Written by Lia Grabowski | The Local Palate
LOCALLY MINDED TABLES REVISITED
While the South’s farm-to-table movement rose in popularity many years ago thanks to pioneering chefs like Edna Lewis and Frank Stitt, a new generation of chefs are reigniting the movement by forging relationships with farmers and producers and adopting the tenets of seasonality and locality within every aspect of their operations. From James Beard Foundation recognized chefs to up-and-coming, eco-minded talents, here are the standouts in every other Southern state.
Sapphire, North Carolina
Situated in a residential mountain farm community, open-air Canyon Kitchen fits in seamlessly among the rolling meadows and surrounding mountains. The May-through-October restaurant emphasizes Appalachian cuisine with bites like smoked trout croquettes and a smoked pork loin over barley middlins.
Greenville, South Carolina
A farm-restaurant hybrid, Oak Hill Cafe is run by Costa Rican chef David Porras, who cut his teeth at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian, Spain. The resulting menu is a hybrid of Spanish style and hyper-local produce, which earned the cafe a James Beard nod for best new restaurant in 2020.
Built around a once-segregated Greyhound Station, the 1930s-era lunch counter where Black patrons weren’t welcome is now co-owned by Mashama Bailey, a much-lauded African American chef whose oysters, meat, and produce are sourced from a network of local farmers, many of whom are Black. The menu is exceptionally simple, allowing each carefully selected ingredient to shine.
In 2017, Niven Patel opened Ghee based on his family’s cuisine from Gujarat, India’s westernmost state. At his restaurants (the Design District space remains temporarily closed), enormous jars of spices are set against sharp modern lines and a sleek open kitchen. On the menu, backyard pakoras, taro leaf, calabaza, and tamarind fritters served with a date chutney. Impossibly tender pork belly vindaloo gets a shot of heat in the form of habanero peppers, and Key West pink shrimp comes with Florida corn succotash. What Niven can’t grow on his own land, he sources from his neighbor and friend Mahemdra Raolji, owner of Jalaram Produce. Also originally from Gujarat, Raolji farms some 560 acres in Homestead. His extensive product list includes well over a hundred fruits and vegetables, like Indian eggplants, bitter melon, and Indian cucumber.
Read also about What is chutney
“People often ask me how I plan a menu or come up with a new dish,” says Chris Rainosek, chef and owner of the Noble South. “The answer is simple: It all starts with the produce.” In fact, the Noble South only came into existence because Rainosek thought that the time had come to start bridging the gap between local farmers and restaurateurs. The daily offerings reflect what’s available at the local farmers market: fried green tomatoes, black-eyed pea hummus, peach and yellow tomato gazpacho, and many other riffs that creatively employ seasonal offerings.
White Pillars, the first restaurant from Mississippi native son Austin Sumrall, occupies a 12,000-square-foot neoclassical mansion that’s listed on the National Historic Register—it houses two dining rooms, a patio, and a massive lounge. Sumrall believes that his home state—so often the butt of jokes—produces some of the world’s greatest food. “It’s hard to put into words what Mississippi cuisine really is,” he says. Rather than trying to define it, he says his focus is on “using the beautiful products that are available in Mississippi.”
Pickles and other ferments from local ingredients drive the sustainable menu at Preserve on Annapolis’ Main Street. Case in point: Kimchi kicks up a dish of oyster mushrooms and gnocchi, and kombucha jelly brightens potted chicken liver mousse. Pick up a jar of housemade sauerkraut to go.
Approaching the Shack, a brick hut in a shanty parking lot in Staunton, one might wonder how the 400-square-foot space could turn out the kind of food that’s garnered accolades that read like hyperbole. But chef Ian Boden has transformed the former barbecue joint into a destination for dishes like rabbit pot stickers, smoked chicken confit, and the main attraction: the burgers. Try the Tissy, with locally made Surryano ham, housemade mortadella, ‘Nduja mayo, pickled chiles, and celery vinegar.
Suzanne Simon and Bettina Stern became a farmers market staple with their seasonal “farm to taco” stand, and now serve their plant-based taco creations in a canal-side shop in Georgetown.
Farm-fresh and sustainability-focused restaurant Decca is full of beautiful spaces to dine, from the rustic-chic dining rooms lined with exposed brick and tufted leather banquettes to the tree-shaded patio. But the hidden gem is the Cellar Lounge, a limestone-and-brick subterranean bar, where beverage director Davy Butterworth crafts some of the city’s best cocktails.
Dinnertime is an ideal opportunity to explore the wave of Blackberry Farm-influenced restaurants that have hit Knoxville over the years, like chef Matt Gallaher’s Knox Mason, which beckons from its new location on Gay Street with fresh pork rinds and black-eyed pea hummus. Gallaher’s second venture, Emilia, is a casual Italian bistro where pastas, like the Benton’s bacon-laced fusilli carbonara, are made in-house.
Its name a nod to Covington’s original layout that included areas for farmers to tie up their livestock, Oxlot 9 is chef Jeffrey Hansell’s locavore playground, where regional dishes and ingredients are enlivened with touches of whimsy. Take his Bayou State translation of chicken wings in the form of fried frog legs (slathered in buttery hot sauce and served with buttermilk dressing and pickled celery), or elevated yakamein, which introduces additions of kimchi and sweet chile vinaigrette to New Orleans’ favorite late-night noodles. While the menu changes seasonally, anything with fresh fish is sure to be a standout. The dining room is elegant in its simplicity, just as Hansell’s wife, Amy, imagined it—she designed the space to be refined with rustic elements.
Lewisburg, West Virginia
With veggie and herb gardens right out back, Livery Tavern keeps the farm-to-table promise on every dish. This upscale tavern is anything but stuffy, and their wine list is a mile long.
Dinner deserves a reservation at Ronin, a restaurant from Brian and Amanda Light. Having first fed the community through nine-course tasting dinners on their nearby farm, the couple now channels those vibes at a downtown concept, serving their harvest around two hand-built communal tables in the main dining room.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Though this funky diner, which usually draws a line, is closed for in-person dining at the moment, folks are getting their fix of farm-to-table fare through take-out and delivery. The full menu is sourced from as close-by as possible—100 percent of the meat, eggs, and bread served at the Root are from Arkansas farms and producers.