Farming philosophy that advocates producing food in an ecologically considerate and humane manner. An all-encompassing ethos, sustainable agriculture involves both a moral dimension (the fair and equitable treatment of farm workers, ensuring that farming endures as a viable profession) and a rigorous commitment to self-sufficiency through the incorporation of natural biological cycles and controls - e.g., letting fields lie fallow so their soil can "recover" from a previous growing season, and rotating animals and crops from one parcel of land to the next so that the chickens manicure the pastureland vacated by the cows, and the strawberries blossom through the soil fertilized by the chickens, etc. Despite its inherently upbeat mission, sustainable agriculture has become a rallying cry for dour Issue Snobs looking for something to be shrill and strident about. "Goddamnit, we have got to get our school districts to buy milk from dairy co-ops that support sustainable agriculture!"
(from The Food Snob's Dictionary)
On Wednesday, Alicia and I met for lunch to celebrate her last day before she had to be back at school (I know, where did the summer go?). We were both anxious to go to The Dogwood in Hampden, recently named Best Sustainable Restaurant by Baltimore Mag and winner of the hotly coveted "Cooper's parents current favorite restaurant" award. Besides that we'd both heard great things about the food, The Dogwood is the most prominent Baltimore restaurant that adopts the Jamie Oliver approach to service and kitchen staff. From their website:
The Dogwood restaurant is a training school for the Dogwood Gourmet Institute, a cutting edge, scholarship-only, culinary and hospitality institute for those recovering from addiction, homelessness, and incarceration.
I'm a huge fan of this approach to social problems. I just think it smacks of effectivness...plus the end result is great food. Who can complain about that?
And at The Dogwood, the school really does translate into great food. The place is very cute on it's own. There's a carry out deli at the street level, and the actual restaurant is in sort of the back basement of an old building on West 36th Street (a street that is, by the way, way too cute these days. John Waters must be a little sad that Hampden's become such a yuppie-ish haven. I, however, am not complaining.)
The interior of the restaurant doesn't feel basementy, even though that's where it's located. The walls are bright pastels and covered in artwork and behind the bar, a huge layered mirror is edgy enough to keep the wall colors from feeling saccharine. Alicia and I settled into the cute space and started talking, so of course we barely looked at the menu for the first 10 minutes. We had some iced tea that was laced notes of something (cinnamon?) that made it just a little different without being cloying.
Our waitress did a great job of anticipating our pacing, too - and that's something I don't expect in most restaurants, let alone one that's a training ground. But she did.
When we eventually ordered, we both went simple, with sandwiches. Alicia had the turkey Rachel - fresh roasted turkey, swiss, cranberry mustard and fennel slaw (that she got on the side). I ordered the a chicken, apple and brie sandwich with apple-yam butter on sourdough. Both came just a little bit warm (but not overly melty), with painfully addictive potato chips and a crispy pickle. We demolished them.
I'd really like to go back, now, for dinner. The sandwiches were great, mostly because the chef didn't get in the way of the ingredients. The rest of the menu reads like it would be the same - fresh and seasonal ingredients that are simply combined to show off the food itself, not the ego of the people behind the grill.
Unfortunately, the lunch also marked the end of what I'm thinking of as "summer". Oh, we still have a few more days of swimming at my parents' beach, and we'll go to Fenwick for Labor Day, but for all intents and purposes, it's fall. The weather's been a little cooler and the student athletes are back in Towson and at Loyola. Our friends who work for various schools are all back in school mode.
So now it's onward. We have a busy fall, with Cooper's sister getting married, among other things, and I have a lot to do (and a lot to cook).
Oh, and verdict on The Dogwood: everyone should go, and we will definitely go back.