Brunch At Graze
This past Saturday morning, I found myself sitting with a cup of french press, anticipating my favorite meal: brunch.
I was in Madison, and my seat next to an enormous wall of windows allowed me the perfect opportunity to sit and watch the excitement of the nation’s largest farmer’s market while savoring the delicious offerings of Chef Tory Miller of Graze restaurant.
This meal was the conclusion of two exciting and insightful days which I spent amongst certified master cheese masters, skilled chefs, devoted farmers, passionate food bloggers, and the host of our 2013 Wisconsin Cheese Tour, Heather Porter Engwall, of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
Wait– How in the world did I end up here?!
Experiencing Cheese On a Whole New Level: The 2013 Wisconsin Cheese Tour
Let’s just say I was a bit surprised to open my e-mail inbox a few months ago and find an e-mail entitled “Invitation: Special Wisconsin Cheese Tour“. I almost passed this little gem of an e-mail up, as after a quick scan of my inbox I categorized it as junk mail. Something inside of me told me to open it up however, and wow am I ever glad I did!
The aim of the tour is to give Wisconsin food bloggers the experience of tasting the great local food offerings of Wisconsin, and educate them on Wisconsin’s cheese making culture and dairy industry.
Along with tasting some of Wisconsin’s 600 exquisite cheeses created by a couple of Wisconsin’s 140 cheese makers, we also had the great privilege of dining at some locally-sourced restaurants.
What is a “Locally-Sourced Restaurant”?
A locally-sourced restaurant features most or all of its ingredients from local farmers.
The passion at these restaurants is to cook fresh, delicious, wholesome food; their purpose is to support local small farmers and producers, and their result is almost always an artful and eclectic menu of wholesome, awe-inspiring dishes.
Back At Graze…
Chef Tory was a surprise in himself. Before he even introduced himself, he approached our table and offered a quick, “Oh don’t mind me, I’m just bringing out some butter.” As if some table hand, he set the butter on our table and left as quickly as he came.
A few minutes later he returned with plates of fresh, flaky croissants along with pastries filled with ham, Swiss cheese, and a Béchamel sauce, which is a simple and elegant white sauce often used in French cooking.
He had also prepared for us beautiful, fresh Beignets (a french pastry, resembling an English “fritter”) topped with fresh berries and powdered sugar. They were incredible; I could have eaten them until I got sick, and then some.
Showcasing Ingredients From The Farmer’s Market, Harvested That Very Morning
Chef Tory asked if any of us had visited the market that morning (which of course we had), and commented that he had made his round early that morning gathering ingredients for the day. I had also noted the eye-catching bouquets of flowers from the market adorning the tables as I had walked in.
Graze buys ingredients from over 200 local vendors, creating relationships with the farmers and producers by purchasing ingredients directly from the farm or at the farmer’s market. On the back of the menu at Graze, you can find an elaborate list of local producers and farmers from whom they receive meat, fish, produce, and cheeses.
The highlight of the meal for me was the vodka-battered cheese curds. The cheese came from the same creamery we buy our own milk from, Sassy Cow Creamery. The fried curds were perfectly browned and the cheese melted to excellence.
How Can You Find These Locally-Sourced Restaurants?
My husband and I began exploring local restaurants by first establishing a “no chain restaurant” rule. As best we can, we never set foot in a Denny’s or Applebees.
Now, the last thing we want to do is come across as pretentious as we avoid such restaurants. It’s just that we’ve had one too many cold plates of bland, boring food. We’ve paid for too many disappointing meals.
We want to create a memory every time we dine out. Eating at local restaurants provides us just that opportunity.
The Eat Well Guide is a good place to start finding locally-sourced restaurants near you.
Order Something Unsafe
Although the eggs Benedict, my favorite meal, quietly beckoned me to order it, I knew that would be a safe option. I had challenged myself to step out this weekend. Actually, I told myself to order what I thought my husband would choose. I settled on the Ramen Noodle Bowl. My dish was artfully composed of braised pork shoulder, pork belly, bok choy, shaved radishes, scallions, nori, a soft poached egg, and Wah Kee noodles, and served with a spicy chilli oil. It was subtle and elegant; definitely the best bowl of ramen noodles I’ve ever tasted!
Let’s just say that I felt a little bit guilty (and VERY thankful), as I texted photos of my meal to my husband, who was back at the hotel graciously watching the boys. I owe him. Big time.
Chef Tory concluded our meal with a plate of five extraordinary cheese selections from several Wisconsin cheese masters; here he is presenting his list of cheeses to our host, Heather Porter Engwall of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
Is Eating At Locally-Sourced Restaurants Really Affordable?
I was spoiled this weekend to sit among great chefs and food enthusiasts. This opportunity however has only reminded me that this is an experience that can be had often, and without breaking the budget. My husband and I regularly enjoy eating at restaurants that showcase local ingredients.
We have found that for the most part (unless treating ourselves to a special occasion), we can eat at restaurants like Graze without spending any more than we would at a main-stream chain restaurant. In fact, The Ramen Noodle Bowl I enjoyed at Graze is offered on the brunch menu for only $10.
The chefs at restaurants such as Graze are passionate about feeding people great food while supporting local farmers. They take joy in watching visitors savor their dishes; embracing their creations of stunning art and intricate flavors. And so even if it does cost you a few more dollars than heading to Denny’s, I would implore you to spend the extra few dollars in order to support your community of farmers and chefs, and to create an experience you’ll not soon forget. Believe me, Chili’s “Kids eat Free Tuesdays” can’t hold a candle to the experience you’ll have at locally-sourced restaurants such as Graze.