Archive for the ‘restaurant’ Category

The Tiki Hut at Three Sisters Farm.

The Tiki Hut at Three Sisters Farm.

Farm Meal
Saturdays 5:00 to 8:00 pm, October through March
Reservations required / cancel 24 hours in advance
Adults $85 per person. No children.
Accepts credit cards

This is the second season for Farm Meals, as they are called, elegantly rustic five course dinners prepared with ingredients grown at Three Sisters Farm, which is located across the street from the Fruit and Spice Park. The Meals are owner Chef Jon Gambino’s love song to many different things growing on his farm, expressed with menus that change with the season. (If you attended GrowFest! back in October, you might have sampled Chef Jon’s wood oven pizza, or tasted his sorrel drink or lemongrass tea.)

The Meals are held in the upper level of a large two story Tiki Hut, which stands at the end of a grassy drive. Rachael Middleton, one of the farmers, greeted guests as they arrived. (If they come early, she will give them a tour of the farm.) She served each person a bright red drink called sorrel. It was both tart and sweet, made from the fleshy thick calyxes of the red sorrel or roselle plant.

She directed us to narrow wooden steps leading to the upper floor of the hut. We entered a large open area with a vaulted thatched roof, and railings made of gnarly tree branches. Being in that space felt like riding in an ark over the shadowy seas of treetops. The room held a grouping of different sized tables that can seat 20. A fresh cool breeze made candles flicker. Jazz softly played from a modern record player designed to look like an old fashioned gramophone. A stack of records were nearby, and guests were encouraged to pick something to listen to (or bring their own from home).

Dining upstairs in the Tiki Hut.

Dining upstairs in the Tiki Hut.

On the night I came to visit, two families were dining. A large, lively group sat at a big table, celebrating a family event. This was the second visit for most of them, who drove down from Broward. At a previous meal, they had dined on fresh pizza topped with arugula and papaya, baked in the wood burning oven, accompanied by yuca fries.

I was invited to join the small group, three visitors from New York. They spent their day exploring the area and it was their first dinner at Three Sisters. They brought a bottle of white wine, which was quickly set to chill on ice.

Tostones with chunky guacamole and black bean spread.

Crispy tostones with chunky guacamole and black bean spread.

As we settled in at table, Eddie the server brought thin crispy tostones the size of small tortillas, which were arranged on wooden planks, accompanied by small pots filled with cilantro-laden chunky guacamole and a garlicky, spicy black bean spread. The tostone was as thin as a cracker, and I dabbed it with the different spreads.

Next came tropical sushi rolls that were very vegetarian, without a hint of seafood. I identified jackfruit, cucumber, mamey, and rice but was baffled by something crispy which turned out to be fried yuca. It was accompanied by two dipping sauces — deep sea kelp infused black sapote, and pickled umobeoshi mamey sapote — plus another plate with thin strips of pickled half-ripe papaya, and thin slices of vinegary cucumber pickles. A dab and a slice on a roll made for sweet bumping against sour with two kinds of crunch.

Tropical vegetarian sushi.

Tropical vegetarian sushi.

Service slowed down a bit, but no matter, this is not a meal to rush through but to savor and discuss. Part of the pacing could be due to the small staff. Chef Jon and sous chef Michael Bayramian prepare food in a small kitchen shed nearby, and the different courses are carried up the narrow Tiki Hut steps by Rachael and Eddie.

The third course was strawberry hibiscus coconut soup with chunks of green banana. The pale mauve broth was both sweet and sour, and starchy chunks of banana lurked at the bottom of the bowl. Their taste and texture were more like a root vegetable than the familiar sweet fruit.

The main course was plantain pappardelle with Jamaican style kale, and for those who requested fish, broiled local grouper. The fish was fresh and lightly seasoned. Wide pasta ribbons were made fresh and had a mild sweetness of plantain that was a nice bed for stronger flavored greens seasoned with tomato and lots of garlic. Rachael explained they grow lots of greens on the farm, kale being available now, and callaloo later in the season. The pasta was filling and satisfied even the pickiest eaters at the table.

Pappardelle with Jamaican style kale.

Pappardelle with Jamaican style kale.

Lucky for us, we were regaled with two desserts that night — and there’s always room for dessert! The first was banana sorbet with jaboticaba sauce. Jon has a good hand with sorbets, and the banana came through with a rich, almost earthy, flavor. It was a solid base for tart, grape-like jaboticaba sauce, and the combination sang from the first bite. Jon has a passion for this fruit, and has become familiar with its nuances, such as how many days it needs to ripen before its skin sweetens and mellows.

The second dessert was pumpkin pie made from calabaza with a chocolate cookie crumb crust. Its flavor was rich and its color was darker than regular pumpkin. It was served with a pot of whipped cream. Coffee arrived, strong and rich, and each guest got their own french press of brew. (Lemongrass tea was available too.)

Chef Jon Gambino

Chef Jon Gambino

The Farm Meal dining experience is unique because the menu changes with the seasons, based on what is available on the farm. Guests have to be adventurous and willing to try anything. From this Meal I could see that Jon likes to take a familiar dish and play with the ingredients, making substitutions or changes, until something new breaks forth. He has a light touch with seasonings, allowing the fresh flavors of the ingredients to shine.

Almost every ingredient (except for coffee, cream, chocolate, beans and rice) was either grown there or procured locally. Jon considers his farm as a large, living pantry, where he can step out and gather what he wants to eat that day. His eyes light up when he talks about what he will plant and cook next. He admits he still has a lot more to learn about farming, but doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty and working hard. He is living his dream.

Three Sisters Farm
18401 SW 248th St

Homestead, FL 33031

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Mango Cafe at the Fruit and Spice Park

Recently, farmer Margie Pikarsky and her husband Nick, daughter Rachel and my friend John DeFaro joined me for lunch at the Mango Cafe, located at the Fruit and Spice Park. The Cafe is by the park’s main entrance, inside a rustic wooden house. We were there for the fruit sampler, made fresh daily from whatever fruits are ripe that day in the park. Talk about extreme locavore! But the sampler was sold out so we had to console ourselves with other fresh, local delicacies like Florida lobster roll, shrimp tacos, and mango-passionfruit shakes.

John DeFaro and Margie Pikarsky dig in to lunch. On the wall behind is a picture of the Redland District Band of 1913, and a Redland District tour guide from the 1930s.

The wooden house is not as old as it looks. It’s a reproduction. The original was built in 1902 by pioneer settler John Bauer, and got destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The replica was rebuilt with FEMA funds and completed in 2002. Inside the house (where the original living and dining rooms would have been), framed old photos and maps lined the walls. Over by the front door was a map with charred edges. It’s the original planting guide that had been saved from a fire. By our table was a series of pictures of the first land survey for the park in 1944, the year the park opened. Sixty eight years ago the land was almost completely barren, except for a scattering of royal palms and Australian pines. Big difference between then and now!

Now the 37 acre county park is lush with over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and nuts, some you may have heard of, and many you might not have. Tram tours will take you around, and the guide will fill you in about the plants and the history of the park. Where else in Miami would you find 150 varieties of mangos, 75 varieties of bananas, crimson gak fruit, sensitive cacao growing sheltered in a heated greenhouse, or annatto to stain your fingertips bright orange?

Park manager Chris Rollins

Fruit and Spice Park is also the site for many events and festivals throughout the year. Coming up this month is the Redland Heritage Festival, which will feature historical exhibits, local arts and crafts, and an Everglades reptile show. At one Heritage Festival a few years ago, I remember admiring a collection of vintage tractors, and at another sampling a variety of mangoes. Coming up later in the year, the park will also host the Asian Culture festival, the Redland International Orchid Show, and summer’s Mango Mania.

If you haven’t been to the park, go! It’s nothing you’ve seen before. If you haven’t gone in a while, go again. They’ve added an herb garden and a large pond edged with many varieties of bamboo. The place changes as different plants bloom and bear at different times of the year. Word to the curious — please don’t pick fruits off trees, but you may taste what has fallen to the ground. Most plants or fruits are safe to nibble, unless a sign warns otherwise.

37th Annual Redland Heritage Festival
January 21 and 22, 2012 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission $8 (children 11 and under are free)

Fruit and Spice Park
24801 SW 187 Ave. Homestead FL

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While I was in the barn on Friday setting up to photograph this week’s share, in strolled Annie Gascoyne, co-owner of Help Yourself!, an organic restaurant located in Key West. Annie made the three-and-a-half hour drive up with her boyfriend to pick up boxes of veggies for her restaurant, and for the farmer’s market that she and her business partner run on Sundays from 9 am to 1 pm.

The market is “getting quite a little following,” Annie told me as she took a minute from packing produce into the car. In addition to herbs, fruits and vegetables from Redland Organics, “there’s a fellow who cuts fresh coconuts, and live music from a local band that comes without fail.” Co-owner and chef Charlie Wilson gives cooking demos. The market is in its second season, paralleling the CSA season, and it’s starting to take off. A loyal group of locals comes by every week to shop, and this season Annie has noticed an increasing number of tourists dropping by.

Annie explained that she started the market because not everybody may want to, or afford to, eat at her restaurant every day. “There was such a lack,” she said. “I wanted to bring that [market] experience to support local farmers. It’s so nice knowing what you’re supporting.” And her customers are delighted for the opportunity to get fresh, healthy local food. “All say thank you so much for being here,” Annie said.

Help Yourself! is a rare bird as far as restaurants go in this area. Annie and Charlie source local food as much as possible, and all ingredients are natural and organic. “We’re all about food as it should be,” Annie explained. She had visited restaurants with similar concepts in London and New York, and Charlie had been a chef at a top-notch vegan restaurant in New York — so why not Key West? “Knowing that this exists in other places, and feeling a real lack, combined with a desire to support local business doing great things” inspired the two women to launch their restaurant.

Today and tomorrow Help Yourself! is participating in the Gardenfest, a weekend festival to benefit the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, located on Stock Island. The festival will feature a plant sale, and various speakers on gardening, plus a green market, various artisan crafts and live music.

Help Yourself! organic restaurant
829 Fleming Street
Key West, Fl 33040

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Hani Khouri and Martha Montes de Oca

Chef and goat cheese maker Hani Khouri of Redland Mediterranean Organics has joined forces with Martha Montes de Oca, owner of Sous Chef 2 Go, to offer ready-made takeout lunches during the week. You get a choice of one of Hani’s Lebanese dishes or one of Martha’s Hispanic creations. Prices range around $7-9 for the meal.

Right now the prepared lunch is strictly takeout. Bistro tables will be set outside when the weather is cooler. Also, fresh local produce will be for sale at the store in a few weeks as the season picks up.

I dropped by a few days ago to check things out. Hani’s special of the day was lamb kofta. He was busy in the kitchen patting ground lamb between his hands and shaping it into oval kebabs, then cooking them on the grill. Lunch was two generous sized kebabs topped with chopped parsley and ripe tomato, resting on a pita. The lamb was cooked through, seasoned with minced onion, a dash of chipotle and other spices. A generous dollop of hummus topped with a puddle of olive oil was served on the side. Humble hummus, I’ve had it a million times, but Hani’s actually tastes like chickpeas!

Lamb kofta with hummus and pita

Martha’s lunches are Hispanic in flavor. Her daily special was chicken fricassee simmering in a crock pot. Its delicious aroma filled the kitchen and made my mouth water. She explained that all her ingredients are organic except for the meats. The customer has the option of organic (more expensive) or natural (less expensive). She also said, with a proud smile, that she deciphered the familiar favorite Sazón Goya, and created a similar blend with all-organic seasonings minus MSG.

To find out what the lunch of the day is, go to the Sous Chef 2 Go web site and click on the picture of the take-out bag. That will lead you to the lunch/takeout menu. Drop in for lunch, or call ahead to order a recipe that you can cook at home.

Sous Chef 2 Go
7758 SW 88 St.
Miami, FL 33156

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