Keeping It Fresh And Local

By: Gretchen Schmidt

The best places to explore Miami’s unique farm-to-table cuisine.

Is your breakfast table filled with colorful papaya and starfruit, toast with red mangrove honey, eggs from chickens that roost amid palm trees, and tea flavored with backyard lemongrass and decorated with hibiscus?

Welcome to Miami, where farm-to-table cuisine means juicy heirloom tomatoes in the middle of winter, mangos and jackfruit in the summer and fresh greens year-round. Here, chefs embrace the bounty of fruits and vegetables that flourish in South Miami-Dade’s agricultural district.

“This is the Florida visitors are hoping to see,” says Gabriele Marewski of Paradise Farms, an organic farm located in the heart of Homestead, about 45 minutes south of Downtown Miami. Seventeen years ago, she started selling her produce and edible flowers to restaurants. Today, her farm is one of many supplying chefs and farmers markets with local fruits and vegetables, herbs, eggs, mushrooms and other produce.

The rules are different here. Because of South Florida’s subtropical climate, the growing season is the opposite of what it is in the temperate North and Midwest. In the summer and early fall, farmers market offerings are more sparse than their northern counterparts, showcasing tropical produce like mango, avocado, dragonfruit, yuca and okra. But from November through April, markets are overflowing with local tomatoes, beans, eggplant, peppers, strawberries and greens. This is also the season for long lines for fruit shakes and other treats from farmstands like Knaus Berry Farm and Robert Is Here.

In Homestead, you can sample authentic tropical farm-to-table dining – and drinking – any time of the year at Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery and its RedLander Restaurant, a lush, palmy outpost in South Dade. Your meal might include mahi-mahi ceviche and salad made with Malabar spinach, a tropical green, or guava-basted chicken wings, accompanied by avocado or passion fruit wine or a Big Rod coconut ale.

Bringing the Farm to Your Plate

James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz is credited with making fresh, local ingredients the star of the show when he opened Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District in 2007. Since then, he has added Harry’s Pizzeria in the Design District and Coconut Grove, and soon in Downtown Dadeland; Cypress Tavern and Ella in the Design District; and the upcoming Fi’lia at SLS Brickell. Sources for produce include organic Verde Community Farm in Homestead and the urban Little River Cooperative in Little Haiti.

Elsewhere in Miami and Miami Beach, many chefs count on area farms to supply their seasonal produce and get them from harvest to plate as quickly as possible, preserving freshness and maximum flavor.

At 1 Hotel South Beach, celeb chef Tom Colicchio makes it a point to highlight local produce at Beachcraft as well as the other dining outlets on the property, including Tom on Collins and The Sand Box. Another big-name chef, Laurent Tourondel, finds tasty ways to incorporate local ingredients at LT Steak & Seafood at The Betsy – South Beach, concocting a dragonfruit “salpicon” with lemon ricotta gelato and lime honey.

Backyard Gardens

The pioneering farm-to-table restaurant, Essensia at The Palms Hotel & Spa, takes local love a step further. While they’ve relied on farmers like Teena’s Pride for heirloom tomatoes and other produce, they also grow their own herbs and vegetables in an organic garden behind their tiki bar. Thai basil, lemongrass, lemon balm, Cuban oregano, edible flowers and vegetables all find their way into recipes and cocktails on the menu. Backyard garden herbs and produce from Little River Cooperative are featured prominently at 27 Restaurant and Bar at the Freehand Miami, where the menu includes the super-local Starship Radio cocktail, made with Remy VSOP cognac, Fabuloso Spanish brandy, Florida lime, pineapple, a loquat-tangerine reduction and a hibiscus sugared rim.

Happy Hens

For pasture-raised eggs from hens that happily forage and feast on fresh fruits and vegetables, many chefs rely on the local Sun Fresh Farm and Ranch. At Wynwood’s Alter, 2016 Food & Wine Best New Chef Bradley Kilgore uses them in his signature Soft Egg, a barely poached egg with Italian truffle pearls and a scallop and Gruyere foam, caviar topping optional. At EDGE, Steak & Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel Miami, chef Aaron Brooks – a big proponent of putting fresh, local food on the menu – farm-fresh eggs are essential in his Caesar salad and as part of morcilla a la plancha, grilled blood sausage. And for British chef Andrew Gilbert, only local eggs will do for his tikka-sausage Scotch eggs served at The Seven Dials in Coral Gables.

Plant Power

When fruits and veggies are the show stoppers, nothing but freshly harvested produce, hours from the fields or groves, will do. At Plant Food + Wine Miami, Matthew Kenney’s new plant-based cuisine hotspot in Wynwood, the team tracks down the best of the farmers markets and Homestead farms, turning their discoveries into delights like starfruit tart with macadamia mascarpone and coconut ceviche tacos. For the fast-casual farm-to-counter restaurant, Dirt, chef Nicole Voltano relies on farm-fresh colorful fruits and greens for fruit and veggie bowls, tasty toasts, and sandwiches and wraps.

Artisan Love

For a true taste of authentic Miami, look for local artisans who’ve made a name for themselves and whose products appear on menus and at farmers markets. These include rustic bread maker Zak the Baker; bacon heroes Miami Smokers; encased-meat gurus Proper Sausages; bean-to-bar crafter Cao chocolate; and Little Havana favorites Azucar Ice Cream. Local breweries J. Wakefield Brewing, Wynwood Brewing Company, Concrete Beach Brewery and M.I.A. Beer Company often use local fruits in their beers.

Hungry for more? Farmer Marewski predicts even more locally grown menu items, thanks to consumer demand. “What’s most excited me is how the farm-to-table movement has grown more farmers here,” she says. “Look how far it’s taken off!”

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