In Sag Harbor, Page Sets a New Standard for Food Sourcing

An aquaponic farm grows in the basement of this Main Street restaurant.

Summer at Page Restaurant in Sag Harbor means that, up on the roof, more space is used for outdoor aquaponic farming (looking onto historic Sag Harbor jail and Chamber of Commerce).

“We have kids, we seat them out here—it’s like a TV,” says Eric Peele, director of restaurant operations and host of Page Restaurant in Sag Harbor. He’s speaking of Page’s back room, which is both an enclosed year-round patio with beautiful light and a brick floor, and a shining example of how the restaurant sources some of their food. Along the back wall are tall columns—removable rotating grow towers, vertically growing all manner of greens and herbs—punctuated by hypnotic fish tanks with gorgeous-looking fish moving about in a relaxed manner.

At Page, aquaponics is both an aesthetic and a means to serve up some fairly delicious kale, wild mushroom and roast red pepper salad. And while the back room is where one can enjoy an example of the process, down in the basement is where the real farming happens. An enormous glass fish tank is home to large tilapia and carp, as are several other 150 gallon plastic bins. The fish aren’t for eating (well, occasionally a tilapia serves up nicely), but for feeding . . . greens.

Greens are grown in slotted cups planted directly in water.

Bronze arrowhead kale, various lettuces, pac choi, red Malabar spinach, Swiss chard, basil, as well as microgreens and French beans, are all grown in specially-designed water trays and towers under grow lights. The fish tanks supply the nitrogen-rich water, the water makes its way around the trays and grow towers, and returns to the fish tank clean and filtered. It’s a perfect ecosystem, one that uses 80% less water and energy.

“I harvest lettuce two-to-three times from one plant before it’s cleaned up and re-seeded,” explains Freddy Fernandez, Page’s aquaponic system manager, “and in 20 days I have a new plant that is ready to harvest.” Fernandez notes that his greens grow “more than twice as fast as in soil” thanks to the relatively self-sustaining ecosystem.

Aquaponics manager Freddy Fernandez rotates removable chambers of greens.

And while the system does not produce enough to feed the entire restaurant in summer, it does feed a majority of clientele. Recently, Fernandez has set-up his additional summer grow system on the roof, where bucket-loads of basil varieties will grow aquaponically in PVC tubing surrounding the restaurant’s skylight. There are also, this time of year, 25 grow towers and a 100 gallon fish tank on the roof.

“The greens are here, in house,” says Peele, “and because of that, they are easier to maintain, care for, and harvest, than if they were off-premises.” That said, Page has plans to expand their aquaponic garden to an off-site but still nearby location, “to allow us to grow 100 percent of the possible produce on our menu”—produce that is also 100 percent chemical and pesticide-free.

Uptairs, in the back patio of the restaurant, guests get to eat alongside this wonderous and aesthetically pleasing sustainable “farm.”

On any given day, diners will find a number of dishes involving Page-grown produce. Charred Spanish octopus with white beans, braised leeks, kale, chorizo and roasted garlic-paprika vinaigrette, vegan vermicelli rice noodle bowl with greens, chicken Milanese with baby arugula, baby romaine Caesar salad, and pan-seared salmon with Chinese black rice, baby bok choy & grapefruit gastrique are current highlights on the menu.

To try your hand at Page’s Aquaponic Kale Salad, check out the recipe on the restaurant’s website.

Page is located at 63 Main Street in Sag Harbor and is open every day for lunch, dinner, and brunch on Sundays.

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Erica-Lynn Huberty

Erica-Lynn Huberty grew up on the East End, and has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Sculpture Magazine and other publications. When not writing and making art, she can often be found in the garden growing good things to eat.