Rosemary infused vodka, lavender biscuits, fine herb fries—herbs are that magical finisher turning something otherwise ordinary into an unforgettable bit. Herbs are making a recent splash in the trend of savory cocktails, bitters, and even desserts. Herbs pack a ton of flavor, add a finishing touch as a garnish (try fresh or fried) and are as easy to use as they are to grow, which would explain why local haunts are making the herb the spotlight ingredient. Chefs are taking advantage of the herb and either growing them on the restaurant premise or sourcing from local purveyors.
Bostonians are literally eating this up. Boston and its surrounding area have already seen the “buy fresh, buy local” movement transform how people buy their food (think local farms, CSAs). Now, Bostonian’s want the same offered for when they eat out, and it seems to be catching on.
Cocktails in 2013 are not what they used to be. Savory is the new sweet and herbs aren’t just for entrees. Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Somerville features a popular beverage called “Violet Hour” whipped up with house made lime lavender syrup.
Trina’s runs by the motto “If we can make it ourselves, we do…if we can get it local, we do…” which is pretty much music to a foodie’s ears. Drink in Fort Point (not to mention the establishment just won the award for world’s best cocktail bar) places bowls of fresh herbs along the mixologists’ workspace within eyesight of guests.
Patrons know what they are getting—fresh, bright, intense flavors just by what they can see in their periphery, especially since Drink does not have a menu and guests go by what they see, smell and want to taste. Another local haunt maximizing their use of the herb is Bergamot of Somerville, boasting a number of infused syrups (think rhubarb!) and bold herbs (rosemary) used in various cocktails.
Even though space is scarce in Boston, some establishments are doing their best to provide fresh and homegrown herbs in an urban setting. Chef Frank McClelland of
the esteemed L’Espalier plays the role of farmer with his Apple Street Farm, located in Essex. His farm brings daily shipments of flats bursting with micro greens and herbs, to be used on the menu that day. Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge and dbar in Dorchester both have roof top gardens making the most of the space afforded to them. Instead of waiting for a shipment, dbar chefs can clamor up to the roof, cut one of 23 or so herbs and immediately start prep work. GMOs and fertilizers are not even a thought with this kind of growth.
The herb—small but mighty—is dominating menus and roof tops. When dining at “home grown” establishments you are not only supporting big flavor but sustainability as well. Start small and seek out the herb in Boston’s local restaurants—chances are you will find some ingenious dishes from chefs and restaurateurs who house a secret garden.
Clarice Connors is a former journalist turned chef; after being trained at Le Cordon Bleu, she has graced palates at B&G Oysters, via Kitchen Surfing and more. You can see some of the amazing dishes she prepares on her twitter account: @dibbee7