The locavore and farm-to-table movement has swept across America in recent years. Restaurants in big cities and small towns have realized that using seasonal local produce and locally sourced, organic meats and poultry satisfy their patrons’ stomachs and consciences. Quite a few eateries make area “best of farm-to-table” lists but Founding Farmers in Washington, D.C., stands out from the rest of the pack. And no, it’s not because President and Michelle Obama are frequent visitors. It’s the only LEED-Gold certified restaurant in the nation.
Since 2008, Founding Farmers has been an eco-friendly leader in the food and beverage industry. The 8,500-square-foot restaurant was built out of reclaimed and recycled materials—heart-of-pine wood from an old textile mill was used for the flooring—and utilized VOC paints and adhesives in its construction. Ninety percent of the construction waste was recycled. The restaurant has an in-house water filtration system, installed low-flow toilets in restrooms and uses biodegradable garbage bags and recycled paper products (even on menus) throughout the space. The restaurant is carbon neutral, offsetting 100 percent of it’s carbon emissions by purchasing green power credits.
Then there’s the food. Founding Farmers doesn’t always use locally sourced produce and meat because it feels it doesn’t necessarily imply the smallest carbon footprint. Instead, the restaurant buys ingredients from 42,000 family-run farms around the country, thereby helping small farmers, ranches and fisheries and farming communities. Farms and fisheries include Anson Mills in South Carolina, Piedmont Ridge Farm in Maryland and Cleanfish in California. As a result, the food is flavorful and hearty and most importantly, good for you. Brunch showcases regional specialties such as New Orleans–style stuffed French toast and glazed yeast donuts. Supper draws in crowds because of its friendly atmosphere and lovely farmhouse setting. Diners relax at communal wooden tables or comfy booths under reclaimed wood beams and dine on dishes such as line-caught plank salmon and southern pan-fried chicken with white gravy. Even the wines, spirits and beer are organic or from small town distilleries and breweries.
Honorable Mention: Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantino Hills, New York. Although the New York City outpost gets more press—thanks again to the Obamas as well as celebrity regulars—the original restaurant in Westchester has it beat in terms of sustainability and agricultural stewardship. Chefs collaborate with area farmers to source meats, produce, herbs and other ingredients. It’s farm-to-table at its most authentic. Guests enjoy distinctive “farmer’s feasts” that change daily (the restaurant doesn’t have a set menu) in a converted red barn.