Category Archives: Travel

Potager Restaurant: Simple Cooking, Simple Eating

Potager Restaurant, Denver, Colorado

“A good kitchen respects its sources and chooses ingredients that are sound, seasonal, and local whenever possible.” That’s why the menu at Potager Restaurant in Denver, Colorado, changes monthly, adapting to the seasons.

Potager Restaurant, Denver, Colorado

Run by Teri Rippeto and her father, Tom, who believe the best tasting food is organically grown, and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound by people who take care of the land, the restaurant’s ingredients are sourced from a network of like-minded suppliers they know personally and trust. I love it when restaurants list their sources on the menu!

Potager Restauran, Denver, Colorado

In April, Bill and I enjoyed a dinner at Potager with family members and were not disappointed.

Menu, April 13, Poteger Restaurant, Denver, Colorado

Because so many dishes on the menu looked enticing, I ordered several appetizers to appease my curiosity: White Bean and Spring Greens Soup, Oxford Farm Kale Salad, and Home-made Beef and Pork Sausage. (Ordering a variety of small plates seems to be a trend for me lately! I did the same thing at Five Bistro in St. Louis.)

White Bean and Spring Greens Soup, Potager Restaurant, Denver, Colorado

Oxford Farm Kale Salad, Poteger Restaurant, Denver, Colorado

Home-made Beef and Pork Sausage, Poteger Restaurant, Denver, Colorado

Bill ordered the Triple M Bar Ranch Grass-fed Red Wine and Thyme-Braised Lamb Shanks. Like many high-quality locavore restaurants, they were able to accommodate his wheat allergy by substituting the accompanying couscous with roasted potatoes.

Grass-Fed Thyme-Braised Lamb Shanks, Poteger Restaurant, Denver, Colorado

I tried a bite of niece Kristin’s pizza. It was wood-fired and covered in arugula– and so flavorful from the goat cheese. Delish!


At Potager, they believe the meal is “the center of human existence.” And the table is where “we are nourished, put in touch with the source of life, and reconnected to traditions.” It’s simple cooking and simple eating, honoring the season and honoring the people that grow, raise, and harvest the food.

Poteger Restaurant, Denver, Colorado

Check it out next time you’re in Denver!

Potager Restaurant, Denver, Colorado

Five Bistro: An Experience for All Five of Your Senses

Five Bistro Restaurant, St. Louis, Missouri

When Bill and I travel, food is a primary focus. So when we planned a road trip to the Plains with a stop in St. Louis, we looked for a farm-to-table restaurant for our dinner. And we hit the gold mine at Five Bistro, where “Chef Devoti and his staff are committed to providing a memorable dining experience that evokes all five of your senses.”

Five Bistro Restaurant, St. Louis, Missouri

One of my favorite attributes about locavore restaurants is when they cite the sources (i.e., farms) for their food. Another is when they align their menu offering with the season. That’s why the menu changes daily.

Five Bistro menu April 9, 2013

After an amuse bouche of arancini (fried risotto ball), we began with the house-made charcuterie, which was excellent and included sausages, rabbit confit, cured meats, pates, pickles, a smoked chicken egg (!), shitake mushrooms, mustard, and cherry jam. It’s flavorful and filling.


House-made charcuterie at Five Bistro

That’s why I opted for a soup and salad approach for dinner. There were so many great things to choose from but I didn’t want to over-eat. So I got the potato soup-puree and farm salad with local field greens and lamb pastrami.

Potato soup-puree

Farmers salad with local field greens and lamb pastrami

Bill got the half chicken (with stinging nettles….yum!).

Roasted chicken

And for dessert? What could be happier than cheesecake made with goat cheese and topped with a strawberry compote?

Goat cheese cheesecake

Our meal really did appeal to all five senses. We had a wonderful seat at the front window of the restaurant, which is located in The Hill district of St. Louis. The food tasted and smelled delicious, and it felt wonderful in our mouths. The background music provided an ambience without being disruptive.

And, I’d like to add a special thanks to our server, who we appreciated for her knowledge about the menu, the restaurant’s philosophy, and food issues in general. It’s always a great experience when the staff is as involved in the food experience as the chef. Five Bistro is a must-do for locavores in St. Louis.

Five Bistsro Restaurant, St. Louis, Missouri

Truly Local: Sara Hardy Farmers Market in Traverse City

The Sara Hardy Farmers Market in downtown Traverse City, Michigan, was hopping on a beautiful fall Saturday, the last of September. Also known as the Cherry Capital, Traverse City is the largest city in Northern Lower Michigan and home of the National Cherry Festival. The farmers market is located in a central spot, as Bill is pointing out on the map.

Although the cherries are long gone by September, there’s still plenty of local produce to enjoy in the fall in Michigan. I love seeing how many people come out to support the area’s farmers.

Usually when I visit Northern Lower Michigan I spend my time in the Leelanau Peninsula so I tend to visit the Leelanau County farmers markets. This is the first time I actually stayed in Traverse City. And what a fun weekend it was. The fall produce was amazing….everything from potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and apples to honey, leeks, kale, and pumpkins.

Once you’ve got your produce, it’s a short drive to a number of wineries in the region, such as Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery. Fall is a great time to visit Northern Lower Michigan!

Local Fish Tacos

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of my favorite places in the world, and I’m lucky to live so close to it.

That’s why it’s become an annual camping destination for my friend Sandy and me. We don’t really “rough it” too much, although three days without a shower may be pushing it. Our focus is on eating–and drinking–well, which is why Day 1 of our camping excursion always includes stops at Good Harbor Vineyards, Stone House Bread, and now Good Harbor Farm.

We used to come up with a cooking theme for each camping trip but the last few years we decided to make it easy on ourselves and just focus on either bringing or procuring locally raised foods. This year, our first dinner was fish tacos with Lake Michigan whitefish from Carlson’s of Fishtown in Leland. (For our previous take on fish tacos, check out the blog post from our 2009 trip when we used shrimp.)

Although I have a one-burner camp stove, which works great for brewing coffee quickly in the morning or making popcorn at night, we generally cook our dinner over a fire.

For the tacos, we cut our one-pound-ish whitefish filet into big chunks so we could marinate them in lime juice, olive oil, onion, and cumin.

Then we sprinkled them with cayenne pepper and put them on foil on the fire grate to cook, flipping them once, for a total cook time of about ten minutes. (You know fish is done when it starts to flake.)

For the vegetables, we used chopped cabbage (which we brought with us from the Holland Farmers Market) and a garnish of fresh cilantro from my garden.

And we made a sauce from my homemade yogurt by mixing it with fresh-squeezed lime juice and a dash of cayenne.

While the fish was cooking we wrapped flour tortillas in foil to heat them on the fire. We made a simple pico de gallo garnish with tomatoes, onion, and jalapeno pepper. And we made a side of organic bok choy (from CJ Veggies at the Holland Farmers Market) steamed with olive oil, salt, and pepper in foil over the fire.

For assembly, you just pull the fish apart with a fork, place it in the middle of the warm tortilla, then top with cabbage, yogurt sauce, pico de gallo, and cilantro.

It’s a quick and easy meal for camping. And it goes great with local wine!

The Publican: “Pristine Product, Simply Prepared”

Photo credit: Bob Briskey Photography [Photo via The Publican]

“Pristine product, simply prepared.” That’s how Executive Chef Paul Kahan and Chef de Cuisine Brian Huston describe The Publican, a Chicago restaurant designed like a European beer hall and located in the meatpacking district.

I had first read about The Publican in Bon Appetit magazine and put it on my mental list of restaurants to try the next time I went to Chicago. Finally the opportunity arrived so I went this past weekend with my friend Cathy. For some reason, I was thinking it was a locavore spot, but I have to admit I didn’t do my research before going.

The About section on the restaurant’s website describes an “eclectic menu inspired by simple farmhouse fare.” But farmhouse doesn’t always mean your local farmer’s house. Indeed, the menu included sources from as far away as both U.S. coasts, and beyond. That’s where the “pristine product” comes into play. While my philosophy toward food is about local, organic, sustainable, and humane, I know that not everyone has these preferences. Having spent my summers growing up in Rhode Island, I would bet the Rhode Island Skate Wing on the menu was delicious.

A number of meat items came from Slagel Family Farms, which I had seen on Illinois menus before, but nothing was labeled “pastured” or “grassfed” so I asked our server about those products. His answer was that their animals are not grassfed nor pastured, although if you read the Slagel Family Farms website you’ll learn that the cows are fed “a diet of grass, grain and alfalfa, hay and wheat straw.” Their beef products are “natural” but nothing indicates the cows roam on pastures. Same with the chickens. And the pigs, in fact, are raised in “open lots.”*

So, I opted for the Lake Erie lake perch. I’ve got  my own issues with fish as well–that’s another can of worms, so to speak, because of the farmed versus wild debate. I’m not sure consuming fish out of Lake Erie is better than “natural” beef. Still, I was happier eating meat from a fish that was likely freely swimming most of its life as opposed to a cow whose life I know nothing about or a pig raised in an “open lot.”

For dinner, Cathy and I started out with two delicious dishes from the Vegetable menu: the Pea Salad and the Grilled Asparagus.

Along came my fried lake perch, garnished with parmesan, bok choy and fried lemon slices. These were amazing! I had never had fried lemon slices before!

Cathy had the sirloin steak, which was topped with grilled ricotta cheese. (The steak is there somewhere…buried under the lovely salad!)

And who could resist a rhubarb dessert when it’s in season? We shared the Rhubarb Sorbet as well as the Rhubarb Waffle with Honey Butter. The sorbet was refreshing and a perfect finish for the meal. The waffle would have been a great start for breakfast! (But still, we liked it!)

While I’d like to see more “happy” meat on the menu, I was thrilled with the freshness and flavors of the dishes we ordered. There are many reasons to try The Publican—I’d love to hear about your experience!

*Note: While researching information for this blog post after dining at The Publican, I did learn that other pork items on the menu come from Becker Lane Organic Farm in Dyersville, Iowa, where the pigs are pastured.

Searching for Food in Cuba

Last week Bill and I were in Cuba with First-Hand Aid, the organization that brings medicine to the people there. Another way we help people is by assisting a food program called Meals on Heels, for which we bring lunch to elderly people who can’t leave their homes. I asked the program director how he shops for the food and he told me he spends Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each week going from market to market trying to find all the ingredients he needs to make lunch for 30 people from Monday through Friday. That’s 150 meals. And, in Cuba, sometimes no hay. Translation: there is none.

It’s not like in the U.S. or other industrialized countries where you can go to a supermarket and load up for the week. In Cuba, you have to go to the meat market, then the produce market, then the fish market, but the problem is there may simply be no fish that day. So you continue walking to other markets in the city until you find it (or don’t), sometimes logging 20 kilometers in a weekend.

Here are some images from our visit to a couple of the produce markets, where we were able to find onions, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash–items on our shopping list for the week.

The corn, however, did not look so good. So we kept looking….

But no hay comida–no food here–at this market. So we kept on walking….

We did find some spices at the next market but no corn that was acceptable. Maybe tomorrow….

It’s a common problem in Cuba. Even when tourists eat at restaurants, sometimes the menu items are simply not available. Bill and I were in Havana a week and could not get rice and beans, a common Cuban staple, until the last night when we had dinner.

It just reinforces how lucky we are in the U.S. to have access to so much food from all over the world and, in particular, in Michigan where we have a rich bounty of local produce available even in the winter.

(If you’re interested in learning more about the Cuban economy as it relates to food, check out the article “Thirty Days as a Cuban” in Harper’s magazine. Sorry, but you’ll have to pay for it to access it online!)

St. Lawrence Market in Old Town, Toronto

Established in 1803, the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto is a must-see if you’re in town. It’s open five days a week and on Saturdays it opens at 5 a.m. for the farmers’ market.

Whenever I travel, I always seek out the local farmers market. It’s a good place to pick up snack foods and lunch and it also gives you a sense of what’s in season in that area so you can know when you go out to restaurants.

Ontario is very similar to Michigan in climate so I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of the same produce we have in October, which is when I was in there: carrots, cabbage, apples, parsnips, kale, etc.

This market is huge. It’s not just produce, but also specialty merchants, vendors, and eateries.

I couldn’t resist the raspberry jam from Stasis Preserves.

All that’s in the jar are raspberries and sugar, which makes this a delightful Bill-friendly treat for his millet and flax toast!

There’s hardly time to get through the whole market, especially on a Saturday. But it’s well worth the visit when you’re in town.

Pittsburgh’s Public Market: In the Heart of The Strip District

Whenever I travel, I’m on a mission for local food. This past weekend Bill and I made Pittsburgh’s Public Market in The Strip District our destination. Going to The Strip is a fun experience in itself–the old architecture, the hustle-and-bustle of a Saturday morning, the variety of ethnic foods (and I suppose the shopping if you’re into that sort of thing).

In the early 20th century, The Strip was the hub of the wholesale produce business in Pittsburgh. After the Depression, the flood of 1936, and World War II, food supplies decreased. Then trucks began to replace railroads as the preferred method of transportation, and grocery store chains continued to grow, putting small independent stores out of business and cutting out wholesalers by purchasing directly from growers.

By the 1970s there were about two dozen dealers left in the produce terminal. Remaining dealers began to expand their businesses by opening retail stores on Penn Avenue and Smallman Street. Today the Strip District is best known for its retail produce and ethnic food stores, restaurants, and coffee shops.

I love a neighborhood that focuses on food!

After wandering The Strip, we headed to the Public Market, an indoor farmers market with many vendors selling local and organic produce–farmed and foraged–as well as meat and dairy products from humanely treated animals.

Always lured by goat cheese, we stopped by Abbe Turner’s booth on our way out. She’s the cheesemaker at Lucky Penny Farm, which raises Nubian, La Mancha, and Alpine dairy goats in Northeast Ohio, less than 100 miles from Pittsburgh.

We got to sample both the Chevre and the aged Goat Rock. Delicious!

We only wish we had brought our cooler since it was 90 degrees that day and we were a long way from a fridge!

Eating Well at 30,000 Feet

Photo by Frank Brownie via

I don’t know about you, but I have enough trouble finding good restaurants when I go out to eat locally. (I know I wouldn’t be saying that in New York City, but that’s because there are SO many to choose from!) Bill and I have a few reliable favorites–Everyday People Cafe, The Green Well, and Salt of the Earth–but most places in West Michigan still aren’t offering what they could in grassfed or pastured meats and locally sourced ingredients.

When we take long roadtrips, we have our routine down for eating lunch: We pack our own from home. But what about air travel?

One way to deal with it is to fly direct on short flights and eat at home before departure, but that only works if you’re on a short flight with no connections.

And if you’re a business traveler on a return trip, the advice I’m going to share probably won’t help much. But with airlines now providing no food, or processed food at a cost, and the airports capitalizing on our famished stomachs, it seems we’re at the mercy of the segment of the restaurant industry that isn’t focused on local, sustainable food sources.

Michelle Higgins from The New York Times can help. She consulted with a number of chefs about what they would bring onboard. Here’s some advice for your next flight.

Freeze It

  • Chef Josh Capon of Lure Fishbar brings shrimp cocktail onboard. He freezes the shrimp and packs them in a plastic container, along with separate two-ounce to-go cups of sauce that can clear security. “By the time you get to the airport and go through security,” he said, they will be ready to eat.
  • Freezing meats and cheese will make them last longer.
  • Melissa d’Arabian of the Food Network freezes Go-Gurt and YoPlait yogurt and has no problem getting them through security she says because “they can fit in the required one-quart zip-top plastic bag for security.”

Heat With Hot Water

  • For a hot meal, you can pack cooked pasta, grated cheese (in a separate plastic bag) and some chopped vegetables. This is what Melissa d’Arabian does onboard: “I ask the flight attendant for half a cup of tea water. I pour it over my pasta, close it up and let it sit for a minute or two and drain it back into the cup. Now my pasta is warm.” Add the veggies and cheese and you’ve got a real meal in coach.

Pack a Picnic

  • You can pack a whole grain salad such as quinoa or tabbouleh, in a container with olive oil or dressing at the bottom. Once onboard, simply shake it all up.
  • Marco Porceddu, executive chef for Asellina, suggests bringing a sandwich made with crusty bread, charcuterie and a little olive oil.
  • To save space and seal in any sandwich juices, wrap your sandwich in plastic wrap first, followed by aluminum foil, recommends Mr. Capon. Grapes, carrot sticks with hummus, and vegetable-based sushi like California rolls are also a staple.
Stash Healthy Snacks
  • Stick to a formula of “protein plus complex carbs” for in-flight meals. Melissa d’Arabian carries raw unsalted almonds at all times, which can be combined with a fruit cup for a healthy snack.

Eat Before You Go

  • Eric Ripert, executive chef and an owner of Le Bernardin in New York, avoids airline food  altogether by eating before he gets to the airport. If he’s pressed for time he seeks out the best option at the airport. “I know where Wolfgang Puck Express is in L.A.,” he said, referring to Mr. Puck’s restaurant outpost at Los Angeles International Airport. Since he travels frequently he knows his way through the airports.
Grab and Go
  • Cesare Casella, the executive chef and a partner at Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, flies frequently so he take burrata, an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, onboard. “By the time I start to eat it, the burrata is the perfect temperature, especially on skinny Tuscan bread, toasted,” he said.

Southwest Michigan Food Trail

Illustration via Midwest Living

Four writers from Midwest Living magazine recently explored the culinary side of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Called “4 Ultimate Food Trails,” the article describes the places they visited during a weekend food tour in each state.

They visited Southwest Michigan, where I live, following a 125-mile route (each way) from the Lake Michigan shore at Saugatuck and inland to the Indiana state line.

Called the Fruit Belt (news to me, but I’m from New Jersey originally!), it’s laden with  orchards, vineyards, and vegetable farms. Just look up Michigan on to find the bounty of fresh produce in this area.

Because homegrown, fresh food is so accessible, I think it’s easier for restaurateurs to focus on procuring local products for their menu offering–including grassfed and pastured meats, as well as organic milk, eggs, and cheese.

I was excited to see Salt of the Earth, a restaurant located in nearby Fennville, on the tour! It’s one of the restaurants Bill and I like to go to because they try to offer local ingredients whenever possible.

The writers also went to Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery, which I still need to visit, as well as Fenn Valley Winery, my favorite–and closest–local winery. (If you’re in the area this weekend, check out the Fenn Valley Wine Fest to sample what’s in their cellar!)

I have to agree with them in their description of this region: “The flavors of our past have become the ingredients of our future, and Michigan offers them in abundance.”