Florida farm fare and diners who want to eat local
The best part of the decor at Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm restaurant in Fort Myers is not the wooden refectory tables, French cafe chairs or the 12-foot ceiling fans. It’s the view of the farm outside.
Its pasture is green, not Gulf blue. Chickens, ducks and heirloom piglets forage happily.
Rose O’Dell King — chef, sheep farmer and sommelier — and her husband, Gary, started the farm to raise food naturally and extremely close to the table. Their pork, beef and eggs star on a menu that can include roselle syrup on French toast from a hibiscus 20 feet away or a rich ragout of short ribs and oxtail on a waffle made with tallow, all from the farm’s cattle.
It’s a chef’s dream for Richard Howze, a 20-year industry veteran. Best, he says, is “clean protein,” so he delights in whole-animal butchery, from chops to offal. His meats as well as liver and leaf lard are sold at the farm, too.
Hundreds of miles north, diners in Jacksonville see the names Congaree and Penn Farm and Mills on the best menus and now dine on the farm, too. When Scott and Lindsay Meyer took over a former fish farm, they planted rice to make artisan sake.
Local chefs steered them southward, and C&P’s “middlins,” a poor person’s risotto, became the signature product. It leads a rainbow line of rices, grits, honey, pecan oil, olive oil, shrub drinks, ciders and more. They have a huge orchard of mayhaws, the source of the South’s beloved jelly.
The farm offers wagon rides, goat greets and a menu of Southern sandwiches, salads, crawfish poke and, of course, shrimp and grits and arancini rice balls.
Both farms are pioneers of a movement taking the table to the farm.
The Millennial wrinkle is tours, dining and events in open-air settings made for Instagram.
On the Farms
- Farmside dining is so popular that Babcock Ranch, ranch land turned solar-powered development, put a farm restaurant at its center to accent sustainability. Table & Tap features vegetables and herbs and four varieties of honey from the ranchland beyond the development. The menu runs from burgers to risotto and quinoa salad with house-made pickles and tomato jam.
- At Buckingham Farms east of Fort Myers (and soon in LaBelle), the 40-acre hydroponic farm sustains a country store selling produce and provisions, a restaurant with a big lunch and breakfast menu loaded with farm-fresh eggs Tuesday through Saturday with takeout Friday night.
- On the east coast, boutique farms that supply top Miami and Palm Beach chefs invite them out to cook grand dinners on the farms.
- Swank Farms started in Loxahatchee 20 years ago and now has its gourmet vegetables (360 varieties) shouted out in top restaurants from Palm Beach to Miami. It hosts 20 dinners and brunches each season by local chefs and visiting toques from New Orleans to Detroit. Swank also sells at farmers markets and through memberships. An open-air pole barn is hung with chandeliers for weddings and events.
- In Indiantown, former UF biologists and world sailors Diane Cordeau and Carl Frost have 40 acres of organic plants in the ground. It’s called Kai-Kai Farm, in honor of the feasts on the Solomon Islands, and now serves up fresh vegetables for restaurants, farmers markets, veggie boxes and their own kai-kais, weddings and chef gatherings two to three times a month.
- Lox Farms, in where else but Loxahatchee, grows a slew of organic crops, from mizuna and Seminole pumpkins to bush beans and nasturtium flowers. They show up in restaurants, markets, subscription boxes and plant-based chef charity dinners and private events.
Among the Vineyards
- Vineyards frequently operate restaurants in California and are now evident in our young winelands, too.
- Katya Vineyards cellar and tasting room in Ocala is one of the most elegant in Ocala. The Sokol family from Poland has its vineyards outside of town but shows off wine in citified style on the square with nightly meals from duck breast and pumpkin gnocchi to caviar tastings.
- The biggest vineyard restaurant may be the Redlander at Schnebly Redlands Winery and Brewery in Homestead. It’s known for fruit wines like guava, mango and AvoVino and tropical beers. The vast restaurant has lunch, dinner and brunch, with everything from corn fritters and oysters to ribeye trimmed with coconut, cilantro and fruit.
- In 2003, Joe Keel was a traditional farmer with surplus blueberries. He first squeezed them into wines, then added apple ciders, craft beer and a tasting pavilion. Today, Plant City-based Keel & Curley Winery has nine wines, four venues holding up to 250 people and a menu including gator nuggets and Angus burger from nearby sources.
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