A Hyper-Local Way of Doing Things
Chefs, Bartenders Enhance Menus with Ingredients from On-Site Breweries, Distilleries, Gardens
Missouri Spirits – Springfield, MO
Missouri Spirits stands out from other dining establishments in Springfield, Mo., because of its in-house distillery. It, in fact, holds the distinction of being Springfield’s first-ever—and only—distillery, and its bourbon whiskey, corn whiskey and vodka are made from locally grown ingredients.
Dinette – Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh’s buzzy Dinette boasts a rooftop garden situated directly above the restaurant. From May through November, dishes get injected with a jolt of ultra-freshness, thanks to house-grown herbs, arugula, tomatoes, figs, shishito peppers, eggplant and melons.
As the push continues to go local, some operators have taken the concept one step further by establishing hyper-local components. The results, of course, are positive in every direction, from increased guest interest and media attention to higher profit margins. It also allows operators to take complete control of that component—and knowing everything about it.
That makes for a great conversation starter with customers, says Second Salem Brewing Co. co-founder Christ Christon, whose Whitewater, Wis.-based gastropub pays homage to the town’s reputation as a site for witch gatherings, werewolves and other ethereal phenomena. Each of the 13 to 14 beers on tap is named after a local Whitewater landmark or legend, and visitors eagerly soak up these tales.
“I like to play up the spooky folklore or the cool, historical tie-ins,” says Christon, who is also Second Salem’s official brewmaster. “Customers absolutely love the stories, especially when my business partner and I tell them. We were born and raised (in Whitewater), so we know all the stories better than our employees.”
It’s an ingenious way of attracting customers to Second Salem, which has also been featured on the Travel Channel. While the stories might seem outrageous, the craft beers made on-site are surprisingly conservative. Christon says he has no intentions of changing that model.
“I’m more concerned about producing a solid, well-rounded beer than having something unique to give you for shock and awe effect,” he explains. “I want you to taste the beginning of that flavor wave and I want you to get a little bit of the hops, the bitterness. … I want you to get the sweetness, the roasted malts, the raisins, a little bit of prune and a little bit of caramel flavor. I want you to get the whole profile of the beer.”
Christon’s commitment to pushing Second Salem Brewing into the forefront is unwavering. “We want the beer to be the identifier, and we want the brew pub to be second,” he stresses.
“Even though we don’t have a big brewery, we want people to see what we have for operations. If I’m here and no one is brewing and it’s clean, I have no problem talking with someone, grabbing a beer and giving them a tour. You’ll get to see how local and connected we still are and how small and family like it is.”
At Bold American Fare in Algonquin, Ill., chef/partner Mathew Lucas relies heavily on the herbs and heirloom tomatoes he grows at the restaurant garden—which his dad tends. Because there’s enough to share between the kitchen and bar teams, his staffs are at their creative best.
Bartenders add fresh rosemary or basil to the seasonal signature cocktails, and heirloom tomatoes are the base of at least two varieties of the Bloody Mary. Homegrown basil and heirloom tomatoes are also ingredients in Bold American Fare’s caprese salad, which is topped with balsamic “pearls” made in-house. Tomatoes are so abundant that they’re an expense Lucas doesn’t have to worry about. “We never run out of tomatoes,” he exclaims. This fall, he’s planning to grow corn and squash on the restaurant’s deck.
Tarnished Truth – Virginia Beach, VA
The Cavalier Hotel, in Virginia Beach, Va., opened during the heyday of the Prohibition era, but its latest attraction makes the property feel brand new again. The arrival of the Tarnished Truth distillery thrusts it in the spotlight as the only hotel in the country with an on-site distillery. But it’s not just a novelty attraction, insists Michael Woodhead, the vice president of marketing for the hotel. The operators of Tarnished Truth take its local concept to heart and work to ensure most of the ingredients of each spirit are locally sourced.
“One of the proprietors, Andrey Yancy, is a local guy,” says Woodhead, “and it was really important to him the ingredients were grown here in the immediate area, and that (Tarnished Truth) was truly a Virginia-based operation.”
Three products are distilled at Tarnished Truth: an old Cavalier bourbon, whiskey rye and a vodka called “Ava.” Woodhead says plans are underway to distill gin by the end of summer.
While no food is served at Tarnished Truth, guests may settle in for dinner at the adjacent Hunt Room, a classic American eatery that’s been around since the hotel opened. Woodhead describes the beverage experience at the Hunt Room as being “absolutely curated by its relationship with the Tarnished Truth distillery.”
He adds: “(What a grand) idea that you can have craft cocktails with locally sourced ingredients, herbs and mixers, and then combine that with the on-site distilled spirits. You cannot get more local than that!”