Dining in Florida
Egg-citing: Fresh-from-the-farm eggs are spicing up Florida menus
Which came first? The designer brand, fresh-from-the-local-farm egg or the gourmet pizzas, burgers and salads topped with fried eggs?
Who cares? The trend to both has made Florida plates runny with bright orange and has turned menus sunny-side up with egg dishes from down-home and gastro to classic French and Italian.
The humble egg is emblematic of farm-to-table basics at the most sustainable, natural and affordable level. Eggs can be harvested anywhere, as a new flock of urban chick farmers has demonstrated.
For chefs, eggs are elemental, pairing perfectly with the modern love of bacon, ham and sausage.They lead to in-house mayonnaise and macaroons and zabagliones and put the froth on Pisco sours and Ramos gin fizzes.
The eggs themselves come from ducks, quails and heritage chickens raised on grass and earth rather than aluminum cages and floors, and fed a vegetarian diet. Most of all, they are local and super fresh, rarely more than two or three days old.
That leads chefs to brag on suppliers like Lake Meadow Naturals on what may be the last 15 bucolic acres in Ocoee, on the northwest fringe of Orlando.
Dale Volkert is not a nouvelle egg-preneur. His family left their Wisconsin farm for Florida 40 years ago and kept up a simple way of farming here. Chef Kathleen Blake (of Primo at the time) found Lake Meadow in 2002 while foraging for farm-to-table ingredients in unpromising central Florida.
Today, she serves Lake Meadow eggs at her own place, the Rusty Spoon in downtown Orlando, deviled with Tabasco, herbs and sun-dried tomatoes and plopped in soft-cooked glory on garden greens and chicken livers.
At Lake Meadow, Volkert and crew tend 3,000 laying hens and 700 ducks plus turkeys, pheasants, cattle, hogs, goats and a busy farm store (and space for children to hunt eggs on Saturdays). More than 15,000 eggs a week head out to chefs and green markets from Jacksonville to Miami.
Volkert is not the state’s only gourmet eggman. PNS Farms, a small farm in south Florida, now supplies eggs for Michael’s Genuine operations and other chefs.Fifth-generation Palatka farmers at Black Hog Farm provide eggs and a long list of produce, duck, rabbit and more to home cooks and fashionable farm-to-market restaurants like Black Sheep in Jacksonville’s Five Points area.
In the panhandle, Twin Oaks (Bonifay) and Green Cedars Farm (Molino) have won fans among urban and resort chefs and farm stand shoppers.
Many new small farmers sell in weekend markets around the state.
The payoff for chefs and home cooks is a rare ingredient for a small price. Organic eggs cost more than traditional eggs but still only $5 to $6 a dozen. For that, you get a luxurious yolk of a rich orange surrounded by a thick egg white, ideal for minimal cooking.
What chefs do with them is endless. Legend says each pleat in a classic toque represents a way to cook an egg.
The brothers Medure, chefs David and Matthew, indulge in egg yolks cooked by curing in salt and sugar for experimental salads at Restaurant Medure, and quail eggs with grits at Matthew’s.At their casual M Shack, they add fried eggs to burgers and to the low-carb, no-bun “cross fit” — two burgers, avocado, bacon, mushrooms and a fried egg.
At Alter, Wynwood’s hot chef Brad Kilgore makes an exquisite appetizer of a simple “soft egg” — with sea scallop, truffle pearls and chives, $14 of wow; dolled up with caviar, $10 more.
At Cena, owner Michelle Bernstein likes her eggs slow-poached on polenta with brussels sprouts and Middle Eastern spices.
At Eating House, Coral Gables’ temple of simple cooking, chef Giorgio Rapicavoli serves several reminders that fresh egg is the key to true carbonara, on burgers, eggs Benedict and pasta.