Friday, May 11, 2012

Locavores Who Lunch

By Vanessa DeSantis

A deliveryman cradling three crates of farm fresh eggs passes my table. It’s brunch rush at the Iris Café – a coffee shop located on a cobblestoned side street in Brooklyn Heights.

A medical quote comes to mind as I examine the Iris menu, “first do no harm.” The food comes from small farms within 500 miles. The meats are from Dickson’s Farmstand, a New York supplier of meats from local, sustainable farms. The coffee is fair trade; they use Stumptown, roasted in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. Some of the farm-fresh fare, such as dairy and eggs, is even available for purchase in a small “grocery” case by the Café’s cashier.

The vibe of Iris is more carefree and dare I say it – prettier – than the average hipster coffee joint. The glass door has a cluster of purple and blue iris flowers painted on it – a design also stamped lovingly on each to-go cup. Chalkboard menus in ornate golden frames hang against an exposed brick wall. Each small square table is freshened with roses in recycled glass. (Mine was a Sanbittèr bottle – an aromatic bitters once produced by the San Pellegrino Company.) The beige muffin pouches are made of silky lightweight craft paper.

The brief and not-too-varied menu is divided equally into food and drink items, and the coffee options are many. Baristas swirl heart-shapes and leaves into foamy espresso drinks.  

My brunch date ordered the French dip ($10) and I went with the Ploughman ($9), a sandwich with a tangy Surryano ham — a domestic version of the Spanish Serrano – apple slices, pickles, sharp cheddar and Dijon-mayo, all packed into a baked-onsite baguette. Delicious.

The French dip differs from the LA area original. The tender roast beef is served pink not well done and is accompanied by Blue Brie and Dijon mayo. The au jus is an earthy brew of beef broth and coffee. Purists might frown. I enjoyed the embellishments as a charming nod towards the French side of things. In the northern region of France where Brie originated they dunk wedges of the cheese into their café au lait.

The food might be big on quality, but don’t expect giant servings. Sandwiches arrive solo on craft paper – only the French Dip gets a plate (that au jus can get messy!). Sides are ordered separately.

My baguette devoured, I ordered biscuits with berry jam to go along with a second round of coffee. They had a soft and airy texture, and the jam tasted homemade good (it’s made from scratch at the café).

Owner Rachel Graville apprenticed at Slow Food USA, an organization dedicated to defending food biodiversity, and previously worked at Edible Brooklyn, a magazine covering the local food movement.

Graville is one of this era’s young restaurateurs updating the trend of using sustainably farmed local ingredients. Berkeley’s Alice Waters and New York’s Dan Barber pioneered the effort decades ago in fine dining. By incorporating a similar concept into the brunch culture of the casual café, proprietors like Graville are making organic fare a little more accessible, and for the Brooklynite – that much more local.