FRESH, LOCAL, AND ON THE MENU

New state program promotes
locavore movement in local restaurants

STORY BY JAN NORRIS
PHOTOS COURTESY OF RAPOPORT RESTAURANT GROUP

freshLocalMenu

“This pulls it together full-circle
for our food—how to
buy it, how to prepare it and
now, going out to dinner
and seeing it highlighted on
the menu.”
Jackie Moalli,
Fresh From Florida On the Menu
program manager

Florida produce and seafood are again the stars of a branding program created by the state’s Department of Agriculture—this time, in restaurants.

The “On the Menu” campaign was launched by the marketing arm of the state agency at Deck 84 in Delray Beach in December. The program focuses attention on dishes at restaurants that incorporate Florida products, designated with a special icon on the menu.

“We’re honored to be the first one chosen in the state,” says Deck 84’s Burt Rapoport, whose four Rapoport Restaurant Group restaurants are all participating. “I think it will highlight the farmers and fishermen in Florida. When people come to our restaurants, they want to know the food is fresh, and it makes sense to use Florida produce and seafood whenever possible.”

Jackie Moalli, who oversees the program as senior marketing manager for the Florida Dept. of Agriculture, started talks with the long-time restaurateur at the National Seafood Cookoffin New Orleans in August. Chef Jon Greening of Deck 84 was competing as the Florida representative.

“We were looking to identify 50 restaurants, starting in South Florida,” Moalli says. They wanted “award-winning restaurants, top of their class restaurant groups—ideally with several restaurants and those who have longevity in their communities.”

Rapoport’s group, which includes Deck 84, Henry’s and Burt & Max’s in Delray Beach, and Bogart’s Bar and Grille in Boca Raton, fit well, she says. The timing in the food world was right for this campaign, Moalli says. “There’s a trend today in knowing where your food comes from, and restaurants are incorporating fresh and local products; and the chefs are on board, too, getting creative with them.”

freshLocalMenu2
Clockwise from top left: Burt & Max’s Heirloom Tomato Salad; Bogart’s Burger;
Burt & Max’s Chopped Salad; Henry’s Trout; Deck 84 Crab Cake
Center: Burt Rapoport, Rapoport Restaurant Group

COMING FULL CIRCLE

The “Fresh from Florida” brand is already known to consumers around the state and the Southeast since the 1994 launch to label grocery store produce and seafood from the Sunshine State. An expanded television and print campaign also teaches home cooks how to prepare what they’ve brought home. Now, diners, too, will learn of Florida’s bounty, Moalli says.

“It’s a great opportunity in restaurants to reach Florida’s diners. This pulls it together full-circle for our food—how to buy it, how to prepare it and now, going out to dinner and seeing it highlighted on the menu. It’s showcasing the chefs using it.”

Those dishes with two or more products from Florida get the icon. At Rapoport’s restaurants, dishes include a jumbo lump crab cake, balsamic chicken salad, and the Deck burger at Deck 84. At the other restaurants, shrimp and vegetable fried rice, Henry’s Cobb salad and turkey and mushroom meatloaf are featured as Florida dishes at Henry’s; Baja fish tacos and a special blend burger at Bogart’s; shrimp lettuce wraps, heirloom tomatoes with local burrata, and an oak grilled skirt steak at Burt & Max’s.

Locally, Rapoport is sourcing heirloom tomatoes grown at Walt’s Heirloom Tomatoes in Lantana, green beans from a Clewiston farm and fresh handmade burrata from a Pompano-based cheese company. Seasonal items for his salads and side vegetables include cucumbers from the Glades and Swiss chard grown locally.

But there’s a supply-and-demand effect in play—it depends on what’s available as to what they can get, Rapoport notes. “We’ll source from whatever supplier has what we need available; of course we’re looking for the freshest and as much local that we can get.”

South Florida’s growing season is loosely defined as September through May, though as Moalli notes, “There’s always something growing somewhere in the state.”

For instance, melons and blueberries will be available in summer from the Panhandle area.

GOING STATEWIDE

The campaign kicked off in Southeast Florida in December, and the goal of moving north throughout the state is already in play. An Orlando-based group, Talk of the Town Restaurant Group, has been added. With 11 restaurants in several cities throughout central and west-central Florida, they’ll represent the second wave of the program.

“They’ve also done a great job with display cases in their restaurants identifying the foods they use in their dishes with a Fresh from Florida label, plus the menu icon,” Moalli says.

It now moves to Jacksonville, where Moalli’s group is working to identify a partner there. Restaurants in the program get free marketing and advertising in their local markets, courtesy of the state’s $50,000 budget for the program.

Rapoport thinks having a Florida label on the menu is a plus in itself, however, since many of his diners are tourists— particularly at Deck 84 where the outside waterfront dining is a big draw. “People from up north come down to Florida, and they like to sit on the water, and want to eat local food. Now they can look on the menu and see that they’re getting food grown or fished in Florida.”

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