On Sunday evening, Sept. 17, nearly 90 people gathered around picnic tables at Kroul Farms to celebrate summer’s transition to fall with a six-course meal prepared by Pullman Bar and Diner and Big Grove Brewery.
“The idea behind this when we started writing the menu was to … show this [seasonal] transition,” said Ben Smart, executive chef of Pullman Bar and Diner and Big Grove Brewery.
The $100-per-head farm dinner kicked off shortly after 3:30 p.m. with “lighter, more summer-focused dishes,” said Smart, who introduced the first course: a flakey, cheddar confit tart topped with cherry tomato and garnished with baby sunflower petals and micro basil leaves. The second dish, a chilled ajo blanco (white garlic) soup, featured refreshing cucumber and cubed golden honeydew.
Most of the dinner’s produce was “grown 300 yards away,” said Matt Kroul, farmer of Kroul Farms, which is located on Highway 1 between Mt. Vernon and Solon. Then, it was “cooked over there,” he said, pointing toward the smoking cinder block fire pit a short stretch from our tables, where the restaurant crew had arrived at 9 a.m. Sunday morning to begin stoking the fire.
“For us, this is more therapy than anything, you know?” said Cory Kent, owner of Pullman Bar and Diner. “Any time you get to go old school and do something over just wood and fire, the cooks just absolutely love it. We all love being outdoors and getting ‘out of the house,’ so to speak.”
As the evening’s cool breeze began to amble in, the servers — each with a plaid shirt tied around her waist — delivered plates of pickled eggplant and spicy, garlic lamb sausage (from Pavelka’s Point Meats), followed by salty-sweet smoked trout and foil packs of garlicky potato and wild mushrooms with herbs, which were shared camp-style between tablemates. Meanwhile, we sipped from glasses of Big Grove Brewery’s coppery Red-Headed Stranger IPA.
“As we go further into the dinner,” said Smart, “you’ll see that transition into fall’s heartier flavors.” This was exemplified best by the meal’s final main dish: a rich bowl of creamy polenta coupled with huge roasted pork chops and a classic succotash made with Kroul’s sweet corn, winter squash and beans.
“It means a lot … to highlight what these producers are doing and how hard it is and the work that they put into such a good product,” said Kent. “I think it means a lot to Pullman because we try to work hard to put out a good product as well, so there’s a lot of synergy between what farmers do and what the restaurant crew does.”
The dinner concluded just before sundown with a slice of glazed parsnip cake, a dollop of brown butter ice cream and a creme brulée-inspired stout from Big Grove Brewery.
“This is my favorite event of the year,” said Smart. “There are few times in my life when I get to … cook the food that I like to cook in a beautiful location over live fire. These kind of moments are really what keeps us going.”