Contrivance, has worked at the stately, high-end restaurant for 28 years, and recently started buying her produce from Gorman Farm.
An eggplant parmesan with three cheeses and a tomato-basil salad is on the restaurant’s $20.11 prix fixe lunch menu as an appetizer, all crafted from local ingredients, Lunz said.
“Fresh produce tastes earthy and you can tell the difference between farm fresh and what you get from ordinary good suppliers,” she said. “I always try to get local when I can,” she said, also citing Bowling Green Farm in Sykesville as her chief source for feta and other cheeses.
Aida Bistro is offering one of the largest farm-to-table menus during the promotion, but it’s partly because co-owner Joe Barbera helped launch the special event and is president of the county tourism board.
Barbera said he believes the event is a “terrific opportunity” for locavores, seeking “creative prix fixe menus” with products from nearby farms.
The bistro’s $38.11 (the eleven cents is for the year 2011) prix fixe dinner selections not only list specialty ingredients, but where they come from, such as “Tempura Squash Blossoms (Larriland Farm & Gorman Farm).”
Executive chef Sean Riggs insists on using local ingredients whenever possible and said he “goes to farms almost every day to buy produce.”
Staff at Aida buy by the caseload, according to Liker, and that’s usually after “lots of texting back and forth from Sean, asking what’s available and when.”
“Farm-to-table is not something we just for two weeks in the summer,” Riggs said. “It’s all summer long. People respond well to the idea, because the ingredients are so fresh and it supports local agriculture.”
Second Chance Saloon has also connected with the effort.
Its $10.11 house special burger lunch is paired with Baltimore-brewed Heavy Seas Pale Ale, while a Maryland Boordy Vineyards Riesling is included with a chicken pasta dish for $15.11.
“We always carry Maryland beers,” owner Declan Wood said. “And we noticed that ‘restaurant weeks’ helps generate business.”