Beneath a mural depicting smiling cornbread, potatoes, and black-eyed peas, locavore hotspot The Root Cafe held a community pot-luck dinner on Saturday to celebrate their one year anniversary. The festive scene was standing room only when we arrived, and the cafe's small dining room was almost groaning under the weight of food provided by owners Jack and Corri Bristow Sundell and the residents of the SoMa neighborhood who turned out to support the popular restaurant. The Root's mission has always been to utilize locally grown and produced ingredients whenever possible, and judging by the food available on Saturday, our local growers are doing their jobs well.
I've always admired the Root Cafe's use of their limited green space to help supplement their menu. Instead of the usual decorative (and largely useless) shrubberies that surround most restaurants, the Root's landscaping consists of rosemary, sage, and other edible herbs and plants. It's a great idea that seems so simple that I've always been amazed that more places don't try to do it — in addition to providing an attractive stand of plants, the ability to go out and cut fresh herbs for whatever's cooking that day adds a level of flavor and quality that just can't be duplicated any other way. It's this concept of utilizing every available space in an urban area to grow food for the community that impresses me the most, because walking across the parking lot to cut a sprig of rosemary seems a lot more friendly to the environment than trucking it in from points unknown. I spent a good deal of my time walking around the place trying to identify the plants, which seemed to be thriving despite the brutal heat.
Even better than playing amateur naturalist was when we made our way through the crowd to get a plate of food. The main event was a large pan of succulent pulled pork from Falling Sky Farm, an organic meat producer just outside Marshall. I've been a big fan of Falling Sky meat for years, but I have to admit that the Root's cooks did a far better job with the pork than I've ever managed. Even better, a huge pile of challah rolls from Boulevard Bread Company were right next to the pork, and the slightly sweet, chewy bread made for a good, substantial base for the pork. I topped my pork off with a generous squirt of the Root's mustard-based barbecue sauce, which made the whole thing an experience to remember. For the vegetarians out there, barbecue was still an option, as there was a very respectable barbecued tofu with peanuts dish that I found to be quite tasty despite not being the biggest fan of tofu.
Each person at the potluck was asked to bring a side dish, and it was here that our community gardeners really came into their own. I had three different versions of cucumber and tomato salad, and I couldn't have picked a favorite if I tried. Fresh slices of heirloom tomatoes were present in abundance, and we made sure to eat our fill since tomato season is almost over. With plates full, we made sure to stop in the courtyard to listen to the live music and drink a glass or three of the cheap, plentiful (and utterly delicious) Diamond Bear Pale Ale being poured just outside.
The Root Cafe is the result of several years of planning, and it was wonderful to see that the community support for the restaurant has only grown one year later. The food business is a harsh, difficult one, and the high standards and dedication to using locally grown and sourced products only adds an extra layer of difficulty to the endeavor of running a successful business. The Root Cafe is located at 1500 South Main Street, and they're open 7am-2:30pm Tuesday-Friday and 8am-3:30pm on Saturday with a menu that features both breakfast and lunch.