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Local restaurants offer homegrown delicacies

Thomas Graning | The Natchez Democrat —  David Browning tends a garden behind Cotton Alley Café Tuesday. The restaurant is working to grow its own vegetables to be used in dishes.
Thomas Graning | The Natchez Democrat — David Browning tends a garden behind Cotton Alley Café Tuesday. The restaurant is working to grow its own vegetables to be used in dishes.

Natchez is an eating town, and the local prepared food scene has plenty to offer.

But in the past couple of years, local restaurants are taking a little more time to make a tweak that will change how the food they offer tastes.

It’ll taste fresher.

The area’s restaurants have long embraced using regionally produced eggs, cheeses and vegetables, but more and more Natchez eateries are taking the concept of farm-to-table eating to the next level by producing the vegetables themselves.

Cotton Alley owners Guy Bass and David Browning have planted a garden that — as soon as it starts producing — will go directly into the Cotton Alley kitchen.

Brittany Bryant picks mint from a plant at Breaud’s Seafood and Steak restaurant Wednesday and then uses it to make a mint julep.
Brittany Bryant picks mint from a plant at Breaud’s Seafood and Steak restaurant Wednesday and then uses it to make a mint julep.

“We really like the we will be able to offer something that is this fresh and has been treated with as few chemicals as possible,” Bass said.

The recently opened restaurant The Camp is also producing some of the ingredients it uses for menu items. Owner Mike Wagner said that wasn’t part of his original plan, but once executive chef Mark Coates brought the concept to him, he was sold because it can improve the quality of food.

“I love the fact that we’re not just buying something off the truck and throwing it into the microwave,” he said. “I love the fact that we’re able to put more thought and effort into it.”

A neighbor who wanted to get some use out of some otherwise inactive land promoted the decision for Cotton Alley to start some farm-to-table production.

“The lady behind us owned some property, and she has been asking us, ‘Why don’t y’all use the property to put in a little garden,’ and we decided this year, ‘Why not?’” Bass said. “We plowed it up and rowed it up, putting in 12 rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, eggplant and watermelons.”

Choosing what to grow was easy enough, Bass said.

“Everything we planted plays to what we have on the menu now,” he said.

At Breaud’s Seafood and Steak, the restaurant doesn’t have a huge garden. Owner Glenn Breaud does, however, produce the basil, parsley, oregeno and mint used in their menu offerings in-house.

And it’s not just grown nearby — it’s literally grown in-house, in the restaurant’s courtyard.

The decision to grow the herbs there was based on a convergence of two interests, gardening and cooking, Brittany Bryant with Breaud’s said.

“Glenn has a green thumb, and he thought it would be cool if we grew some of our own herbs, and it saves us some money,” Bryant said.

Having the plants at hand means sometimes customers get an idea just how fresh a given ingredient is, Bryant said.

“With every mint julip we make, we use fresh mint, and we go pick it,” she said. “The customers like seeing you do that, and we get so many compliments from people saying, ‘Oh, you grow your own mint.’”

But the farm-to-table concept doesn’t have to just play into a restaurant’s ability to produce the freshest food possible, King’s Tavern owner Regina Charboneau said.

It allows restaurants to develop new menu items.

“When I go to cook, I am inspired by the ingredients before me,” she said. “When I am shopping for home, I don’t say, ‘OK, I am going to do an arugula salad tonight.’ I go to the store and see what the freshest ingredients are, and I am inspired by what is there. The same thing goes for when you go out into the garden and see the best, the absolute freshest (vegetables).

“I have the ability to change my menu when I have something to use out of the garden, and out of the garden, you can’t beat that.”

King’s Tavern has a garden that produces its own arugula, tomatoes and chard — among other vegetables — and customers have noticed, Charboneau said.

But as much as farm-to-table is about the customer experience and improving food quality, it can also be about the good of the community as a whole, she said.

“I get so many compliments about our salads being fresh and light, and I think we are trending healthier as a community as more people are committed to this idea,” she said.

“I hope that, as we continue this, we will see less processed, pre-done food in our restaurants and move homegrown, homemade food.”

 

 

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