Archive for January 2011

A Destination Microbrewery in the Gateway to the West: Schlafly Bottleworks

When people talk about St. Louis, beer usually comes up early in the discussion.  Before Anheuser-Busch’s rise to market dominance after the 1970s, St. Louis offered a home to dozens of breweries with its combination of ethnic immigration, access to resources, and a proliferation of caves perfect for storage.  With such a long and storied tradition of brewing, it is perhaps fitting that beer became a way to revitalize the city.  Tom Schlafly’s vision of bringing flavorful, handcrafted beer back to St. Louis started with a microbrewery in 1991 and now encompasses 34 different types of brew served across the region and at Schlafly’s two restaurants: the original Tap Room in St. Louis and the Bottleworks, which also serves as the main production center, just across the city line in the suburb of Maplewood.

Schlafly’s commitment to producing high quality, fresh beer has made the brewery a staple of St. Louis.  This commitment carries over into the larger environmental goals of the company.  Various green processes are incorporated into the brewing such as heat recovery, composting and recycling of waste products, as well as a larger commitment to using renewable energy.  At the Bottleworks, itself a recycled former grocery store, the green mission continues with a weekly farmers’ market during the warmer months and a more limited indoor market during the winter.  Taking the local food movement to heart, the Bottleworks’s kitchen garden, though diminutive in size at 1/5 of an acre, offers an outlet for compost from the kitchen and recently returned over 3,200 pounds of produce for use in the restaurant that supplements locally and regionally sourced products.  The brewery gift shop even offers several varieties of natural soap made with beer brewed twenty feet away.

After a long week, my colleague and I decided that a good meal and some excellent beer would be a nice way to start the weekend.  A trip to the Bottleworks was definitely in order.  The atmosphere is a bit industrial and plays to the theme of being a working brewery, which is visible through large windows and open for tours.  The concrete floors, metal work, and generally open floor plan link the production facilities to the eatery while a screen allows visual access to the kitchen.  Visually the theme works well, though it can get noisy with all the hard surfaces.

While the bar caters to the generally younger crowd, the restaurant is family friendly with a nice mix of young professionals, couples, coworkers, and families.  With a bar area, restaurant, and outdoor patio, there is plenty of space to sit back and relax, but on a Friday night prepare to wait for a little while.  We arrived at 6:30 and had about a 10-minute wait without reservations, but a quick trip to the bar got us started with a pint of the limited release Hop Harvest Ale ($4.25).  It was similar to an India Pale Ale (IPA), but less hoppy and with a mild, almost sweet flavor by comparison.  It was thoroughly enjoyable to drink separately or with a meal.  The hops provided just enough presence to balance out our main courses.

The menu offers extensive dining options from small pub fare through to substantial mains and is supplemented by specials of the day.  Conveniently for diners, those dishes featuring Missouri-sourced ingredients are labeled with a picture of the state, while chalk boards in the dining room detail the purveyors currently supplying the restaurant.  A popular appetizer is the spent grain bread made with left over grain from the brewing process.  For the health conscious red meat lover, bison features prominently on the menu with options for nachos, burgers, and stew and several juicy burgers passed by our table.

We opted to start with the smoked Missouri trout with orange Cognac honey glaze & horseradish mayonnaise that came on a bed of greens and plenty of baguette toasts ($11).  It was almost a meal in itself with two large filets.  A portion half the size would probably suffice for just two people.  The flavors blended together nicely with the smokiness pervasive but not overpowering the delicate taste of the fish while the glaze provided just the right amount of sweetness balanced with the tanginess of the mayonnaise.  The dish received high praise from my colleague, an avid trout fisher, for preserving the flavor of the fish itself.

Our mains consisted of hearty, comfort food.  My dining companion chose the sausage and kraut, a selection of hickory, Polish and boudin sausages served with sauerkraut and red potatoes ($14).  This very traditionally St. Louis German fare seemed to be designed for a workingman’s appetite and filled a large plate to the rim.  The roasted potatoes were fairly standard and the sausages had excellent flavor, but the highlight was the rather delicate sauerkraut.  The cabbage was incredibly tender without the stiff texture and overly vinegary taste of mass-produced kraut.  I settled on the meatloaf made with a mixture of beef, bison, and andouille sausage topped with Oatmeal Stout-tomato sauce and served with smoked Gouda gratin and pan-fried corn ($17).  With a surprising zip and tanginess to it, the tomato sauce added a nice spice to cut through the meat.  The addition of lean bison meant that the meatloaf had very little of the greasy heaviness more typical of the traditional dish while preserving the flavor of the meat.  The gratin was nicely baked with a crisp herb crust and creamy inside that had my colleague reaching for a second taste.  While fine as a side in itself, the corn was perhaps one starch too many as we were both looking for something a little lighter to balance the meal.  With a drink, huge appetizer and stick to your ribs main course we were far too full for any of the tempting desserts.

With their excellent food, outstanding beer, and commitment to sustainable, local production, it is easy to see why Schlafly has become such a popular name in St. Louis (Ethan Bennett 1/29/11). [Schlafly Bottleworks, Maplewood (St. Louis County, Mo), 7260 Southwest Avenue (at Manchester), 314.241.2337, Lunch & Dinner: Sun 11:00AM-9:00PM, Mon-Thur 11:00AM-10:00PM, Fri-Sat 11:00AM-11:00PM,  ]

Agriculture Experts At California State U (Chico) and University of California (Davis) Confirm: Grass-Fed Beef Superior

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma (The Penguin Press, New York, New York, 2006), Michael Pollan describes in vivid prose the nightmare world of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) and the “polluted water and air, toxic wastes, novel and deadly pathogens” they have produced “in their short history.”  It is with some relief that Mr. Pollan also focuses on the alternative “bovine dining scene” of cows at pasture feeding on grass:  “harvesting their own feed instead of waiting for a dump truck to deliver a total mixed ration of corn that had been grown hundreds of miles away and then blended by animal nutritionists with urea, antibiotics, minerals, and the fat of other cattle in a feedlot laboratory.”

There is little doubt that, in Mr. Pollan’s words, “growing meat on grass makes superb ecological sense:  It is a sustainable, solar-powererd food chain that produces food by transforming sunlight into protein.”  Further, cows are ruminants (like sheep and bison) and “have evolved the special ability to convert grass-which single-stomached creatures like us can’t digest-into high quality protein.”  Pollan calls “the rumen” the most highly evolved digestive organ in nature: “About the size of a medicine ball, the organ is essentially a forty-five-gallon fermentation tank in which a resident population of bacteria dines on grass.”  Mr. Pollan makes a convincing case that feeding corn to cows “violates the biological or evolutionary logic of bovine digestion.”

Mr. Pollan’ also asserts in The Omnivore’s Dilemma “that many of the health problems associated with eating beef are really problems with corn fed beef.”  This contention now finds support in a thorough review by agricultural experts of the scientific research spanning three decades, which focused upon the differences in nutritional quality between grass-fed and grain-fed cattle, conducted by Patrick Doyle, Amber Abbott, and Cynthia A. Daley (California State University, Chico) and Glenn A. Nader and Stephanie Larson (University of California Cooperative Extension Service, Davis).  The experts’ review of the scientific literature has confirmed that grass-fed beef is by far superior nutritionally to grain-fed beef [].

Nutritionists agree that an imbalance of dietary cholesterol and fats are the primary cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and that the overall consumption of saturated fatty acids (SFAs), trans-fatty acids (TAs) and cholesterol should be reduced while the intake of n-3 polyunsaturated fats should be increased.  The scientific review by the California-based agricultural experts concluded that grass-based diets for cows enhance (i) total conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) isomers, (ii) trans vaccenic acid (TVA) which is a precursor to CLA, and (iii) omega-3 fatty acid (FA).  Grass-fed beef tends toward higher proportion of cholesterol neutral stearic fatty acid, and less cholesterol-raising saturated fatty acids (SFAs).

In addition, a healthy diet “should consist of roughly 1 to 4 times more omega 6 fatty acid than omega 3 fatty acid, and there are significant differences in this “n-6: n-3 ratios” between grass fed and grain fed beef: 1.53 grass fed; 7.65 grain-fed. (The reviewers noted that the typical American diet has an extraordinary 11 to 30 times more omega 6 fatty acid than omega 3 fatty acid, which may explain the rising rate of inflammatory disorders).  Cattle fed primarily grass significantly increased the omega-3 content of the meat and also produced a more favorable omega 6 to omega 3 ratio than grain fed beef.

Further, grass-fed beef have elevated carotenoid content (precursor for Vitamin A) and elevated precursors for Vitamin E, as well as powerful cancer fighting antioxidants such as glutathione (GT) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) as compared to grain-fed beef.  Ruminants on high forage rations pass a portion of the ingested carotenoids from the grass into their milk and body fat.  Pasture fed steers incorporate significantly higher amounts of beta-carotene into muscle tissue as compared to grain-fed animals: a 7-fold increase in B-carotene levels over grain-fed steers.  Plus, grass-fed beef has an overall lower fat content to grain-fed beef.

The review also lends support to the contention that animals should arguably be “finished” on 100% grass or pasture-based diets to maximize the favorable lipid profile and to guarantee the elevated antioxidant content because “shifting diets to cereal grains will cause a significant change in the fatty acid profile and antioxidant content within 30 days of transition.”  In sum, the “pastoral approach to beef production,” according to the experts’ review of the scientific literature, results in an enhanced nutrient claim for grass-fed beef products, which is better for human health.

In Cultivating Science, Harvesting Power- Science and Industrial Agriculture in California (The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008), Christopher Henke, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colgate University, focused on the role of agricultural scientists, employed by Cooperative Extension of University of California (UC), in assisting growers in the development of industrial scale agriculture in California’s Salinas Valley.  Growers invested a great deal of effort in “intervention” with Mother Nature in order to transform the valley into a “unique” place, and Prof. Henke detailed the role of agricultural scientists in this extraordinary transformation of an American landscape.  For local food advocates, it is a hopeful sign to see that UC cooperative extension agricultural scientists have utilized their expertise to participate in this thorough review of the scientific literature on the differences in nutritional quality between grass-fed and grain-fed cattle.  The major conclusion that grass-fed beef is superior to grain-fed beef lends significant support to Michael Pollan’s brilliant critique of industrial agriculture in The Omnivore’s Dilemma [FWB 1/28/11].

Hudson Valley's Local 111 in Philmont (Columbia County, NY)

The weekend weather in January was frigid, with light snow, in my hometown of Albany, NY, but not so severe to alter our decision to enjoy another meal at Local 111, a superb farm to table restaurant in Philmont (Columbia County, NY).  A special winter dinner to benefit local farms and agriculture through the work of the Columbia Land Conservancy caught my eye on the restaurant’s website: A six course meal with local meats from Cool Whisper Farm and “all manner of preserved and pickled things put up from the summer by Chef Josephine Proul.”

The special dinner menu listed a creative assortment of dishes: roasted chicken ravioli with celeriac, pecans and brown butter; ham hock broth with pork dumplings, slow cooked pork spare rib and carrot slaw; biscuits with smoked bacon gravy; Highland beef sausage with pork and white bean stew, corn meal cake, toasted bread crumbs and parsley; pickled green tomato and beans; seared Highland Beef sirloin with braised beef hash, beet puree and candied parsnips; and a dessert of preserved apricot tart with sweet cream, “July” berries and toaster almonds.  Each course was complemented by a particular beer from the small and local Chatham Brewing, which brews its beers every week and sells them on Saturdays from 11:00AM-2:00PM at the brewery in the village of Chatham in Columbia County.  All natural with no additives or fillers, the beer is “just hops, barley, malt, yeast and that magic elixir called Chatham water” The range of beers to be served with each course was enticing, including the brewery’s Porter, a dark beer with hints of coffee and chocolate, O.C. Blonde, with its traces of orange and coriander, and Scotch Ale, a brown ale “with so much malt, it will remind you of Scotland.”  But alas, my dining companion is not a beer drinker, and we decided to delay our visit to Local 111 for a day.

But the delay had its benefits, since it gave us time to figure out how to combine a visit to the wonderful art gallery of the Tivoli Artists Co-op in the quaint village of Tivoli near Bard College in northern Dutchess County, NY and dinner at Local 111.  Our local Albany newspaper had printed an image of one of Marie Cole’s landscape paintings of views of the Hudson River from Olana, the 19th century Persian palace built by Frederick Church on a hill just south of the small city of Hudson in Columbia County, NY.  Sharing the surname of Thomas Cole, the father of the Hudson River school of painting, and the apparent artistic talent from the image printed in the newspaper, our curiosity was piqued and we decided to enjoy the art exhibit in Tivoli before driving over to Philmont for dinner at Local 111.  The exhibit was well worth the extra miles.  There is a very magical spot in the gallery where the visitor can gaze upon not just one, but four wonderful painted views of the Hudson River from Olana.  Marie Cole’s work is worth a close look by anyone interested in fine landscape painting.  The artist Barbara Walter’s paintings of cows at pasture, which were also on view at the Tivoli Artists Co-op gallery, also deserve special mention.

Stimulated by the wonderful art at the Tivoli gallery, we arrived at Local 111 just before 6:00PM on a wintry Saturday night, to discover that the small 39-seat restaurant was booked up with reservations for the evening.  Fortunately, room was made for us, with the understanding that the table was reserved for diners arriving in 90 minutes.  Although we managed to be seated, be sure to phone ahead and make a reservation to be assured of seating especially on a Saturday at Local 111.

The restaurant is located in the former Schermerhorn’s Garage on Philmont’s Main Street.  One of the owners, architect Linda Gatter, designed a reuse of the existing service station, and the original bay structure of the building has been preserved with views out to Main  Street.  When we dined previously there this past summer, the bay doors were rolled up to enjoy the warm night air.  In late and wintry January, the doors were rolled down tightly-shut, but through the glass, the restaurant’s twinkling white lights shown magically against the snow.  Although there is a long bar on the edge of the dining room, we were never bothered by noise, and seating at the bar was a welcome relief to diners who arrived after us, also without reservations, who were able to dine at the bar.  A wonderful and huge landscape painting of a hazy twilight over the Taconic Hills near Copake in Columbia County by artist Gabrielle Senza of Great Barrington in nearby western Massachusetts fills the western wall of the dining area and was a perfect sight for diners who just came from an exhibit of landscape paintings earlier in the day.

Pleased to see the option of several local wines from New York State, I enjoyed  a glass of a flavorful Salmon Run pino noir from the Finger Lakes winery in Hammondsport (Steuben County,  NY) known as Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars [], and my dining companion savored a glass of a dry California chardonnay.  We then took a little time to study the one page menu, which at the bottom notes that “The food at Local 111 is as local as we can get. We cook good simple food that is, whenever possible, raised or made nearby.”  The menu lists more than 20 local providers, including more than a dozen farms and several dairies.

We each started our meals with a first course of mixed local greens, which were perfectly dressed in a delicious vinaigrette, and marveled how local farms have been able to extend the growing season in upstate New York by the use of greenhouses. The dinner menu offered a choice of five main courses,  halibut (today’s fish) with white bean puree, lemon, seasonal greens, fried bread and slow cooked garlic; roasted chicken breast with squash and potato hash, celeriac, smoked bacon & thyme jus; grilled grass fed sirloin with warm beet and spinach salad, parsnip fritters and béarnaise; braised local lamb ragout with roasted root vegetables and carrot chips, and roasted fennel and squash with quinoa, white beans, seasonal green, pecorino and pepitas.  In an earlier visit, my dining companion was exuberant in her enjoyment of a tender pork chop, and slightly disappointed that the current dinner menu didn’t have the chop as an option. Still, she seemed equally delighted with her choice of the local lamb ragout, which was tender and delicious, with root vegetables, including potatoes and parsnips, and carrot chips all perfectly prepared and complementary to the rich ragout.  I decided to forego ordering one of the main courses and instead enjoyed a perfectly prepared risotto with butternut squash, Hudson Red Cheese, parsley and toasted almonds, which was listed separately on the menu under pastas and grains, along with rigatoni Bolognese.

The dessert offerings included chocolate almond bread pudding with vanilla ice-cream, which was particularly enticing, but we decided to forego dessert.  The other creative possibilities included a lemon curd tart or candied chestnut ice-cream.

Although the main courses range in price from $20 for the vegetarian main course of roasted fennel and squash to $30 for the grilled grass fed sirloin, Local 111’s menu has options for diners who are budget conscious.  The restaurant offers the options of 6 side dishes of seasonal greens, roasted root vegetables, quinoa, white beans, fries, and garlic bread.  Three of these side dishes with grilled bread is priced at a reasonable $11.00.  On a future visit, this mostly vegetarian eater, who hasn’t enjoyed a hamburger in months, plans to dine on a “grazin’ angus hamburger” with caramelized onion, as listed under “sandwiches served with salad or fries” and which is priced at an attractive $11.00, along with a Chatham Brewing beer.  The menu also notes that on Sunday, the restaurant offers a three course prix fixe menu for $25.00, and on Wednesdays, in addition to the regular menu, Local 111 offers a family style dinner: “family-sized platters and bowls served to each table for guests to help themselves with the chef’s meat or poultry selection served with the day’s vegetable and potatoes or grain at the enticing price of $11.95 per person (offer good for 4 or more people, with children under 12 half-price).”

Local 111 has become a favorite destination restaurant of this reviewer, and praise to Chef Proul and her staff for their significant contribution to the local food movement. Bravo (FWB 1/25/11).  [Local 111, 111 Main St., Philmont (Columbia County, NY), 518.672.7801, Brunch: Sun 10:00AM-2:00PM, Dinner: Weds, Thurs, Sun 5:00PM-9:00PM, Fri-Sat 5:00PM-9:30PM

Organic Farmland in U.S. More Than Doubles In 8 Years

The 2011 Statistical Abstract of the United States recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau [] should brighten the day of organic food advocates.  Organic farmland in the United States has increased from 1,776,000 acres in 2000 to 4,817,000 in 2008, an increase of 171.2%.  Still, there is the sorry statistic also reported that Americans ate fewer vegetables: 392.7 pounds per person in 2008, down more than 30 pounds since 2000.  On the plus side, Americans also ate less red meat: 108.3 pounds per person in 2008, down 5.4 pounds since 2000.  Artist, Jennifer Daniel, has illustrated some of the intriguing results shown in the 2011 statistical abstract in a report in the New York Times: [].

Maria Rodale in her passionate Organic Manifesto (Rodale, Inc. [distributed to the trade by Macmillan], New York, New York, 2010) noted that “Chemical farms are in production on about 930 million acres in the United States and 3.8 billion acres globally.”  In contrast, with 13,000 certified organic farmers in America, and a few thousand more who are organic but uncertified, Ms. Rodale observed that organic farming practices are in use on only 4 million acres in the United States and 30.4 million acres globally.  Still, this recently reported increase to nearly 5 million acres of organic farmland in the United States is a welcome sign of progress.

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