A restaurant doesn't normally run out of mealworms and think it's a bad thing. But at Woods Creek Grill, it's a typical occurrence.
"We put bugs on the menu and people eat them; it's the craziest thing," says Allen Friend, executive chef at Woods Creek. Freeze-dried mealworms aren't the most unusual thing on the menu. There's also alligator, bear, rattlesnake and crickets.
"I'm not a fan of bugs, but I tried these bugs and they are amazing," says sous-chef Josh White. "The mealworm is like buttered popcorn." Chef Allen agrees: "Yeah, and then the crickets taste like almonds."
Woods Creek Grill, located on Route 72 in Jonestown, is an Appalachian-style restaurant perched beside a creek, encircled by trees. The interior resembles a lodge with Amish-made wooden chairs and a collection of hunting mounts that includes a full-size polar bear.
The restaurant is PA Preferred, meaning that it must offer as many entree items as possible that feature ingredients harvested and/or processed in Pennsylvania. The only items Chef Allen doesn't get from Pennsylvania are bear, rattlesnake and alligator because they are either illegal to hunt or difficult to find.
Other meats, as well as the produce, are found locally. Chef Allen handpicked the farm where the restaurant now gets its produce in the spring and summer.
On his first day of work, he stopped by a roadside stand and bought some peaches. He brought them back to the restaurant to share with the kitchen staff, sent out a mass e?mail about them and returned later that day to buy more peaches.
It's that kind of enthusiasm for food that makes the dishes at Woods Creek Grill experimental yet comforting.
"We love food, man," says Chef Allen. "Our passion about it is like getting bitten by a venomous snake. Once it's in your blood, it's staying there."
Ironically, there is one ingredient you will not find in any Woods Creek Grill dish — coffee. Neither Allen nor Josh can stand the taste, let alone the smell.
"It's like my kryptonite," says Allen. After cooking up some unusual dishes, both chefs admit that something like spaghetti and meatballs is foreign to them these days. Top it with a coil of smoked rattlesnake and it's more like home.
If you're not into creepy crawlers on your plate, you can still support local farmers by dining at John J. Jeffries (JJJ, to locals) at the Lancaster Arts Hotel.
Sean Cavanaugh was working as an executive chef in Colorado when he really dove into sustainability and farm-to-table restaurants. Disgusted with large corporation practices, Chef Cavanaugh moved to Lancaster with the intention of opening such a restaurant.
"It really tears you up," he says, "to know that [the food's] not good enough for your family, yet you're serving it to thousands and thousands of people who don't know any better."
So he left the corporate food industry and opened John J. Jeffries with his partner, Michael Carson, in the rolling hills of Lancaster County, where farms are abundant.
You could say the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker all play a role in sustaining the restaurant. JJJ works with more than 40 farms throughout the year.
"If more people would just buy from farmers they know, it would really change the food supply for the better," says Chef Cavanaugh. John J. Jeffries is part of a new trend of restaurants that have a relationship with the farmers who produce their ingredients.
"As chefs, we make it a better place by supporting local farmers and keeping the money in the local community."
Running a sustainable restaurant is no cakewalk. Because most of the ingredients come from smaller farms and vendors, restaurants have to be flexible and resourceful.
"Our kitchen runs on bones," Chef Cavanaugh says. From stocks to sauces, they try to use as much of the animal as possible.
Another challenge is constantly having to change the menu. For the chefs, it's an ad lib process, culminating in a fresh, organic selection of dishes.
"You don't have a comfort zone for too long, because it's exciting," says Cavanaugh.
The farm-to-table movement is growing, but it still hasn't reached the majority of Americans. "I don't know if it will ever really go mainstream," says Chef Cavanaugh, stressing the importance of getting informed. "Everyone says they don't have time, but people have time to watch the Food Network; they have time to pay attention to celebrity chefs. Why don't they just spend that time cooking? Make time to invest in themselves and read, and educate themselves about food?
"Wouldn't it be nice to have 20 percent of the population do it, and then stop the losses of farms? If we lose the farmers, what do we have? If you lose your soil, what do you have as a country? How do you survive? That's homeland security right there — your food supply." RECIPES TO GO! Stuffed Boar Chop
2 boar (or pork) chops
3 oz. Yuengling Lager
2 oz. croutons
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 oz. wilted baby spinach
1 oz. goat cheese
1 sprig fresh thyme
¼ cup hot chicken stock
¼ cup olive oil
Kosher salt, as needed
Ground black pepper, as needed
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl combine croutons, 1 clove of minced garlic, wilted baby spinach, goat cheese, egg, kosher salt, pepper and hot chicken stock. Mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to soften.
Meanwhile, gently pound the chops with a meat pounder. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make a small incision in the side of the chop and create a pocket, being careful not to poke through the opposite side. Once the stuffing is soft, mix very well, put in a pastry bag and pipe stuffing into the chops. If pastry bag is unavailable, carefully pack stuffing into chops with hands. If needed, keep pocket closed with toothpicks or kitchen twine.
Mix together Yuengling, thyme, salt, pepper, 1 clove of minced garlic and olive oil. Place chops and Yuengling mix in large plastic bag and allow to marinate for a few hours.
Remove chops from bag and allow excess liquid to drip off. Place chops into hot sauté pan and sear each side until browned. Finish cooking in oven until fully cooked to internal temperature of 160°F. Duck Breast Prosciutto
2 duck breasts (preferably Moulard)
1 3-pound box kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Cheesecloth, as needed
Kitchen twine, as needed
Pour half the salt in a bowl large enough to hold both duck breasts. Place the duck breasts on top of salt, skin side up. Be sure they do not touch each other. Pour the rest of the salt over the breasts so they are completely submerged. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove duck from salt, rinse with water and pat dry. Dust with black pepper.
Wrap each breast in cheesecloth and secure the ends with kitchen twine. Tie a 6-inch piece of twine to one end and hang the duck in a cool humid place, between 50 and 60°F. A closet or pantry usually works well. Hang for 10 days.
After 10 days, unwrap the prosciutto and slice paper-thin. Serve with cheese platter or salad, or in a sandwich.
Recipes courtesy Allen Friend and Josh White, Woods Creek Grill Chicken With Chimichurri Sauce
Ask the butcher to quarter the chicken and remove the backbone. Start preparing the recipe at least seven hours ahead.
1 gallon water
1/4 cup fine sea salt
2 teaspoons pickling spice
2 Tablespoons honey
1 4½-pound whole chicken (preferably organic), backbone removed and discarded (save for soup or broth), chicken quartered
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 large garlic clove, peeled
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ garlic clove, peeled
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
Brine chicken by bringing ½ gallon of the water, the salt and honey to boil, stirring until both are completely dissolved. Remove from heat, add pickling spices, cover and allow to cool completely. Add the remaining ½ gallon of water. Refrigerate 4 to 8 hours.
Remove chicken from brine, rinse and pat dry. Marinate chicken in oil, herbs, shallots and garlic for about 4 hours. Roast or grill chicken as preferred.
Make the chimichurri sauce by pulsing garlic, basil, cilantro, parsley until finely chopped. Transfer to a separate bowl and add the oil, lime juice and vinegar and stir. Season with crushed red pepper and serve with chicken.
Makes 4 servings. Active time 1 hour and 30 minutes; total time 7 hours (includes brining and marinating).
Recipe courtesy Chef Sean Cavanaugh, John J. Jeffries