Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Soft Shell Crabs are Coming

I have been hesitant to write something on soft shells this year.  Though they started to show up over a month ago, the prices were sky high and quality was, well it was the first of the season, so you know how that goes.  Now I feel like its time to mention the tasty little critters because more states are open and if the warm weather keeps up we are going to see softies begin shedding right in our backyard.  Right now FL, GA, and SC are producing soft shell crabs and my sources tell me that pots have been dropped in VA waters and right now its a waiting game.  The price has come down, not to mid-season levels, but enough where we are offering them at BlackSalt on a regular basis.  The sizes I have been quoted right now are for jumbo size crabs, which are perfect for cooking, but the smaller crabs that are more affordable are soon to come.  If you want to encourage the warm the weather to get here faster, there's no better way to do it than cooking up some soft shell crabs, pouring a few pints, and turning up the music.  Quoting the Beatles, "Here comes the sun."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Black Restaurant Group loves to host a crawfish boil and if we are putting on a party, you know its going to be epic.  During the spring months of April, May, and June you will catch at least one of our restaurants throwing down on a good ole' fashioned, Louisiana-style boil that includes spicy peel-and-eat shrimp, gator, corn, potatoes, and homemade andouille sausage.  The feature is of course, the star of it all, authentic, live Louisiana crawfish.  Whether you call them crawfish, crawdads, crawdaddys, or mud bugs, you can't go wrong when you use live, fat, select size crawfish for your boil.  Finding the best ones outside of the state of Louisiana is not always as easy as you might think.  The folks in the bayou are quite fond of their local fare, and usually the fattest bugs are reserved for card-carrying members.  Lets just say, it pays to know a guy.

Enter Jamie Guidry.  Jamie is the son of Louisiana chef Todd Guidry and has started a company, Crawdaddy's LLC,  running crawfish from select spots in Crowley and Dulac, LA all the way back to D.C. once a week during the season.  Jamie and his family are from Louisiana and have rooted connections there that aren't open to everybody.  Fortunately for us, Jamie uses his connections to deliver only the best and sweetest bugs available, ones that previously would not have crossed state lines.  Jeff Black restaurants offer these delicious critters in the proper style, seasoned with secret spices and served in boil-basket, family style fashion.  We won't share just exactly what spices are used in making these buttery bugs mouth-watering, but we are proud to have a true bayou guy providing us with the most important ingredient; great product.  Jamie's bugs really are the sweetest crawfish I have tasted.  The next time you hear crawfish boil at one of the Black restaurants, get your ticket early.  We will get you in on the tasty 'secret' as if you were a true Louisianian.  Just don't call them crayfish.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Northern Neck Turns to Produce

Barn at the Farm
Steve Turnage began delivering fresh products to Washington D.C. in 1986 and has not looked back since.  He wakes up at 2:30 in the morning on delivery days and is on the road by 3:30 am in order to get to D.C. restaurants in time for lunch service.  He started out growing mushrooms on logs cut from white oak but since has moved on to produce.

His Northern Neck Farm is situated behind his house on Kingsmill Road in Hague, Virginia and boasts almost 100 acres.  On it he produces fresh greens, onions, rosemary, and lettuce right now, but is always open to farming new items.  He enjoys developing working relationships with chefs where each party feeds off the other for ideas.  You can tell his heart is in it from the painstaking efforts he takes in producing good food.  Crops are planted and harvested by hand, which, when you are talking about over 5,000 individual onion bulbs, can get quite daunting.  Still, Steve prides himself on his ability to maintain quality in his products while deterrents such as deer and bad weather hinder his production.  Recently he planted a field of wildflowers to encourage bees to visit the area.  The noisy guests provide a vehicle for pollination and are a welcome sight to any farm.  Steve will continue to provide great produce to local D.C. restaurants for some time, but that doesn't necessarily mean he wants to get any bigger.  Steve reflected as we were leaving, "I like where we are right now.  We are at a place where if we got any bigger, I am not sure we could do what we do."  That's a thoughtful insight into the difference between buying from large producers and small farmers; it's not about how many plants you grow, but rather, how you grow them.  Videos: DeliveriesSpinach, and Produce
Waiting for Spring

Even Star Farms With a Purpose

In the greenhouse at Bret's 
Meet Bret Grohsgal.  He is the man/farmer/biologist/steward behind Even Star Organic Farm located in Lexington Park, Maryland.  He provides Black Restaurant Group with traceable, fresh, organic, sustainable, local produce from his 104 acre farm that he certifies delicious, and we agree.  Bret farms with a conscience; he takes the environment into consideration in everything thing he does, from creating habitat for threatened species, protecting the local watershed, to maximizing biodiversity.  He is a colorful character, as the videos attached below can attest to, who is consumed with producing a quality product that is not only safe and smart to eat, but also tasty.

He will be quick to talk about the terroir of his land, how crops of arugula from one section of the property can taste completely different than crops from another.  He pays attention not only to the growth of his crops but also to their flavor.  Bret "gets it" when it comes to the importance of providing produce for chefs that is especially flavorful.  Maybe that is why he started out almost 17 years ago selling to Addies Restaurant in 1996, where a young chef named Jeff Black demanded only the best local ingredients.  Addies was his first customer and as the Black Restaurant Group has expanded, so has Bret.  Bret began working as a cook and chef and used his restaurant work to pay his way through Berkeley undergrad and North Carolina State University grad school, where he earned a Masters Degree in soil science.  The first crop he planted was arugula, which he still plants today.  Meeting Bret and his farm you can't help but get entangled into his enthusiasm.  He has a zest for life and the preservation of the quality of it and you can taste his passion in the freshness of his produce.  This is real food that is conscientiously farmed, and that is something that all of us can get excited about.
Videos: ArugulaKale, Habitat Pond, and Napini

UPDATED Videos from the summer harvest: Tomato SystemBintje Poatatoes

Wave if you see Bret

Pipe Dreams Makes Great Cheese a Reality

Brad Parker loves his goats.  We love his cheese.  It all makes sense when you visit his farm in scenic Greencastle, Pennsylvania.  It's a common occurrence to hear the chatter of the baby goats looking for their next feeding or dairy goats bellowing hellos when you pull into the farm.  You will most likely find Brad in the cheese room, hard at work, or outside taking care of his herd, completing the arduous daily tasks that are required to maintain happy goats.  That's o.k., it's what he signed up for when he figured out that outside work was more suited to him than an office job.

Photo courtesy of Sierra Suris
Brad studied in France during the early 1980's, in a region he called "the West Virginia of France", a landscape decorated with rolling hills and scenic mountains.  During his time there he took up goat herding while not at school and it was this experience that planted the seed in his mind that maybe working with these animals was an occupation he was destined for.  After a stint with the Peace Core he worked with Capricorn Farms and that experience catapulted him into the cheese farm he runs today.  To listen to him talk you get a sense of how excited he is about the cheese he is producing and the twinkle in his eye reveals to you just how important farming a beautiful product is to his quality of life.  He is dedicated to his farm and his herd and you can taste it in the rich, flavorful cheese he produces proving that happy goats make happy cheese. Videos: Cheese Room
Goat Cheese Logs
Kids Saying Hello

Good Fortune And Great Food

The Seed Cooler
Less than 30 miles outside of Washington D.C. Mike Klein of Good Fortune Farm produces organic produce for Black Restaurant Group with a hands on, attentive approach that is reflected in the wonderful flavor of his harvest.  Looking at Mike's hands you can get a feel for all the hard work and care he puts into the quality of his food.  On his farm he grows everything from strawberries to asparagus to tomatoes to garlic, diversifying his operation while figuring out what works best.

Mike purchased his farm in 1997, a few years after receiving a Masters Degree in Animal Science from UC Davis.  He began by growing a small selection of items that included tomatoes, potatoes, and strawberries.  One of his first customers was a bright young chef who had an affinity for everything local and delicious and sustainably farmed, before it was en vogue.  That chef happened to be Jeff Black, the owner and chef of Addies Restaurant in Rockville, MD.  Today Mike's ultra fresh produce is featured at BRG restaurants, where each restaurant always looks forward to his evening deliveries.  He is known to have some of the best asparagus and sweetest strawberries available, all grown in Brandywine, MD, right outside D.C.'s city limits. Mike only delivers to a select group of restaurants and refuses to get any bigger, but he adds "I'll always be willing to save room for a Jeff Black restaurant."  Our chefs and guests are happy about that.
Works like a charm
Video Link: Mike and Good FortuneNursery,
Garlic, and Radishes

UPDATED VIDEOS:  Here are some updated videos of the farm in July during harvest!!

TomatoesAsparagusFigsChoosing FarmlandOkraPoor Potatoes

Earth N Eats, A Family Farm

All photos courtesy of Sierra Suris
Pulling into Earth N Eats farm off of Wayne Highway in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, you get a sense that you are a guest at someones house, not just a visitor at a farm.  That's exactly how Samuel and Josiah Martin want it.  Located in a beautiful area of Southern Pennsylvania, Earth N Eats is a family first farm that delivers fresh produce, mushrooms, cheese, and eggs to Black Restaurant Group.

A trip into the greenhouses introduces the different farming techniques they employ, from growing leafy greens in floating trays to cultivating tiny radishes in plastic cups.  When talking to Samuel you get a sense of the passion and excitement he has for growing good food from the quick of his speech and the energy of his hand motions.  He looks you right in the eye when talking about his farm and he means it when he says that his operation is as much about family and quality as it is about profit.  Some of his produce really stretches the imagination of what is possible due to its diminutive size and bold flavors.  He has the sweetest carrots you will taste about the size of a wine cork, radishes the size of marbles that are more savory than bitter, and turnips no bigger than a quarter that could fool your taste buds into thinking they just encountered some exotic nut.  They are currently working on baby beets that rival homemade candies for deliciousness and color.  Samuel and Josiah are both honest, hard-working people that are looking to share their passion for healthy, good food with the city, just like as if it were family.  Videos: BasilMicro GreensThe Greenhouse