Houston's Growing Garden Party

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If food is fashionable, local food is the flashiest piece on the Paris runways. These past few years have seen the locavore movement skyrocket like mad in Houston. The city now boasts dozens of farmers' markets, and people are beginning to explore the fabu-fresh world of CSAs. But chefs, too, are seeking new ways to get closer to their food. Thus the rise of the restaurant garden, a stove-side Whole Foods offering chefs quick access to the freshest in leafy herbs and crisp veggies.

Several restaurants around town are setting up shop, whether it's in a nearby plot of land, a rooftop garden, or a windowsill of flowery herbs. And how do their gardens grow? Houston's climate -- as maligned as it is -- supports home-grown food nicely. Citrus grows particularly well, as do root vegetables, tomatoes and herbs. Yes, you've got to give them a lot of love, but isn't that the key to raising most anything? There is, of course, a tremendous time commitment involved in planting and cultivating a garden, plus a jagged learning curve, but most chefs report that the resulting diligence pays off fiercely -- not only in stellar dishes, but also in the inherent pride that goes along with growing something from scratch. Here are a few restaurants in the area that are supporting their own habits.

Rainbow Lodge Rainbow Lodge, a fundamentally Heights locale, features three sizable gardens that owner Donnette Hansen tends to on her own. She's currently in the midst of harvesting sugar snap peas, romaine lettuce, peas, haricot verts, chard and sorrel, all of which you'll find on the daily menu. Another packed patch features tomato plants already covered in fruit, plus fennel, squash and eggplant. How do they flavor the fruits of their labor? Why, with garden-fresh herbs of course -- especially oregano, basil and parsley.

The Grove I've been to The Grove a handful of times and was so enamored of the view that I didn't even realize the place has a fabulous rooftop garden. The list of specials changes daily, depending on what comes in from the garden. Chef Ryan Pera says he strives to incorporate the homegrown produce into his meals, and then supplements with as much local food as he can. Currently, the garden's beets are nearing maturity, so look for them soon paired with citrus and warm goat cheese in an energy-inspiring salad.

Patrenella's Ask for a Garden Salad at Patrenella's, and you'll get just that -- a gorgeous plate of greens, tomatoes and cucumbers freshly picked from the garden patch next door. If heartier's your bag, stick with the chef's outrageous eggplant and squash dishes. Or better still, try something -- anything -- with pesto. The version there is so dynamically delicious, you'll certainly remember that the basil was probably still a plant as you walked into the restaurant.

Beaver's You may or may not have noticed that Beaver's, a disciple of Monica Pope's local food movement, has a garden patch right by its door. Chef Jonathan Jones reports that every day he pulls up pound upon pound of greens, baby turnips, radishes and bell peppers for use, alongside buckets of edible flowers and herbs. The herbs and edible flowers, he says, are used as flavorings and garnishes for regular menu items -- but the other garden gems are where the chef can really shine. Jones uses these lil' guys in his creative list of daily specials.

The Inn at Dos Brisas Don't let the name fool you --The Inn at Dos Brisas is much more than a chic B&B. Situated on a gorgeous piece of property between Brenham and Chappell Hill, the place features a fabulous restaurant that grows its own produce, cures its own meats, and makes its own cheeses. Fresh-picked produce is the star of every dish, from a vibrant tomato salad topped with housemade chevre to the golden disk of ratatouille skirted in impossibly thin slices of cucumber. The seasonal tasting menu will set you back $85, but the meal is a homegrown experience to be savored.

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