Asheville restaurateurs are giving the term “locally sourced produce” a new meaning by picking up a shovel and digging in the dirt themselves. This translates to a farm-to-table journey that, for some, may only be a few yards. This provides unrivaled source transparency for foodies invested in knowing where their grub is coming from.
Peter Pollay, owner of downtown restaurant Posana, recently added the title of farmer to his resumé. Pollay grew up in New York City and spent the days of his youth surrounded by concrete and playing games on the pavement. Never having spent much time in nature, gardening was a completely abstract concept to him until recently.
As a self-admitted garden novice, Pollay decided to pull from the knowledge and resources of the community to team up with two garden-savvy women, Linda Patterson and Laura Ruby. “Linda started coming to the restaurant. We starting talking to each other, and she has an amazing, beautiful, lovely, edible garden off of her own backyard,” says Pollay. After Pollay first laid his eyes on the bounty of food growing in Patterson’s plot in West Asheville, he was inspired to take the plunge and begin looking for land to cultivate his own vegetables and herbs.
“Over the past three years, Linda has always had it in the back of her mind, and when she hears of an opportunity of some land, she will look at it a little bit and say, ‘Hey Pete, this might be a possibility.’ We were just waiting for the right partnership,” says Pollay. In the fall of 2014, Pollay and Patterson found the compatibility they were looking for with Ruby.
Patterson met Ruby while participating in Ashevillage Institute’s seven-month Urban Farm School program. “We just had this really nice, comfortable connection,” says Patterson, “and when I saw that she had all this grass in her yard, I approached her with Peter’s idea and said, ‘How would you feel if I snagged that section and did a restaurant garden?'”
Ruby was thrilled. “It was like a dream. I have half of an acre, which is a lot of space, and most of it is grass. I’ve done edible landscaping for five or six years, so I am always trying to encourage people to chip away at the grass,” says Ruby. “Leave enough for the barefoot picnic and the kids in the yard, but the rest of it should be functional.”
In the future, Pollay envisions his garden expanding to accommodate everything that is put on a plate at Posana. For now, six garden beds will provide enough produce to add a bit of variety to the dishes. “Diners can expect to be wowed, because they are going to see garnishes on our plates that they won’t see anywhere else in town, because we are growing them ourselves,” says Pollay. “Really fresh, bright, vibrant food will be found throughout our menu.”
Pollay and Patterson haven’t locked in their decisions for everything they will be growing this season, and it seems that Pollay wants to ultimately plant just about everything in the seed catalog. As a jumping-off point, they plan to concentrate on unique varieties that one would not commonly find at a grocery store. “What I would love to see is the niche stuff, the funky stuff that you might only have a little of on your plate,” says Patterson.
Pollay, Patterson and Ruby encourage anyone who is interested in gardening to tap resources within their community. “There is so much unused land in the city, and that’s where most of the people are, so why not utilize it to grow food closer to where the people are eating it?” says Ruby. “Introducing variety and diversity in our food supply is huge too.” This approach requires gardening chefs to be savvy enough to adjust their menu based on what is in season and quick enough on their feet to alter the menu when the crop does not produce as expected.
Posana is not the only restaurant in town that is readying a garden for the upcoming growing season. Hannah Eisenberg, barista at East Asheville bakery and café Filo, is using her gardening experience to give Filo an overhaul. “I have a background in community gardening, so I am taking on that role,” says Eisenberg. “We do a lot of herb gardening here, like lavender, mint and rosemary, and we use a lot of those in scones, muffins and cakes.”
“What I’m trying to do now is to take it more toward a food angle,” she continues. “We just got a really big pizza oven and we are going to start doing some big-time pizza, so we will use a lot of basil and different kinds of tomatoes.” Filo’s garden will also feature eggplant, various peppers and other pizza-esque produce.
A few other area eateries that will be picking up their garden tools this spring to grow a portion of their own produce include Sunny Point Café, Rosetta’s Kitchen, Mountain Mojo Coffee Shop in Fairview and Todd’s Tasties.
Posana is at 1 Biltmore Ave. posanarestaurant.com
Filo is at 1155 Tunnel Road. filopastries.com