Now that we’re in late August and peak harvest season is upon us, farm-to-table cooking is hotter than ever. But what about drinks? Could the same buy-local philosophy also help operators sell more beverages? A few savvy operators are proving that a farm-to-bar approach can work.
The nominal virtues of farm-to-table sourcing are that it underwrites and encourages local farmers while delivering fresher, higher-quality ingredients to restaurant operators. That it does. Farm-to-table also turns out to be a handy marketing hook for those restaurants that follow the practice. The explosion of green markets and farmers’ markets has created a large constituency who are eager to support their local and regional food growers in any way they can.
But will their enthusiasm extend to locally sourced ingredients that go into specialty drinks and cocktails? They’re hoping it does in Chicago.
Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ (LEYE) Big Bowl Asian restaurant threw a one-night- only “Farm to Bar” bash earlier this month. Adam Seger, master mixologist at sister LEYE restaurant Nacional 27, created a quintet of cocktails for the event, all of them based on fresh fruit from Chicago’s Green City Market. The drinks, which sold for $5 apiece, were Hibiscus Tea & Organic Vodka with Fresh Fruit Salsa; Sour Cherry Hum Mai Tai (Seger is co-creator of Hum Spirit, an organic infused rum); Local White Peach Sangria; Fair Trade Fizz; and Humberry Smash.
At his Nacional 27 home base, Seger also concocts several vegetable-based cocktails. To make them, he uses ingredients sourced from a nearby Wisconsin farm that dedicates a plot of land to producing fruits and vegetables that will be used solely by Nacional 27.
They’re really going all in on the farm-to-bar idea at Cooper’s Brick Oven Wine Bar, located in Manayunk, a neighborhood in Philadelphia. The restaurant is offering both a Farm to Bar Happiness Menu and drinks made with local produce.
Food options include a Tasting of Two Soups (Jersey cucumber with smoked salmon and Lancaster tomato gazpacho) for $5; Lancaster corn & crab mac & cheese “featuring Mancuso’s ricotta and Claudio’s mozzarella straight from South Philly” ($8); and Jake’s Baby Burger with Vermont sharp cheddar and Lancaster tomato ($4). These items are available daily from 5-7 p.m.
So are happy hour drinks made with local fruit. Choices include the Blue Farm fizz (Lancaster cucumber, organic Philadelphia Bluecoat gin, garden basil and lime syrup, $5); and fresh-watermelon ginger smash (locally harvested watermelon and Canton natural ginger, $5). Throw in $3 local brews from the Philadelphia Brewing Company and you’ve got a terrific happy hour lineup that makes the most of its go-local theme.
“All of our dishes begin with the freshest ingredients from farms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” says chef/owner Bruce Cooper. “Using local fruits and vegetables is a great way to support out area farmers.”
It’s also a great way to, in his case, make a restaurant’s happy hour stand out. Prior to this program, the Cooper’s Brick Oven happy hour was pretty much like that of any of the many other restaurants located nearby. Now it’s distinctive, plugged into perhaps the hottest trend in foodservice. You’re going to see more farm-to-bar drink programs like this one in the future. Why not get a head start today?