The Storm-Mitigating Self-Sufficiency of Restaurants with Gardens

With many restaurants and food businesses still without power, and big buyers of Long Island produce like J. Kings and Fresh Direct reporting no gas for their fleets, the densely-planted raised beds behind Estia’s restaurant in Sag Harbor provide inspiration for storm-mitigating self-sufficiency.

The founding chef and owner of Estia’s Colin Ambrose is mentioned in Scott Chaskey’s book about the community around Quail Hill Farm, This Common Ground. Back then (the early 1980s), Ambrose had planted several acres in Amagansett to supply the “Two-Hour Salad” (because the greens were harvested just two hours ago) at his popular omelets-and-roasted chicken joint on that town’s Main Street. (Estia’s is a rough acronym for Established in Amagansett.) That restaurant was beloved by many, including the actor Alec Baldwin who told us, “I probably spent a million on eggs before Estia’s closed.” (That Estia’s morphed into the tequila and music joint Estia’s Cantina and has since been replaced by D’Canela.)

Ambrose opened a second Estia’s (The Little Kitchen) on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike–our Back of the House feature in spring of 2010–that drew its own crowd of followers, starting with Polynesian-infused Long Island cuisine and then Mexican-infused Long Island cuisine (fluke tacos, Mexican corn soup, chorizo and eggs) as the chef changed. Either way, the dishes are known by their names–Robbie’s Gringo Hash, Big Al’s Burrito–and Ambrose has long bought from farms nearby—Dale and Bette’s farm just down the road, Channing Daughters Winery, Iacono Farm. Ambrose himself has sold hot sauce and coffee at the Sag harbor Farmers Market, while his daughters launched a popular pasta brand out of the restaurant’s basement. A couple years ago, Ambrose enrolled at Fleisher’s Butcher in Kingston to sharpen his charcuterie skills. He ended up making some pork sausage connections that still persist in the chorizo, pork taco, and Robbie’s hash. And, earlier this year, a doppelganger opened across the Sound, Estia’s American in Darien, Connecticut.

Back in Sag Harbor, the latest transformation happened when Ambrose cleared some ground behind the kitchen and erected several lengthy raised beds that turned out salad greens, tomatoes, herbs, zucchini, beets and more. Jeff Negron, who also manages Bridge Gardens and the garden at Topping Rose, can be seen on occasion weeding and replanting. As summer transitioned to fall, our photo editor Lindsay Morris, walked the garden with Ambrose.

Of course, not all restaurants have the room for gardens. But all of them can consider how they can guarantee freshness and support their neighbors by buying from farms nearby. It could take a week or more for food deliveries from afar to resume as normal. In contrast, farms and wineries should are already open for business.