I’m not one to customarily put quotes around ordinary references, such as the word “organic.”
My hubby, with his PhD in English, dings his students left and right for such liberal use of an excessive wraparound, and that inspires fear in my writing since he so often edits my stuff.
But I couldn’t help but scratch my head a bit in apprehending the “organic” and local case made by Richmond’s The Daily Kitchen and Bar when I had breakfast there recently.
Okay food, better branding
Being a sucker for a good Website, and language that convinces me a place is farm-to-table, I picked The Daily from a menu of choices my bestie Liz offered up when pointing out places I might like for lunch on a recent visit to the capital city.
In the end, I opted for breakfast rather than lunch since I knew I’d be arriving by 10am. To that end, The Daily seemed the best bet.
But I left feeling like it was really only “okay.”
Paint it green
The restaurant is big and formidable, snagging the corner at Shepherd and Cary in Richmond’s famous walkable shopping district, Carytown.
And at first glance, it looks super organic, what with it’s leafless tree forms lofted above a bank of dark stones and a hefty dose of spring onion green color dappled throughout.
But a deeper look and…not so much.
Reminds me of that episode of Fraiser when Fraiser and Niles go to the snobbish and exclusive La Porte de Jean day spa and, once admitted, are handed aesthetically pleasing but uselessly festooned towels, to which Niles excitedly exclaims,
“River rocks, and a stalk of wheat!”
This hilarious clip from later in that episode might give you some idea of what I mean:
It’s not that I didn’t like the sort of clean-lined mid-century interior at The Daily, with its cafeteria-like feel, all bright and open, and in that sense egalitarian and unpretentious.
But whatever that green plastic blob of decor was on the back wall, it hardly said “organic.”
Nor did the barren trees planted into a sink of polished stones and flanked by a vinyl veneer backdrop at the front of the interior.
Clean? Modern? “Organic?” Perhaps in an affected scuptural sense. But lifeless and inert, too.
This is one place where my suspicions were really raised over the Richmond Restaurant Group’s organic concept.
Okay, so decor is merely decor, that’s only one thing. But to me, there’s usually some interrelationship between organic advocates and their practices. That’s something I would expect from restauranteurs branding themselves under the organic rubric.
And though these things might not bother your average patron — or even be noticed by them — it’s my job to look into things with a more discerning eye and see whether they add up or not.
Spooning up trouble
Another disturbing moment was receiving my coffee with a plastic stir straw in it, and my water with ice and a straw. I’d think that organic-focused outlets would do everything possible to lower energy, lower plastic use, and focus on reusables. But here was the exact opposite.
I mean, we’re in the era where our kids and grandkids could inherit a climate hellscape of unrivaled proportions and “organic” restaurants still feel obliged to hand out ice and straws with mere water, or stirrers with onsite coffee?????? A spoon wouldn’t do?
Color me baffled.
But the worst was yet to come.
Raised in a barn
During my stay on the patio, an incredibly nice and handsome young man began opening the large-scale windows on the Cary Street frontage to connect the inside and outside dining rooms. However, at the same time, the air-conditioning was running full bore.
I had intentionally chosen to sit outside thinking Liz would have preferred it, and not wanting to get that characteristic American air-conditioning chill myself.
I was kept less icy out there, but the downside was that that corner is crazy loud, with trash pick ups, delivery trucks, and every day traffic bumping and barreling down the street.
I endured the noise to avoid the freeze.
But as breakfast edged toward lunch, the staff started getting ready for the midday crowd.
And then there it was: gigantic windows opened, air-conditioning on, and no apparent consciousness about it whatsoever.
Please, don’t tell Pope Francis.
How this squares with an organic concept is beyond even the most forgiving reckoning. It simply doesn’t. It’s “sustainability” turned on its head. Worse, it’s greenwashing, trading on a “sustainable” concept in lieu of truly sustainable practices in the everyday running of the restaurant.
If you care about our world this is cause to raise an eyebrow at the very least.
Bring on the grub, wherever it’s found
Okay, alright, alright, you’re probably thinking, “What are you, a Puritan? Shut up about the energy profile and the greenness already and just tell us about the food.”
Seriously, after all this, you still want to know about the food?
Okay, the food was fine-ish. I can’t complain in a generalized sense — I ordered scrambled eggs, bacon, and home fries and it was easily as good as your average breakfast fare.
But nothing soared.
I also ordered a side of organic berries and I was quite pleased with the flavor there. But then, it was summer.
It was also nice that the scrambled eggs had herbs added, a touch that gave them more dimension than your average egg.
The waitress couldn’t identify on her own the bacon purveyor so she went back to inquire when asked and came back with “Hormel Organic.”
Well, well, well. Hormel.
I mean, you operate in the same state as Polyface Farms and Babes in the Woods (and other pork farms) and you need your pork from Hormel? It’s hard to be impressed.
In fact, as far as I could tell, no meat or poultry came from Virginia at all, at least for breakfast. Fortunately, they do carry the Shenandoah Valley’s Autumn Olive Farms pork at dinner.
The rest of the time some seafood is local, sometimes. One wonders why they need to carry things like tuna, salmon, mahi, and avocado if they’re pushing a “local,” concept?
Eggs are listed on the menu and Website as “organic,” but with no specific farm named — seriously, can you not get organic Virginia eggs and name them? I can, delivered to my house!
Earthbound Farms provide lettuces, again, corporate supermarket giants rather than local produce growers.
But it’s not like nothing The Daily has is local — there’s definitely some things, and that’s to be praised for strengthening Virginia businesses and its economy.
But in this reviewers opinion, for an outlet claiming organic, local, sustainable, the balance should have been far more tipped to Virginia than say, California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Maine, and to local outlets over corporate providers.
The reason? Beef flown or trucked in from California may taste mind-blowing, but the trip alone wipes out any claims to sustainable once it’s one the table. In the local-versus-certified-organic debate, generally local wins on sustainability for its shorter trips, fewer storage demands, freshness.
And often local growers who aren’t certified organic are doing everything sustainably and organically, but the barrier to certification is an out-of-scale cost demand that cripples the small local farm which then doesn’t pursue certification.
It’s a vicious circle.
But if a company as strong and well-positioned at the Richmond Restaurant Group focused its energy on helping ensure those farms a steady demand for product, that alone might make the difference in the farms’ growth, allowing better prices for the restaurant while giving claims to local and sustainable a more solid footing.
Make a local, seasonal menu and drive it from that point of view, rather than seeing what’s available on the national organic map, especially the corporate one, and driving the process from there, with its huge carbon transport and packaging footprint.
That’s where I fear a bit of greenwashing at this restaurant, and not enough willingness to build local first and ride on that reputation and profit margin as it is. A little more work? Yes. But it would really meet the restaurant’s philosophical claims while also strengthening the region.
In the end, The Daily “went big,” but I have to wonder, at what cost to Virginia?
My service rocked.
My waitress, Cait, provided everything you’d want in a Richmond server — professionalism, friendliness, alacrity, adaptability (brought me a second glass of water, this time with no ice), and the requisite art-school purple hair.
When asked, she was able to describe the home fries (always a pressing breakfast question) which she did perfectly. They were, while accurately described in an objective sense, not as flavorful as promised. (Hint to the chef: maybe some onion, peppers, herbs, and a touch of bacon grease?)
When requested, she went back to find out their bacon source and that’s when I learned of the wonders of Hormel.
But let’s face it, Cracker Barrel is also farm-to-table in that all produce and meat served is grown and raised on a farm. But the point of farm-to-table as a demarcation is that it’s local, not international or national.
If it was my “farm-to-table” place, I’d want my servers to know all food sources — and maybe the farmers themselves — except that which perhaps was literally pulled that day from someone’s forest patch.
The onus here, however, is on management, not servers — train your servers with knowledge and they’ll carry the torch, but not without your guidance.
My understanding is that The Daily is wildly popular, and usually packed. It’s definitely got a “see and be seen,” vibe. And they’ve got enough soy to make the most diehard vegetarian and vegan happy for years.
So maybe I missed something?
The Daily was fine enough — my gob got filled with grub, carrying me on until dinner. But it wasn’t all that at all.
Since I’ve got plenty of other local options when next I hit Richmond, I don’t need to try dinner or lunch there, at least until they get more local providers on the board all day.
— Lindsay Curren, Girl Goes Virginia
The Daily Kitchen and Bar
2934 W. Cary St, Richmond, VA 23221
Dinner: Sun-Thurs 5pm-10pm — Fri-Sat 5pm-12pm
Lunch: Mon-Sat 11am-5pm
Breakfast: Mon-Sat 7am-11am — Sun 7am-10am
Brunch: Sun 10am-4pm
Happy Hour: Mon-Fri 3:30pm-6:30pm