Food & Drink The season is the reason 

The menu at Texas Farm to Table Café is based on the local harvest

Texas Farm to Table Café is tucked away in the corner of the Aveda Institute on Grayson Street. There's no sign, so if you travel in those parts, you have probably driven past it a dozen times, unaware of the extraordinarily tender roast beef sandwich you just missed.

On a recent visit, I ordered the café's signature sandwich: layers of medium-rare roast beef tenderloin, bib lettuce, caramelized onions, and cream cheese with fresh chives, on a coarse-black-pepper brioche bun that was more pastry than bread. Each layer was so thin and delicate that it melted into the others like butter.

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Young restaurateurs Elise and Brian Montgomery stand in front of their Texas Farm to Table Café, where they serve food created from fresh and locally harvested produce, meats, and cheeses. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

But perhaps more interesting than a glutton's enjoyment of the splendid combo is the fact that each ingredient was grown or produced in Texas.

Inspired by the Berkeley, California's Alice Waters, Farm to Table's young owners, Brian and Elise Montgomery - 28 and 25 respectively - have created a menu that revolves around the use of fresh ingredients that, whenever possible, are organic, harvested in season, and purchased locally. "There are health benefits to eating locally," says Elise. "Locally produced honey can help fight airborne allergies."

"And, eating with the harvest creates a kind of year-round square meal," adds Brian. "Eating locally also creates a link between people and food. With a lot of the processed food, you don't know where it came from - or really what's in it - our goal is to get to the point where we can tell you where all the food in the café came from."

For example, the pepper brioche is made at Reggiano's Bakery; the lettuce, alive and growing with the root ball attached, comes from a farm in Seguin; the tomatoes and onions are from the farmers' market in Olmos Basin; and the grain-and-legume-fed beef is from the B3R ranch in Childress, Texas.

Brian and Elise are Texas harvested, too. Her family has been in Amarillo for 13 generations, and he grew up in Alamo Heights. The two met and fell in love in a baking class at the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin. In 2002, they relocated to San Antonio, working at various local restaurants: Elise at Cappucino's, Daily Bread, and Silo; Brian at Twin Sisters, La Rêve,and the Four Seasons Hotel and Resort, among other places. "I'm not the sort to settle into one place for too long," explains Brian. "I'm too much of an individualist."

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Farm to Table's baby spinach salad tossed in lemon goat cheese dressing and topped with carrot strings, Applewood smoked bacon, shaved red onion, tomato, diced apple, and queso fresco.

Brian says the concept for Farm to Table has been in his head "almost since I got out of high school." So it was serendipitous when, in 2003, Kathy Thalman, a family friend and the owner of the Aveda Institute, invited the couple to put a café at the school. Although Farm to Table is a separate entitity, it fits with the aesthetic and mission - natural products and ecological sustainability - of Aveda so well that people often think it is a part of the cosmetology school.

Physically, it is. Though separated by tall windows, half of the café is actually inside Aveda; diners can sit at a bar along the windows and watch the students as if they were in a fish bowl. The seating area is small but light-filled, with retro-looking celadon-green café tables trimmed in chrome that somehow look just right with the mustard-yellow walls.

When I visited the café, which is only open for lunch, it was packed to standing room only. While this delights the Montgomerys, it's happening sooner than they expected and Farm to Table is not quite ready for the big time: They don't have enough staff or enough tables and chairs, and they are still working on the menu. "We were supposed to have a long soft opening," laughs Brian.

He and Elise are looking for someone to replace him as head line cook, so that he can spend more time "working on the purity of the concept, rather than day-to-day food preparation." For the last year-and-a-half, Brian has worked with with the Texas Department of Agriculture, which introduced him to farmers and helped him find the regional products the café uses in its menu. "It can take years to build these relationships," he says, "and right now, I am so busy in the kitchen I can't put a lot of time towards it."

In the not-too-distant future, the Montgomerys plan to build retail shelves in the café and stock them with local cheeses, meats, and food products. They envision a farmers' market in the parking lot, and a refrigerator case filled with pre-cooked items that can be taken home for dinner. And, none too soon for those of us who work in the area, they are going to add an espresso machine and open for breakfast. Elise, inspired by The Perricone Promise - a 28-day skin and general health improvement diet by dermatological-guru Nicholas Perricone - is thinking about serving buckwheat pancakes with flaxseed and blueberries.

Texas Farm to Table

312 Pearl Parkway
8:30am-4pm Tue-Sat
Price range: $5-10
Credit cards
Wheelchair accessible

But today they are just trying to find a way to get their recyclable trash picked up. "I can't believe how hard the city makes it to recycle," Elise says. The couple is so dedicated to the idea of recycling that they've stocked the café with silverware made out of compressed wheat. Can you eat it? No, but it's as durable as plastic.

I put a spoon to good use in the vegetable soup that accompanied my sandwich. Its carrots, tomatoes, and summer squash, all products of the Olmos Farmer's market, were still bright and al dente. The tomato-based broth had some spicy heat to it and was only mildly salted, so the natural sweetness of the vegetables and the slight tin flavor of cilantro came through.

Since their mid-June opening, the menu has expanded from four sandwiches and a salad, to eight specialty sandwiches and panini, quesadillas, soup, and five salads. Brian says they are working on new recipes, but they'll probably continue to extend the menu in small steps, which suits their philosophy. "We like to work on something, get it to the point where it's exactly what we want, and then move on to the next thing," he says. "So far, the menu is determined by what is available regionally and that seems to be a good way to do it. It just makes sense."

By Susan Pagani



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