Going local for your food

In honor of Sheila’s post about going local, I made a special trip yesterday up to New Paltz, New York, which is not only a beautiful, funky town, but also contains one of my favorite places to lunch. Of New Paltz’s many excellent places to eat — including microbrewery The Gilded Otter Brewing Company, the perpetually packed Main Street Bistro, and Mudd Puddle Coffee Roasters & Cafe (a local source for excellent coffee, not to be confused with the chain Muddy Cup on Main Street) — The Village Tea Room is the best, hands down.

Maybe it’s the family-friendly atmosphere. Maybe it’s that the owner, Agnes Devereux, is an Irishwoman. Or maybe it’s because the restaurant was at the forefront of the quiet countrywide locovore movement, before it was a movement. (Locovore: in broad terms, one who eats only locally produced food.) In her 2007 interview with Hudson Valley magazine The Valley Table, Devereaux describes her education in food when she moved from Paris to New York City: “I would see incredible food and taste it — and it would taste like nothing. I would see this gorgeous apple and buy it and have a mouthful of mealy stuff.” I’m sure we all know that feeling: the tomato that tastes slightly like fish, the steak that tastes like processed corn.

So when she and her husband moved upstate and opened a teahouse and wine bar, they went searching for food that tasted good. And from New York to California, or Naples to Catalonia, we all know that food tastes best which travels least. In other words, locally grown. The Village Tea Room gets cheese from Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, New York, milk and cream from Ronnybrook Farm in Ancramdale of the same state, and greens from a variety of local farms. Their cheese is fantastic, the milk is sweet, and the salads and vegetarian soups year-round are worth my 45-minute drive.

Sheila is right. There are times when a chain restaurant can be a life saver (like when you’ve been skiing all day in Andorra and are starving at 6, but in true Pyrenees style the restaurants won’t even open until 8 — that’s when a McDonald’s starts to look real good). But for real food, and a real sense of community, find a restaurant that takes from, and gives to, its surrounding area.

The Hudson Valley is full of great restaurants and a huge variety of farms that serve them. The Valley Table magazine, mentioned above, is one of the best sources I’ve found that opens up the food production chain and helps food-lovers follow their meat and veg from pasture to table. For a slower introduction to the locovore movement, try Barbara Kingsolver’s most recent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, where she and her family spend a year only eating food produced within 100 miles of their home. And when traveling, there’s one way to find the best dives, the best omelettes or shepherd’s pie or hot & sour soup, the best restaurant or cafe that’s been there forever: ask a local.

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