September 1, 2010

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A Place at the Table

Head to Some Utah Restaurants for Fresh-from-the-Garden Fare

Heather Stewart

September 1, 2010

A veteran in the state’s restaurant industry, Brandt has witnessed the growing demand for regional foods. “My customers are extremely educated. They know what they want and are often very vocal about it.”

Many restaurants are now touting regional cuisine, and much of that is possible because of the increasing number of small farms and ranches that are producing food for local consumers.

“In the summer it’s really easy to go local,” he says. But restaurants must search farther afield—generally California—to get fresh produce in the winter. Sage’s Café also freezes produce like tomatoes and eggplant or makes preserves for winter use.

In 2007, Brandt launched two new ventures: Vertical Diner and Cali’s Natural Foods. Like Sage’s Café, Vertical Diner focuses on local, organic, vegetarian foods. And Cali’s was developed to support both Sage’s Café and the Vertical Diner.

Cali’s Natural Foods was originally intended to serve as extra storage and prep space for the two restaurants. It allowed Brandt to bring in large pallets of paper goods and commodities like organic flour. He used Cali’s to begin distributing to other businesses—and then in late 2009 he opened the store to retail customers.

“At Cali’s people can find the basics of a healthy, whole-foods diet,” he says, such as local fruit and vegetables, granola and other organic fare.

“We tell people to come check this food out—come see what is possible and available right here locally.”

An Inter-related Community
Communal Restaurant in Provo is a much newer entrant to the scene. Opened in mid-2009, the restaurant relies as much as possible on a network of local organic gardens and vendors.

For chef Colton Soelberg, fresh local foods are all about nutrition and flavor. “Tomatoes are a perfect example,” he says. “You can get them in the grocery store all year round. They are red and they are round—but no one will tell you they’re delicious.”

Soelberg and his partner Joseph McRae are also behind Pizzeria 712 in Provo, and both eateries experiment with seasonal, local flavors.

The seasonal nature of such food entails a lot of variation in the products they use, which Soelberg says forces them to stay creative and think—or cook—on their toes.

“Customers can always count on it being delicious, even if they can’t count on it being exactly the same,” he says of the two restaurants’ ever-evolving dishes. The sudden un-availability of a staple like lettuce can be difficult to explain to clients, but “part of our responsibility as restaurateurs is to educate the community,” he adds.

Visitors to Communal Restaurant will find roasted squash, pot roast, flatiron steak and other comfort foods. The Cobb Salad features lettuce and eggs from the Clifford Family Farms, tomatoes from Jacob’s Cove Heritage Farms, chicken from Heritage Valley Organics and pork from the Christiansen Family Farm.

“Everything on that dish is being sourced from local farms or local vendors,” says Soelberg.

The pair of chefs intend to open a network of eight or more restaurants in Utah Valley and Park City. While each restaurant will be unique, they will all share the same philosophy and will bolster the local farming community.

“There’s a lot of exciting things happening,” says Soelberg of the fresh-foods movement. “It’s like an avalanche that definitely started out small, but is quickly gaining momentum.”


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