As Jacksonville's McCully House expanded over the past year and a half, interest in local food did, too.
So it only followed that when the historic inn reopened its restaurant in July with a more prominent persona, the cuisine would reflect the Rogue Valley's culinary identity.
"It kind of really fits well with the new food culture," says Kristen Lyon, sous chef of The Garden Bistro at McCully House. "We have so many resources in this valley."
From vegetables and fruit to meat and cheese, The Garden Bistro is showcasing locally grown, raised and produced foods on a bistro-style menu of dishes served a la carte. A large complement of weekly specials — about a third of the total selections — allow Lyon and kitchen staff the flexibility to feature what's freshest.
"Next week we will have even more specials to highlight the Eat Local (Challenge)," Lyon says.
Among dozens of events on the Eat Local Challenge lineup, a Saturday fete at the bistro capitalizes on executive chef Bob Denman's particular expertise in pairing food and wine. Denman's own Slagle Creek vintages will be poured to accent local foods, along with other wines from the Applegate Valley, including The Academy of Wine, Valley View and Schmidt Winery. The event, from 1 to 4 p.m., costs $8 per person.
Designed to acquaint Rogue Valley residents with local food sources and to encourage their support of the area's economy, the third-annual Eat Local Challenge was a natural fit with The Garden Bistro, Lyon says.
"We always have Eat Local week here."
Acquiring restaurant stock from local vendors is slightly more time-consuming and expensive, Lyon says. But because the kitchen wastes far less, consumers won't necessarily see that cost passed along to them, she says. And it doesn't take much effort on the cooks' parts to create beautiful plates from the raw components.
"The quality of the food is so much higher that it lasts longer," Lyon says. "I pass the credit back to the farmer and people producing such beautiful produce."
Customers can expect lighter, more healthful food at the new bistro compared with McCully's House's old "comfort food" menu that included side dishes, says manager Ryan Gierloff. The restaurant also has responded to patrons' requests for more vegetarian options. Edible garnishes like calendula blossoms and currants are one of Lyon's hallmarks.
The former private chef and her kitchen staff benefit from a work space that's doubled in size since owner Carl Johnson closed the restaurant to regular meal service in January last year and embarked on a $300,000 refurbishing and expansion project. A 12-seat bar was added, and the remodeled dining area accommodates almost twice the number of diners, including 50 outdoors on the patio. Indoor seating also looks onto the garden, which seemed the logical choice for the eatery's new name, Gierloff says.
"We wanted to be reborn as a whole new restaurant," he says.
Starting next year, on-site growing space will help supplement Lyon's "garden to table" philosophy. Customers likely will see like herbs and other "culinary things" happening outside, the sous chef says. Like many eateries taking a similar approach, the regular menu stands to change seasonally, probably four times per year, Lyon says.
Tomorrow kicks off what Lyon hopes will be a Thursday fixture, a three-course menu that pairs each course with wine for a set price, likely between $30 and $35. The regular menu, with prices between $7 for stuffed, baby portobello mushrooms and $14 for flat-iron steak, also will be served nightly, starting at 5 p.m.
The Garden Bistro at McCully House is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Call 899-1942 or see the Web site www.thegardenatmccully.com.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.