New Orleans restaurants rise to the Eat Local Challenge

PROUD TO CALL IT HOME-GROWN

Photo by Lorin Gaudin -- The locavore pizza at Theo's is a feast of regionally sourced garden delights.
Photo by Lorin Gaudin -- The locavore pizza at Theo's is a feast of regionally sourced garden delights.

The Eat Local Challenge, held in June each year, is in full swing. Farmer’s markets brimming with local produce provide home cooks with fresh flavors — some familiar, some surprising. Meanwhile, more than 40 local restaurants have added the “Eat Local” stamp to their menus, promising New Orleanians that they can dine out and still meet the challenge of supporting regional farmers and fishermen.

Thanks to diners’ increased awareness of where food comes from, the celebrity chef movement and the explosion of local markets, there is already plenty of fresh local food on restaurant plates. Year round, those foods come from more vendors, bigger garden plots and more local growers than ever.

Chip Flanagan, executive chef of Ralph’s on the Park at 900 City Park Ave., said sourcing food locally is nothing new for his restaurant.

“We were participating in this before it even happened,” he said. “All the food is fresh. You know the people who grow it, their practices, what they do.”

Eat Local is a worthwhile campaign because it supports the network of local food suppliers, he said.

Under the Eat Local Challenge on Ralph’s menu, Flanagan is listing the restaurant’s barbecue shrimp (“Our Gulf shrimp are the most beautiful shrimp in the world”) and duck from Chappapeela Farms in Amite with a fresh blueberry vinaigrette sauce.

With 40-plus restaurants offering dishes to meet the Eat Local Challenge, there are plenty of choices. At Café Atchafalya, 901 Louisiana Ave., Chef Chris Lynch plates fried jumbo Gulf shrimp with green tomato chutney and micro green salad from Covey Rise Farm in Husser. Mat & Naddie’s, at 937 Leonidas St., has a locavore dessert called Floating Island — a soft meringue cloud of farm egg whites atop crème Anglaise with an Old New Orleans Rum sauce and toasted pecans. There’s a fresh blueberry-topped cheesecake tart ($3.50) at Cake Café & Bakery, 2440 Chartres St.

Café Amelie, 912 Royal St., offers a lamb burger, with lamb from Two Run Farm in Vaughn, Miss., topped by market vegetables. Or, feed that pizza craving at Theo’s several locations around town with the Local Pro, a farm fresh vegetable-topped pie ($11/$15.75).

For breakfast or lunch, dive into the frittata at Fat Hen Grocery, 7457 St. Charles Ave., with options like Gulf shrimp, goat cheese and a Creole tomato sauce.

Vegetarians will find no shortage of choices. Shio-Koji vegetables and tofu at Cafe Carmo, 527 Julia St., is packed with local organic vegetables and taps into the pickled foods trend with fermented tofu. Sainte Marie’s Chef Kristen Essig makes hand-rolled pasta filled with local greens and soft cheese for her ricotta and chard agnolotti with caramelized onions and tomato-mint broth ($12 small plate/$19 full entrée). Sainte Marie is at 930 Poydras St.

Local chefs are enjoying the growing selection and availability of regional foods, Essig said. “A lot more Louisiana, even Mississippi-grown product is available to use at the restaurant, and I’m so happy to support the local producers — all the chefs I know agree and do the same,” she said.

However, it’s a no-fuss approach.

“My menu identifies the farm or farmers as relevant, so people know what they’re eating, but we keep it short and sweet, and diners have come to expect dishes from me that are as much locally sourced as we can. It’s just what we all now do.”

Go to the Eat Local Challenge website, http://www.nolalocavore.org, for a complete list of restaurants taking part in the challenge, and check out the calendar of events for workshops and classes such as sausage-making with Chef Kris Doll of Cleaver & Co.; Cooking Light & Local with Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group and Touro Infirmary at the New Orleans Museum of Art; chicken keeping, wine-making and more.