The delights and challenges of finding sustainable restaurants
Local and organic restaurants are gaining popularity in some areas, but in others the choices are slim. In this edition of our Town & Country series, Margaret and Katherine discuss how dining out differs where they live.
Margaret: A few of my favorite things
One of my favorite things about living in New York City is the restaurant scene. You could eat at a different restaurant every day of the year, and there’s something for every palate. For the sustainably minded, there’s no shortage of organic restaurants, vegan-only eateries and farm-to-table establishments.
Instead of trying to give you the comprehensive guide to sustainable restaurants in NYC, I’d like to share two of my favorite places in my neighborhood.
After an emotionally and physically exhausting day of apartment hunting, my boyfriend and I thought we were close to choosing our next home. But we didn’t want to make such an important decision on an empty stomach. Bareburger was the comfort food of choice, and we made up our minds over a starter of fries and onion rings.
There are now several Bareburger locations, the first being here in Astoria. They specialize in free-range meats, organic ingredients and homemade condiments. You can build your own burger, with patty options that include quinoa veggie burgers, a big portabella mushroom, bison, lamb or beef. There are many ways to build a customized burger, so I don’t have to worry about a vegetarian or gluten-free friend not being able to find something awesome to eat. I usually order a pretty straightforward burger here, but my favorite menu item might be the peanut butter milkshake made with organic ice cream.
If I have friends coming to Astoria for the first time, Butcher Bar is a top pick. This little shop has a mission to “connect our customers to the source of their food.” They offer organic and humane certified meats, sourced from local and small-scale farmers. As the name implies, you can buy cuts to cook at home, or you can sit down for Slow-Food-approved BBQ. They have a nice patio in the back, if the weather is good. My favorite menu items are the burnt ends, the mac and cheese, and the sweet potato wedges.
Now, you may be thinking—burgers and barbecue? That sounds like a lot of meat for a TreeHugger. I eat mostly vegetarian at home, and I’m not particularly skilled at cooking meat. So, when I go out I like to support the places that are doing it right—sustainably and deliciously. I’m more likely to order a vegetarian meal if I’m at a restaurant where it’s unclear how they source their animal products.
Dining with friends is a big part of my social life, and there are many times when it’s not up to me where we eat or it’s not feasible to go to a super sustainable restaurant. So, while I draw the line at the worst of the processed fast-food joints, I’m not enough of a food snob to tell a friend I won’t come to her birthday dinner because there’s nothing local or organic on the menu. Enjoying good food should be a social activity, and there are some times when who you share a meal with matters more than what you eat.
Katherine: If I crave it, I'll probably have to make it myself.
© K Martinko
Reading Margaret’s post about sustainable restaurants in New York City made me nostalgic for the days when I, too, lived in a major city and had access to interesting restaurants that believe in the importance of sourcing sustainably grown food, particularly meat. Unfortunately, ever since I moved to a small rural town, I’ve had to say goodbye to a thriving restaurant scene.
Sadly, there's limited selection out here in the boonies. I can count on one hand the number of excellent restaurants there are to choose from, after eliminating the obvious fast food chains. Most cater to the typical small town Canadian palate with a selection of (questionably sourced) burgers, wings, and ribs piled high with fries. Few have any decent vegetarian dishes, which is frustrating for someone who doesn’t want to eat factory-farmed meat.
There is one place, however, that opened a year ago and has become a huge favourite of mine. Although it doesn’t source its meat ethically, it offers a wide range of fabulous vegetarian dishes from all around the world. The portions are generous and always yield leftovers, the price is reasonable, and the staff are happy to fill my reusable containers for takeout. There, I get my restaurant fix with spicy Trinidadian chickpea doubles, Indian aloo gobi or paneer in butter sauce with fresh naan, West African peanut stew, falafel wraps, or vegetarian pad thai.
Because my restaurant options are so limited, this means that I have to cook dinner from scratch almost every night, with ingredients that I source and buy locally. While it does get tedious at times, I’ve become faster and better at it over the years. Plus, it’s always nice to think about how much money is saved in the process. Taking a family of four out for dinner is not cheap, which means it happens only on very special occasions; and when we do go, we like to do it right.
Like Margaret, I am not entirely against going to other restaurants, particularly if I’m meeting up with friends for dinner. I’d rather socialize and not be a total food snob, although I always make sure to ask questions about the food I order. The more people who ask important questions – where the food comes from, how it’s grown, whether fish is wild or farmed, certified sustainable, organic, grown locally or overseas, what vegetarian/vegan options there are, etc. – the more likely it is for a restaurant to take note and change its practices.