by ANNA RABHAN
Last month, The Floridian Restaurant in St. Augustine hosted a farm-to-table dinner featuring the fruits of the labor of several Northeast Florida farmers. It could not have more successfully showcased the bounty of this region and was a delicious, affordable demonstration of the benefits of a local food system.
The Floridian is a somewhat small establishment on Cordova Street, likely sufficient space for normal levels of patronage, but the response for the farm-to-table dinner was so overwhelming that there was some jockeying of bodies necessary as the six o’clock seating left and the eight o’clock seating arrived. Miraculously, the gentleman serving as maitre d’ for the evening remembered who was there for the dinner and who was not and which farm-to-table patrons had checked in already. The wait for the 8 pm group to be seated was short and the transition fairly smooth.
The restaurant’s decor is reminiscent of one’s grandmother’s Florida home, with warm paneled walls, charming mismatched dishes, mason jar glassware, and wildflower centerpieces. The tagline on the menu, which was printed with oranges and alligators, said it all: “Innovative Southern fare for omnivores, herbivores & locavores.” Be not fooled by the oranges, alligators and mason jars; the Floridian delivers with superb service and impeccable food.
The food was, after all, the star at this farm-to-table dinner. Patrons were seated and introductions and remarks made by Tracy Chamberlain of Slow Food First Coast, which endorses many local farms and food producers with its “Snail of Approval.” Francisco Arroyo and Vivian Bayona, farmers whose KYV Farm produce was featured in the dinner, thanked guests, and the Floridian’s wine advisor offered patrons an optional paired wine tasting with dinner, describing the selection, which included at least one organically grown and produced vintage, for each course.
And then it was showtime. Diners were wowed from the very start by owner and head chef Genie Kepner’s End of Summer Rolls appetizer. The beautifully presented, rice-paper-wrapped shaved CartWheel Ranch beef or marinated tofu (depending on whether the guest had ordered the meat or vegetarian option) and mix of KYV vegetables were drizzled with a Satsuma reduction and served with pickled beets and Terk’s Acres chèvre, which was ridiculously creamy. That was followed by an Autumn Greens salad course consisting of a trio of KYV spicy greens with roasted butternut squash, Satsumas, pickled beets, bell peppers, shaved turnips and pigeon peas, topped with Terk’s Acres feta cheese, another decadent dairy creation with just the right amount of feta bite, and a dijon-arugula aioli.
All of KYV’s produce thus far had been so fresh that the individual flavors stood out quite well, and Kepner’s preparations had been impeccable. Everyone was excited to see the main dishes to come, and they were not disappointed. The KYV Eggplant and Tempeh Napoleon, the vegetarian option, was an absolute masterpiece. The layers of breaded and baked Indian eggplant, crumbled tempeh and winter squash hash were stacked high and topped with a melty Terk’s Ares goat cheese sauce and Satsuma salsa. The entire steaming, deliciously complex affair lay on a bed of the most tender, flavorful braised greens I’ve ever tasted.
The meat option was no less tantalizing. The Green-Tea-Brined Cartwheel Ranch Pork Chop was accompanied by a winter squash hash and braised greens and topped with a Satsuma glaze and radish slaw. This aspiring vegetarian knows firsthand how juicy, tender and flavorful the pork was because I lost my entree midway through to my carnivorous dining companion who was absolutely taken with it. Both dishes were that good. The meal ended with a trio of Honey and Chèvre Tarts in crispy filo dough.
Patron Paula Criqui said, “The vegetables were delicious and surprisingly filling. The presentation was lovely—everything looked appetizing and didn’t disappoint. It’s nice to know that you can have such a delicious and nourishing meal with farm-fresh food.” And patron Paul Maggi added, “The wine paired well with the food—perfect matches.”
It’s worth noting that the price of this farm-to-table dinner was probably what drew the large crowd. Farm-to-table dinners can cost, inexplicably and, perhaps, inexcusably, in the triple digits. The bill for two dinners, one vegetarian and one meat, at this exquisite farm-to-table event was a more realistic $60 without the wine pairing.
As one of the goals of this dinner was to make people in this region more aware of the farm-to-table movement and to encourage a connection between people and those who grow and prepare their food, one might ask if that goal was met. Patron Carla Maggi answered, “The food was delicious, and it was fun to try vegetables that we don’t eat every day in new dishes. I hope they have more events like it—at The Floridian and other local restaurants. I hope that more local restaurants get adventurous with local, organic produce!”
Well done to all involved. I know I’ll be pining for the other half of my eggplant until the next farm-to-table dinner!
Farm-to-table dinner at The Floridian a huge success
by ANNA RABHAN