Restaurants

One of Fort Worth’s first ‘farm to table’ restaurants turns 10 this month

Growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana, Molly McCook spent much of her childhood at her grandparents’ house on Ellerbe Road. Her family garden provided fresh ingredients for cooking, and McCook took that practice with her when she partnered with childhood friend Richard King to open Ellerbe Fine Foods in an old gas station on West Magnolia Avenue 10 years ago this month.

It was back when “farm-to-table” was a new idea for Fort Worth diners. At its core, the term meant the restaurant chef worked directly with farmers to source seasonal, local ingredients. Today the label is more than overused, but McCook says Ellerbe has held true to the convictions of what farm-to-table really represents.

“We committed ourselves to supporting local farmers, purveyors, ranchers and cheesemakers as much as possible and have continued to do so throughout the years,” McCook says. “I have always felt that the flavors and quality are superior in locally-sourced ingredients and wanted our plates to speak to this. I think our dedication to our core belief has allowed us to stand apart from being a fad or cliché farm-to-table.”

That dedication also led to national acclaim in Bon Appetit magazine as one of America’s best new restaurants and an invitation for McCook to cook at the James Beard House in New York.

Just like she did in 2009, McCook still lists the farms from which her ingredients come on each menu item. She says she’s blessed by the friendships she’s developed with farmers and owes much of the restaurant’s success to their products. One of those products is tomatoes, and she uses them in a throwback recipe featured here and available in the restaurant now.

“The tomato salad was on our very first menu,” McCook says. “Every summer we have a tomato salad of some kind featured, but this is the first to be repeated. It is the recipe that Bon Appetit featured when we were honored as one of the top 10 best new restaurants.”

1501 West Magnolia Avenue, Fort Worth, 817-926-3663, www.ellerbefinefoods.com

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Hushpuppy Croutons, Buttermilk Dressing, Crumbled Blue Cheese

Serves 4-6

4 medium heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges (McCook uses Brandywines and Cherokee Purples from Fambro Family Farms in Breckenridge)

1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced

juice of ½ lemon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

6 ounces blue cheese

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley leaves

2 green onions, tops cut on a bias

  1. Place tomato wedges and sliced shallots in a large mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Gently toss and taste for seasoning.
  2. Separate the tomatoes onto six plates, trying to make small piles in the center. Be sure to leave any juices behind in the mixing bowl. Generously spoon buttermilk dressing (recipe follows) over the tomatoes, approximately 1/4 cup per plate. Place three of the warm hushpuppies (recipe follows) around the tomatoes and crumble the blue cheese over each salad. Sprinkle the parsley leaves and green onions over the top.

Buttermilk Dressing

1 egg yolk

juice of ½ lemon

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ½ cups oil blend

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon shallots, finely diced

½ garlic clove, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium-size mixing bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolk, lemon juice and salt. While continually whisking, slowly incorporate the oil into the yolk mixture to form a thick aioli or mayonnaise. Whisk in the buttermilk. Stir in the shallots, garlic, parsley and black pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Hushpuppies

Yield: Approximately 2 dozen

Oil, as needed for frying

1 ½ cups coarse ground cornmeal

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg, slightly beaten

½ cup green onions, cut into rings

½ jalapeno, deseeded and finely chopped

3/4 cup buttermilk

  1. In a heavy bottom pot, pour enough oil for approximately a 3-inch depth. Bring oil to a temperature of 340 degrees.
  2. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, green onions, jalapeno and buttermilk. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until blended.
  3. Using a tablespoon, drop heaping scoops of the batter gently into the grease. Be careful not to splash. Let cook for approximately 4 minutes or until the hushpuppies are golden brown. Roll the hushpuppies over halfway through frying for even browning. Remove from grease and let drain on paper towels.
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