Of all the buzzwords and marketing jargon popular with restaurants today, "farm to table" is one I find most annoying. There isn't a restaurant out there that can't claim that its food is farm to table, even fast food burger joints. It's just that in some cases — most cases — some really awful things happen to the food on its way from the farm to the table.
But there are some restaurants that walk the walk, to use another buzzphrase, and source their products as carefully as they can from small, independent growers who put an emphasis on quality. And, of course, here in Florida, where we have four food-growing seasons, there's an abundance of good, fresh product for restaurants to choose from. Still, that doesn't stop some from claiming they're sourcing their food from local farms while actually buying items that are several steps removed.
So the Florida Department of Agriculture, which sponsors the "Fresh From Florida" program to promote the state's farm products, has launched "Fresh From Florida On the Menu," to highlight restaurants that really are using ingredients from the Sunshine State.
Locally, Talk of the Town Restaurant Group's brands, including Charley's Steak House, Moonfish and others, have been given the seal of approval to display the Fresh From Florida seal of approval on its menus. Representatives of the agriculture department were in town recently to tout the program and sponsored a media dinner at TOTT's Johnnie's Hideaway.
The evening began with a reception featuring cocktails using ingredients from Driscoll Farms and Falcon Farms. The latter supplied cucumbers for the Dartmoor, which had gin and elderflower liqueur with lemon and dill. Pretty refreshing.
The appetizers included Florida stone crab bisque, Canaveral oysters on the half shell and Rockefellered, and orange marinated frog legs. However, out of all of those state-sourced ingredients, only the orange, from Peace River in Ft. Meade, that was used in the marinade was indicated on the menu as Fresh From Florida. So it's possible to have locally sourced ingredients that don't meet the programs criteria (which might only mean they haven't applied to be part of the program; it's all a little squishy).
The next course featured cedar-planked grouper cooked over Florida citrus wood with Royal Red Canaveral shrimp pan roast and brown butter salsify served with oyster and shiitake mushrooms. The mushrooms were from M&M Farms in Apopka.
Surf and turf (filet mignon with Key West lobster) was accompanied by red bliss potatoes from Suwannee Farms in O'Brien. And dessert brought back more of the blueberries from Driscoll Farms in Plant City for a cobbler with gelato. The Key lime pie was not indicated as a FFF On the Menu item.
Criteria for restaurants to be included in the Fresh From Florida On the Menu program and thus display the logo next to menu items is currently rather restrictive. The Department of Agriculture is considering restaurants that preferably have more than one location and a long operating history, preferably multi-generational. That last requirement might be difficult because insanity isn't always inherited.
Certainly many other Central Florida restaurants could meet the criteria, but only the Talk of the Town brands have been included so far. You can find a list of other restaurants at the Fresh From Florida website.
Johnnie's Hideaway, which did a terrific job with the dinner, is in the Crossroads Shopping Center, 12551 S. Apopka Vineland Road, Orlando. It is open for dinner daily. The phone number is 407-827-1111.