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It’s summertime and you know what that means: a cold beer is in order.
If you're in the nation's capital, you may want to try a beer found only at the newly opened Red Hen. The restaurant joined forces with the Washington D.C.-based brewery DC Brau to create Sailing the Seas of Lees, a limited release farmhouse ale that’s aged for six weeks in oak barrels from Linden Vineyards in neighboring Virginia. Down the road, DC Brau also hooked up with another foodie hotspot, DGS Delicatessen, where you’ll find The Golden Calf, a limited-edition blend marrying a Belgian IPA with DGS’ made-in-house slivovitz plum brandy mash.
Restaurants around the country are working closely with hyper-localized food suppliers, spawning a whole new generation of exclusive food collaborations where patrons can enjoy one-of-a-kind products, customized just for them.
Black Restaurant Group, in Washington, D.C. has teamed up with Toby Island Oyster Company and Rappahannock River Oyster Company to develop two signature oysters: the full-bodied Black Pearl Oysters and the salty, yet buttery-tasting Old Black Salt Oysters---both grown in exclusive spots in Chincoteague, Va.
“We have diners that come in because they can only get those particular oysters here,” explains MJ Gimbar, fishmonger for the group. “It makes the guest feel cool, almost like the speakeasy trend; if you know the password, you can get in.”
At New York City’s Alder, chef Wylie Dufresne worked with New Jersey’s Mosefund Farm to create an exclusive spiced lardo (cured fat back) for one of the restaurant's top dishes: deep fried cauliflower sprinkled with cocoa nibs and powder, draped with the lardo.
These relationships give diners a one-of-a-kind dining experience, and go way beyond a singular ingredient. Kachina Southwestern Grill, in Westminster, Colo., paired up with meat suppliers Prairie Ridge Buffalo and Theo’s Swallow Fork Ranch, which both turn over the whole animal (both the lambs and bison are 100 percent born, raised and slaughtered in Colorado) to Kachina's chef Jeff Bolton, who utilizes every cut of meat with zero waste in dishes like rotisserie leg of lamb salad and bison heart tartare.
“The collaboration brings a superior product to our customers, and gives us the ability to buy at a very good price and learn a new skill, like whole animal butchery," said Bolton. "Plus it’s about being a steward of the land, making sure that the products that we serve are treated humanely.”
With more customers demanding to know where their food came from and how it was raised, these collaborations make a lot of sense for restaurants and diners.
“These products offer the chef an opportunity to educate the consumers about the value, as well as the health and environmental benefits, of eating locally grown, seasonal foods," said Bolton.
Even chains are getting in on the action. Shake Shack features ingredients or products from local food artisans. For example, customers can find Apollonian Glazed Donuts from Philadelphia's Federal Donuts inside a Shake Shack Coffee & Donuts frozen custard, or an exclusive beer from Brooklyn Brewery, and a custom relish made by Rick’s Picks.
Restaurants look for creative ways to tempt diners looking for the feel of VIP treatment.
Renegade by MOD in Phoenix, Ariz. has partnered with Epicurean Season, a local olive oil producer, to create Mole Gold, an olive oil that is blended with the spices and flavor of Mexico City's signature sauce, not to mention 24 karat gold. Trellis Restaurant in Kirkland, Wash. has partnered with artisan dairy Cherry Valley Dairy to produce five cheese varieties: a lavender-rubbed aged jack, blueberry basil, carrot nasturtium, caraway, and farm-inspired pepper-jack; all of which are made with produce and herbs grown on the chef’s farm.
Gimbar says quality remains the number one priority.
"With all the shortcuts that big companies take to reduce costs, all the processed food…people are tired of that. This shows guests that we’re transferring a good product over to the them."
Now you know the password, eating just got a whole lot more fun.