Attention foodie vacation lovers! Are you ready for a quick summer trip? You should check out the trending farm to table dinner party we are seeing pop up across the US countryside. What happens is, a restaurant or multiple restaurants will pair up with one of the local farms that supply their raw food ingredients and put on an amazing, picture-perfect dinner party out at the farm. They come complete with sips (wine and beer pairings), appetizers and a multi-course meal. They are usually a short road trip from a city (the chefs are typically city-based), so you can do an over-night or a weekend trip for both a summer getaway and a culinary treat.
I had the pleasure of attending a couple of these dinners in Saint Joseph, Michigan hosted by Mick Klug Farms and two well-known chefs in Chicago: Paul Kahan of Publican and Paul Virant of Perennial Virant. The Mick Klug Farm is a family fruit farm and orchard that supplies produce to many of the top Chicago restaurants.
To get into this dinner we had to buy tickets, which we bought late Spring/early Summer when they went on sale. This particular dinner was coordinated and hosted by Outstanding in the Field, a group that has been putting on farm dinners for quite some time, so they have the formula down. They tour all across the US, and we were lucky enough to get into the Chicago leg of tour. I’d recommend checking out their summer event list.
My experience with the Publican/Mick Klug collaboration
The event started around 4pm with all the dinner guests gathering at the main barn for French rosé wine, locally brewed beer from New Holland Brewing Co. and appetizers. We walked through a vineyard to get to the common area, which was a perfect way to start the night. Southwest Michigan is beautiful and the farm was no exception with grapes, berries, peaches and other orchard fruits. Publican is known for its quality meats, so the pairing of the fresh stone fruit with the meat courses was on point.
There were several chefs in the barn preparing appetizers such as smoked salmon with heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese on cucumber rounds, delicious duck confit bruschetta and marinated, grilled shrimp and sausage skewers. We mingled for a while tasting the appetizers (and quite frankly, stalking the servers a bit as it was hard to get a bite before the trays ran out!) and sipping the wine until they gathered us for the farm tour.
Splitting us in 3 groups, we set off on a guided tour of the farm, learning about the various fruits, the history of the farm and how business works between the local farmers and the buyers. It was actually pretty interesting. Every once in a while they would encourage us to pick a berry or a peach right off the tree and have a taste, explaining how to know if it was ripe.
At the end of our tour, we came to a very long table that sat every single guest tucked in an orchard row. It was gorgeous! Everyone was dying to snap photos. It is a tradition for guests to bring their own plates so there is an eclectic mix of dishes on the table (p.s. you don’t have to bring your own). We all chose a plate and sat down for the dinner.
For dinner we had a team of servers and the meal was served family-style in a series of courses with wine parings. We had a decent-sized group with us, so I mainly sat with friends, but it was obvious that many of the guests had just met that night and there was plenty new dinner friends being made.
Here’s a snapshot of our menu:
- Arugula and basil salad with Mick Klug farm stone fruit
- Corn on the cob with chili, lime, aioli and fresh parmesean
- Whole grilled red snapper with lemon, new potatoes and fresh parsley
- Summer squash and arugula pesto
- Pork potee (pork tenderloin and pork sausage) with orchard tomatoes and shelly beans – a Publican Meats specialty
- Brown butter and Mick Klug Farm peach cake
After dinner, the crowd dispersed pretty quickly but a small group of us that knew the Klug family stayed behind and opened bottles of homemade wine made from the fruit on the farm. We had the opportunity to chat with the Outstanding in the Field folks that hosted the event while they cleaned up and packed up the bus they travel in. Many of them were in the restaurant industry, a couple of the guys saying they owned restaurants back in Portland and were taking the summer off to do something different.
At the end of the night, we went back to our hotel to prepare for our next day checking out the beach in Saint Joseph. It was a really great time and although the tickets are a bit pricey, I think it’s worth it. You’d pay something similar for a nice night out anyway and this is far more unique. The way we planned it, we chose to spend time in Michigan the weekend of the dinner so it turned into a micro-vacation with a cherry on top.
Foodie vacations are the best of all worlds! Comment with any questions you have and I’m happy to help!