Local in restaurants?

I had lunch at Vello’s Brickstreet Grill yesterday, a small “grille” just a few blocks from my office in downtown Gainesville. I only go out to lunch once or twice a month, so when I do, it had better be good. I have tried several dishes at Vello’s but I often come back to the same thing- a big salad with baby arugula, shaved prosciutto, manchego, fresh cantaloupe, and balsamic vinegar. It’s a filling salad and nicely balanced. SO I order my salad and settle in to read my book and enjoy the gorgeous weather.

Then the salad arrives and I take the first bite of melon and arugula… and immediately have to spit it out in my napkin. The cantaloupe was both slimy and fizzy, a taste combination I do not recommend. I carried the salad over to the hostess and we did the whole I’m-sorry, no I’m sorry dance, and they brought me a new salad with freshly cut cantaloupe and everything was good and I enjoyed my salad. And that salad was really good… except for the cantaloupe which was nice and fresh but still lackluster. It was so obviously a cantaloupe shipped in from gods-know-where in Central or South America, ripened in an airplane or in a packing house with gas, and the refrigerated.

So, why did the restaurant use this obviously out-of-season, inferior cantaloupe in its salad? A salad of only 5 ingredients, so you’re going to notice immediately when one of those ingredients is not up to snuff?

I can think of two reasons:

1. Menu continuity. We are Americans. We are used to immediate convenience and chain restaurants that serve the same food whether we’re in Florida or Michigan. It may also be because printing menus costs money. So does uploading menus to websites, chowhound, urbanspoon, yelp, etc. Most people find one-two dishes they like at a restaurant and always order that. What would they order if the menu changed regularly?

2. Lack of awareness of what really fresh food tastes like. I don’t buy cantaloupes in the grocery store any more because once you eat a ripened-in-the-field cantaloupe, especially one that has never been refrigerated, you never want to eat any other kind. All I could think of when I was eating that salad yesterday was how much better it would have been with strawberries, which are nearing the end of their season but the height of the flavor.

So, good readers, what do you think? Why don’t independent restaurants use seasonal produce, especially when it will obviously affect the quality and flavor of the dishes? Would that make a difference for you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *