Update: On October 22, less than three months after opening, Plow & Harvest abruptly closed its doors. Their concept hit the dirt and the tractor went off the rails. Below is my initial blogpost and review from September 13, 2013:
The local food movement. Farm-to-table dining. Eat local. Shop local. You hear these terms on a daily basis. Supporting local shop owners, cheese makers, farmers, ranchers, etc., is a concept that has gained ground of meteoric proportions in the past few years. But you just know that when concepts cotton on with the general public, it doesn’t take long for wagon-toting others to show up looking for an open hitch.
Meet Plow & Harvest.
At this “first restaurant of its kind” with The Art of Comfort Food as its tagline, chefs actually handcraft your dishes (amazing, I know), using “refined techniques and culinary traditions, continuing to hand down the stories of our farming partners’ rich Canadian heritage.” Well, that’s comforting because I, along with countless other prairie dwellers, long for the Vegan Deviled Eggless Sandwiches and the Albacore Tuna Melts we used to enjoy after a long day of bringing in the sheaves on the farm.
Yes, the setting is definitely unpretentious with patrons drinking out of mason jars while sitting on metal stools. The big red tractor in the front entrance and the white picket fences make it very farm-y. Those metal stools, though, are not made for long, leisurely dinners. Make no mistake; those stools were designed less for comfort and more for customer turnaround because unlike grandma’s house, the restaurant seats 210.
My grandmother and my mother made my comfort food. Who’s making it at Plow & Harvest? And who are the owners?
The consulting chef is James Bailey. He’s also the Vice President & Principal (Culinary) of AccessPoint Group, the California firm hired to work with the owners of Plow & Harvest to develop this “first restaurant of its kind” in Canada. James will be returning to the States soon (if not already) and leaving the handcrafting of your dishes to Red Seal Chef, Wesley Littke. The restaurant is owned by Craft Kitchen Restaurant ULC and although the company spokesperson declined to name the actual owners, a little sleuthing revealed the corporation is registered to three people: two from Colorado, and one from Saskatchewan. Transparency in any business is a good thing for the consumer. I mean, why hide something, right? If you’re wondering what a ULC is, Wikipedia has the answer.
Back to the restaurant: Tom Kelley, President of AccessPoint Group states, “The concept is new to Canada and fills a need diners have expressed for healthy, affordable options that support local food suppliers.” Yeah! Suck on that, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, St.John’s, and even you, Saskatoon. How could you guys have missed this new concept?
I hate to break it to you, Mr. Kelley, but this isn’t anything new to us. I’m assuming you came to Edmonton for research? Did you dine at MRKT, or Cibo, or Three Boars, or Culina, or Rge Rd or Bistro Saisons (I could go on) or even at our as-unpretentious-as-you-can-get food trucks, like Drift and S’wich? Because if you did, you would have seen that we already get that “local food supplier” thing. Yellowknife, NWT chef, Robin Wasicuna (a.k.a. @Wiseguyfoods), does the local food-sourcing thing on a daily basis. You want “fresh-casual”? This guy forages for food in the wilderness, grows his own ingredients and handcrafts wicked food out of his trailer. In freakin’ Yellowknife, a place so far north, he can almost see Sarah Palin from his window. Local food sourcing isn’t new to Canada.
Plow & Harvest extended an invite to local food bloggers for a VIP pre-opening event. This excerpt from a release to CNW:
“The restaurant has been the talk of local bloggers and media personalities. A sneak peek event earlier this week surprised and delighted guests with the attention to detail, service and excellent food experience Plow & Harvest is bringing to the Edmonton food scene. The event featured scaled-back portions of the entire opening menu …”
A look at Urbanspoon indicates that our local bloggers’ food experiences weren’t all that excellent. Plow & Harvest’s rating is crashing faster than the 1929 stock market.
The invited guests actually received sample bites of seven of the 27 dishes, and two of those dishes were fries and pickles. Well, I spent almost $90 for four of us to have our own experience at Plow & Harvest, and let me tell you something about those pickles. I haven’t held something that flaccid since…well, never, actually. I’ve been blessed. And, I know my pickles.
Plow & Harvest employs brand Ambassadors (otherwise known as servers in pretentious restaurants). These Ambassadors are the official envoys for Plow & Harvest. They’re the front line, the meeters and greeters and the keepers of the knowledge. One must know where one’s product comes from when one is offering fresh, locally and/or regionally sourced items.
The wines offered at Plow & Harvest are all Alberta wines. Wait. What? At least that’s what our Ambassador told us. Thankfully, an Ambassador of Higher Standing proudly set the record straight with, “All the wines are from Canada.” Well, two out of four wines are from Canada. I guess that’s almost “all”.
By now you can, perhaps, sense my exasperation. Enough with the over-blown foody phrases that burst from every press release, website page, and brand Ambassador’s mouth. If you’re going to tout “upscale counter service” as a selling feature, then you better have Chanel-gloved attendants with Belgian accents pouring my “Alberta” wine – but alas, it’s not about pretension here.
At the very least, if you’re going to offer an excellent food experience, then the food should be excellent, being that all this locally-sourced food is the draw.
Sadly, the best thing Plow & Harvest offers is a buffet of buzzwords to which they can thank the brand developers at AccessPoint Group for amassing. The firm knows what it’s doing, and it should, with (past and present) clients like Nabisco and Pepsico utilizing its services. But, drinking out of mason jars and using chickens from a Hutterite colony is not the winning recipe for a successful restaurant, no matter how many times you use words like artisanal and locally-sourced.
So, to Tom Kelly and Chef James and everyone else at AccessPoint Group in California, if you thought we were a bunch of poor, wanting, food-ignorant hayseeds in Edmonton easily fooled by an overdose of “local” food jargon, nice try on the snow job; just remember where we are – we know snow. And we know good food.
What does the future hold for this restaurant? Plow & Harvest reveals an ambitious expansion plan to open additional locations throughout western Canada in the coming years.
Vancouver, this could be the culinary break you’ve been waiting for.
My total guest experience at Plow & Harvest can be heard here on CBC Edmonton AM.