Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Sustainable Eats, Beantown-Style

I often tout the power of cooking wholesome food as an antidote to stress, a means of fostering everyday creativity, and a sound way to limit your ecological footprint. That said, I sometimes find myself daydreaming about times (pre-Baby Bean) when my husband and I enjoyed a margarita and some good Mexican food out at a restaurant. Let's face it: we're all going to eat out or get take-out every once in a while. It's a pleasurable treat, and one that shouldn't have to compromise your green principles. Besides the inevitable search for yummy vegetarian options, I long for restaurants that serve up local, seasonal cuisine with organic ingredients. Oh yeah, since frugality is a cornerstone of my own personal sustainability mission, it has to be affordable. Tall order if you're not on the west coast, huh?

We've found three standout gems in the Boston area. I hope that places like these serve as a model for other sustainable businesses.

Centre Street Cafe in Jamaica Plain often has a long line snaking down the sidewalk at about 8:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays as hungry brunch-goers wait for the 9:00 opening. The line is a fixture the whole morning on most weekends, even when the cold Boston winter is bearing down. If you're stuck outside waiting for a table, though, you can always run in and grab a mug of Fair Trade coffee to bring outside to warm you up. The wait is worth it for huge portions of huevos mexicanos, waffles piled with fresh fruit and maple whipped cream, and, if you're lucky, a cuban scramble special made with eggs or tofu, together with sweet potatoes, plantains, black beans, and tortilla strips. Besides getting two delicious meals worth of food from one order, the best part about Centre Street is the focus on sustainably grown and raised food. A full page of the dinner menu is devoted to information about the farmers who supply their produce. Mark, the head server for weekend brunch, will happily tell you all about the heirloom tomatoes that comprise the salsa in the summer. At dinner, they've got a bunch of veggie options plus organic wines and my favorite organic beer, Wolaver's.

On one of our dreaded trips to the land of big box stores for baby supplies, we stumbled upon a little treasure in the most unlikely of places. Big Fresh Cafe is tucked into a hideous strip mall in Framingham right in the shadows of every cheap, chain restaurant serving pre-made muck to suburban shoppers. I couldn't believe that this little cafe was serving Equal Exchange coffee, glasses of organic Frey wines, and a bunch of freshly prepared organic meals. I knew I'd like Big Fresh when I saw a magazine rack by my booth while waiting for my meal of satay tofu, collards, rice pilaf, and stir-fried veggies to be cooked up behind the counter. The magazines? Co-op America Quarterly, Mother Jones, and Sierra. Big Fresh isn't fancy, but it's exactly the kind of neighborhood spot that you long for in your own neighborhood. I'm not sure what it says about our communities that this place is located in a strip mall, but the tofu Thai curry is pretty good stuff.

The third place is more upscale and well-known, and I think the accolades are well-deserved. Oleana in Cambridge is owned by chef Ana Sortun, who creates some delightful Mediterranean-influenced seasonal meals with organic ingredients. The ricotta and bread dumplings with kale and porcini are scrumptious.

My philosophy is that trying to live a greener life should be joyful and rich. What better way to introduce a friend or family member to sustainable cuisine than to share a meal at a local restaurant that focuses on tasty, environmentally-sound food? Now, I'm off to cook up some peanut noodles for our dinner. Hey, a girl can dream about eating out, right?


  • At 1:22 AM, Blogger Norene said…

    I don't remember hearing about any of those places when I lived in Boston, but that was quite a few years ago. I didn't spend much time in JP, and I've never been to Framingham, but I'm surprised I never heard about Oleana. Maybe it's newer?

    Things have changed a lot in the Boston area since we left in 98. Last time my husband was passing through he stopped in Cambridge and learned tha Harvest Co-op was no longer there. That's where we did most of our shopping for years. I heard Central Square has gotten pretty gentrified.

    I'm glad you've found some good spots, because I remember having fewer choices on the other coast.

  • At 8:35 AM, Blogger breadchick said…

    Oleana is a pretty new restaurant. Ana Sortun was the chef at Casablanca's in Harvard Square before opening her own place. The Harvest Co-Op is still there( We shop there when we go to Central Square for good hummus and lamb at the Middle East. But, yes, Central Square as well as Inman Square are quickly losing their interesting flavour as apartments are converted to $400,000 studio condos. But Ball Square just behind Inman Square is the new Central Square...

  • At 9:59 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    Oooohh - hummus at the Middle East sounds good. It's been a while since I've been there.

  • At 10:44 AM, Blogger Marc said…

    The Centre Street Cafe is terrific. I like the dinners there, but I especially like the brunch they have on the weekends. Everything is fresh and, for the most part, healthy. And yes, there can be lines at the Centre Street, but we haven't had much of a wait when we have gone.


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