10 Unique Farm-to-Table Restaurants in Historic Buildings
As fall approaches, our thoughts drift to harvest season. Throughout the United States, you’ll find chefs who work directly with local farmers to ensure their meals are crafted sustainably with the freshest (and tastiest) ingredients year-round. Here are a few restaurants you should visit that are housed in historic buildings featuring farm-to-table meals.
The Grey (Savannah, Georgia)
Once a bustling Greyhound bus Station, the 1938 Art Moderne building in downtown Savannah is now a celebrated restaurant. An extensive renovation process brought the building back to its original Vitrolite luster. The daily dinner menu is dictated by seasons, farmers, and fishers with headings like Dirt, Water, and Pasture. The fare is modern Southern cuisine, with offerings such as shrimp and grits, buttermilk biscuits, and daily pies.
Painted Lady Restaurant (Newberg, Oregon)
This charming gem in the heart of Oregon wine country is surrounded by the bounty of the Willamette Valley, with its menu sourced from wines and ingredients from local vineyards and farms. The restaurant, which is in a renovated Victorian, takes its name from the San Francisco colorist movement that used bright colors to differentiate and celebrate Victorian architecture. The movement has even inspired their menu: classic dishes updated with contrasting and exciting ingredients but balanced in a way to highlight the food’s natural flavors and flourishes.
The Ordinary (Charleston, South Carolina)
The exterior of this 1927 limestone-and-brick building is traditional, and dare we say, ordinary. However, there’s nothing humdrum about the interior of this former bank transformed into an elegant seafood restaurant with soaring ceilings and light from the glass skylight and towering windows. It was a challenge to keep a sense of the building’s past while also including the elements needed in a top-notch kitchen, such as stove vents. The antique bank vault door hides the kitchen from the dining area, and an old teller’s table is now the hostess stand. The raw bar, which is made from the reclaimed wood of a 1950s truck bed, is the heart of the restaurant. The menu celebrates seafood, with a special nod towards oysters. Chef Mike Lata is a champion of local produce and has established relationships with local farmers and anglers to source his ingredients. The menu is constantly changing to reflect the catch-of-the-day or the fresh harvest.
Ice Plant (St. Augustine, Florida)
Built originally as a power plant, this building became Florida’s first power and ice complex in 1907 when it was a vital part of the St. Augustine’s economy, selling commercial ice blocks to shrimp boaters and others in the fishing industry. However, when refrigeration became standard in the 1950s, the ice industry collapsed, and the building fell into neglect. In 2010, four locals transformed the abandoned building into a wildly popular distillery and bar/restaurant with a nod to its historic past. Overheard the bar sits the original bridge crane on rails that was used to pick up the large blocks of ice. Three distinct kinds of ice are available in the crafted cocktails. They’re committed to farm-to-table and serve fresh, locally sourced seafood and produce.
White Horse Tavern (Newport, Rhode Island)
Serving guests since 1673, White Horse Tavern is America’s oldest operating restaurant. Its building will transport you to colonial times with its clapboard walls, vast fireplaces, and gambrel roof, a symmetrical two-sided sloping roof often found on Dutch colonial homes as well as colonial barns and warehouses. The dining experience is truly contemporary with the freshest fish, clams, and lobsters from Narragansett Bay along with freshly picked produce from local Rhode Island farms.
T.J. Buckley’s Uptown Dining (Brattleboro, Vermont)
Technically not in a building, this restaurant is located in a restored 1925 Worcester Dining Car. But we’d be remiss not to include chef/owner Michael Fuller who has been serving farm-to-table dining since 1983, with New York Magazine calling him “a pioneer in seasonal cooking.” He often forages for a diverse selection of local mushrooms to use in his menus. The small space allows diners to savor the meals in this intimate setting where they are treated to what Chef Fuller calls “restaurant theatre,” an open kitchen where they can see their meals being roasted and sauteed in front of them.
Linger (Denver, Colorado)
This building has had quite a transformation in its century of existence; it was once a mortuary that interred Buffalo Bill Cody. But rather than being put off by its macabre past, chef/owner Justin Cucci embraced the concept by changing the neon sign from Olinger Mortuaries to Linger “eatuaries.” The funeral theme is carried inside with a church pew as the host stand and vintage funeral fans as decor; the signature cocktail is the Corpse Reviver. The food is global street food and served as sharable small plates, with produce sourced from 4,000 square feet of gardens in the middle of Denver.
Robin’s Nest (Mount Holly, New Jersey)
This cozy neighborhood cafe underwent a major restoration to transform from a rundown shuttered vacuum repair shop into a restaurant, bar, bakery, and catering facility—which actually returned the building to its roots when it was home to Mayer’s Bakery in the early 20th century. The chef/owner Robin Winzinger sources her food from local farms, fishmongers, distilleries, and breweries. Since there is such a focus on fresh, in-season produce, menus change daily. It’s a mainstay in downtown Mount Holly, which is a Main Street America accredited program.
Epiphany Farms (Bloomington, Illinois)
What was once the Central Fire Station is today two floors of restaurants, Epiphany Farms Restaurant, a French-inspired farm-to-table concept; and Anju Above, an Asian fusion tapas restaurant. The owners called themselves “chefarmers” as the ingredients for their restaurants are sourced mostly from their 75-acre farm located twelve miles down the road. They are committed to supporting and cultivating a thriving and sustainable local food culture. They help make a vibrant downtown Bloomington, also a Main Street America accredited program.
The Seaside Restaurant & Aqua Farm (Hilo, Hawaii)
Diners at this Hilo-based restaurant can look right outside their window to see where their food is coming from. Chef Colin Nakagawa raises and prepares a variety of fish for his menu at a 30-acre all-natural aqua farm beyond his restaurant. The Seaside has been in the area since the early 1920s and Nakagawa’s grandparents were the original owners. The restaurant recently was awarded a Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant from the National Trust and American Express.