by Jamie S.
If there's a perfect restaurant for the Eat Local Challenge, it is almost certainly Farm 255 in Athens, Ga. The restaurant's goals, as printed on last night's menu, are stunningly similar to the ones we ELC participants have adopted:
Farm 255 is a restaurant that seeks to reconnect food to its roots & people to their food. In addition to Farm 255, we run Full Moon Farms, a 100-acre biodynamic farm here in Athens. Unlike the owners of any other restaurant we know of, we are the folks sowing turnip seeds in the morning and cooking turnip greens in the evening. We supplement our harvests with those of other local family farmers and ranchers that avoid harmful chemicals and practice sustainable agriculture. Our menu, based on seasonal shifts in the field, changes as often as the weather. Our meat comes from pasture-raised animals & is hormone and antibiotic free. We purchase whole animals & use all the various cuts of meat throughout our menu.
And yet the chef and staff hadn't heard of the Eat Local Challenge...at least until I started babbling effusively to our waiter. I guess that's proof that these ideas are bubbling up everywhere!
The waiter was lovely--helpful as could be, and very well-informed on the origins of the food. As we chose our dinners and heard the stories behind the ingredients, it became obvious that whenever ingredients couldn't be sourced locally, the chef chose them for their terroir, just as I would have done. For instance, my significant other and our friend noshed on orange- and fennel-scented olives (anathema to my olive-hating self, but I understand they were irresistable).
For a starter we all dove into a plate called "Milk & Honey": gorgeous artisanal cheeses with grilled English-muffin-style bread and homemade accompaniments that included local honey, sugared pecans, and a dab of spiced applesauce. It got rave reviews from all of us.
I then moved on to the grilled trout (farmed in the Chattanooga area), which was served with Full Moon Farm's own leeks and the most adorable baby new potatoes on earth (Watkinsville area). Simple? Yes. But full of complex flavor. The trout was grilled over a wood fire and tasted as good as if we'd caught it ourselves and cooked it alongside the stream.
My s.o. selected a deconstructed cassoulet: Ossabaw sausage, braised pork shoulder, and delectably seasoned white beans. I tasted it and I can vouch for its excellence. I daresay the Ossabaw sausage was similar in flavor to our own homemade English-style breakfast sausage, but with a taut, juicy texture that we have not yet learned to achieve.
Our friend, less hungry than us, opted for a salad of local lettuces with Georgia pecans, crumbled chevre, and a mustard vinaigrette.
I couldn't resist asking what was on the dessert menu for the day. Our eyes lit up at the mention of a molten chocolate cake. It was baked to order and exceeded our expectations. The mascarpone and chocolate were exotic ingredients, yes, but they were as good as they could be. And ripe strawberries (presumably local ones--by then, we had stopped asking questions and had gone into full food-devouring mode) added a finishing touch.
We'd heard from friends that the portions at Farm 255 were scanty for the price, but we absolutely did not agree with that assessment. Quite the contrary. The prices are very modest--almost ridiculously cheap, in fact, when you take into account the quality of food involved. And hours later, after we had gone to see two bands and then finally driven home, we were still satisfied and full.
I can see myself returning again and again to Farm 255. I want to experience all the seasons there. And I hear that recently they've started serving my favorite meal--weekend brunch. Count me in.
Jamie S. lives in rural Georgia and writes 10 Signs Like This, a blog that's part gardening journal, part cookbook, part sustainable lifestyle, and part short attention span.