Do you like to eat out? I do! Of course, cooking at home is more cost effective and can be the healthier choice but eating out is fun, relaxing and can be a delicious culinary treat. I have to admit that I am pretty picky about the restaurants that I choose however, because I will only go if I can eat real food made with the best ingredients. So I thought that I would share how I figure that out and create a list of Connecticut restaurants that are getting it right. In the coming months, I will spotlight a different restaurant in each issue. How do I vet each restaurant? I will eat there, ask questions, talk to the staff, chef and owners if possible and look at their website.
- Farm to table. Do they source their food primarily from local farms? Is this listed on the menu or a board?
- Oils. Do they use canola, corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean, peanut or a blended oil? Will they simply use extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil if you ask?
- Animal Protein. Do they have menu options for 100% grass-fed meat, organic or pastured chicken, wild or sustainable farm-raised fish that is carefully vetted?
- Organic. Do they have organic options on the menu at all times (an organic salad)? Are they aware of the Dirty Dozen list from The Environmental Working Group and if so do they incorporate organic options of these foods into their menus? Are they familiar with the fact that Non-GMO products also contain pesticides?
- Ingredients. Do they use real ingredients and avoid high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and preservatives?
- Allergy friendly. Are the most common allergens listed on the menu (gluten, dairy, soy)? Is the staff trained to understand allergy concerns? Are they aware of the allergens in different menu items? Do they have gluten free choices? Is the kitchen willing and able to make substitutions to accommodate customer’s allergy or health concerns?
Marketplace Kitchen & Bar, Avon, CT
It is more important than ever now to support our favorite local restaurants and this is definitely one of mine. I was very happy to get the chance to sit down with Jim Kara, the new manager of Marketplace, Avon and review “the questions”. Before I get into the food though, I want to mention that I felt very safe while dining there in the last few months. They are strictly following the advised protocols and going above and beyond with the installation of a Win Air purification system.
On to the questions….in the CT growing season they source locally as much as possible and have their partners listed on a board that is updated frequently. Oxbow Farm in Canton (micro greens), Waldingfield Farm in Washington (heirloom tomatoes, kale, zucchini blossoms, garlic scapes, leeks) and New Hope Farm in Winsted (squashes) are a few of their partners. They are committed to helping local farms as much as possible and getting organic produce options when available. You can count on the arugula being organic and if you prefer to eat organically, just ask your server to check with the kitchen on what is organic that week.
When it comes to oils, they always have extra virgin olive oil available. They do use a blended oil (25% olive & 75% canola) for searing and a non-GMO canola oil in the fryer. Sautéing is mostly done with olive oil and butter. If you are gluten sensitive, they have a dedicated GF fryer basket.
Marketplace definitely has clean animal protein options. The majority of their beef is Allen Brothers (Chicago) and 100% grass-fed when available. In addition, they bring in grass-fed beef and pasture raised pork from Aradia Farm in Southington, CT. Their motto is “Clean Food, Clear Conscience”! They also get FreeBird organic chicken when available and the half chicken entrée is always organic. Lastly, the salmon is sustainably raised off the coast of Scotland and is actually sushi grade.
In general, they use real ingredients and avoid artificial colors and preservatives. When it comes to allergens, the staff is trained to answer questions and report food sensitivities and allergies to the kitchen. The menu designates items that are gluten free, vegetarian and vegan and offers many options. Some of my current favorites include: Beets & Burrata Arugula Salad, New Hope Farms Winter Squash Bisque, Vegetarian Mediterranean Sampler and Allen Brothers Braised Short Ribs, Oh yes, and a glass of the Riff Organic Pinot Grigio! Check out the craft cocktails too, they have organic tequila and GF/non-GMO vodka as well.
If you are interested in hosting an event, they have a lovely private room and are also able to cater events that they can fully staff. https://www.markethospitalitygroup.com/avon/