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What's Up Magazine

Three Restaurants on the Lower Shore (plus a tangent on locavorism)

Jun 07, 2010 06:56PM ● By Anonymous

Aptly named Boonies Restaurant & Bar in Tyaskin is relaxing, serene, and hard to get to; all the characteristics you’d expect of a place whose motto is: “It’s not the end of the world… but you sure can see it.”

The Red Roost is a classic Maryland crab house located in Whitehaven. Serving all-you-can-eat crabs, corn-on-the-cob, and traditional Delmarva fried chicken, it’s been owned by the brothers Knorr since 1996.

SoBo’s Wine Beerstro opened in downtown Salisbury in 2006 and is the sort of casual fine dining highlighting fresh, local cuisine with ambitious beer and wine lists that's all the rage right now. Hip without being pretentious, it remains affordable with nightly specials and a prixe fix menu ($29.99 gets you a bottle of wine and a multi-course dinner for two). EVO’s Primal Pale Ale, Exile ESB, Summer Session, and Lot #3 IPA are all on tap, and can be purchased in sampler flights of three or four.

What drew my attention most is the expansive menu's more than passing attention paid to local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. (As this blog grows, you might start to notice that restaurants with half-hearted devotion to these worthy-but-increasingly-empty concerns are a real pet peeve of mine, as I’m sure they are for many others as well). Chef Patrick Fanning devotes the entire reverse side of his menu to information on the ingredients used at Sobo's, and of the food industry in general. Highlights include:

  • A ten-by-four-inch chart of the seasonality of produce in Maryland, broken down by the month; June’s in-season produce includes blueberries, cherries, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, asparagus, snap beans, beets, broccoli, yellow and white corn, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, onions, peas, potatoes, and summer squash. Only sweet potatoes are in-season in December.
  • A list of local farms and markets from which the restaurant sources its ingredients: Nice Farms Creamery (Federalsberg); Greenbranch Organic Farms (Salisbury); Cobbs Hill Bison (Pittsville); Oakley’s Farm Market (Hebron); Provident Organic Farm (Bivalve); Wright’s Market (Mardela Springs).
  • Definitions of organic foods, sustainable agriculture, biodynamic wines, and artisan food.
  • Two compelling arguments for buying fresh and local ingredients:
    1. “Did you know if every household on the Eastern Shore of Maryland purchased just $8 of locally grown farm products for 12 weeks, over $54 million would be invested back into our local farms and economy,” Fanning’s menu estimates.
    2. For food at the supermarket, according to Fanning’s menu, the average U.S.-produced vegetable travels over 1300 miles from farm to table, with “fresh” food spending 7–14 days in transit; by comparison, farmers’ market food is picked ripe, travels very little, comes from your community, and is grown by someone to whom you can speak face-to-face.

Now, none of these facts are monumentally groundbreaking. To those who already support the notion of eating seasonally and locally, they’ll probably be met with a resounding “duh!” But if the movement is ever going to grow from an affectation of the privileged (and oftentimes smug) to something viable on a large scale, it’ll take a concerted effort from restaurants, food purveyors, and the converted masses to continually educate those who don’t yet see its importance. There are plenty who continue to see the movement as navel gazing by a bunch of naïve elitists. Bumper stickers won’t necessarily address that perception.

Like anything else, legitimate change comes from a public dialogue between two sides. It’s an opportunity for conversation every time someone sniffs at the growing organic section in his supermarket, or chides his friend for shopping at the farmers’ market, trotting out some version of the “we’ll never feed the world this way, anyway” argument. Sure, we’ve been eating the current way for the last 50-some-odd years, but what about before that? What makes our current system of centralized production and distribution, with food traveling 1300 miles to reach its destination, intrinsically more efficient than eating food that’s grown within walking distance of your house? Maybe the prevailing system is the most efficient, but there’s certainly room for discussion.