Ecco is one of Atlanta’s best-loved restaurants – known for its inventive and delicious Mediterranean fare and perfect for date night and special occasions, as well as a casual happy hour at the bar. Named “Best New Restaurant in America” by Esquire magazine in 2006, Ecco has received four stars from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and mention in The New York Times for its recycling efforts.
Lately, the restaurant has been garnering local attention for its rooftop garden, a creative use for otherwise wasted space. With the help of restaurant staff – the servers and sous chefs kick in to help grow the vegetables and herbs from seed, care for the plants, and harvest them for the restaurant daily – Ecco’s rooftop garden is making its way onto diners’ plates each evening, giving a new look to farm-to-table dining. Shall we call it roof-to-table dining, perhaps?
I had the pleasure of touring the rooftop garden with Executive Chef Craig Richards and getting a little insight into how they’re using what they’re growing and how Ecco’s rooftop garden is making its way to your plate each night.
Here’s what Chef Craig has to say…or just watch the video to hear it straight from him!
…The garden got started here in 2010. The previous chef started it with several people [on the] kitchen staff, and it feeds into the concept of the restaurant in that it’s very green and sustainable. The whole garden is irrigated through run-off from our air conditioning and also from rainwater. That water collects at the bottom of the alley in a rain barrel and gets pumped up and then irrigates all of the beds.
Right now we’re using the garden in a few different ways. We’ve got a lot of things coming into bloom. Right now, what we’re using predominantly is squash blossoms, some Italian basil. Yesterday, we just planted some opal basil, which we’ll be using a lot of. But I think what’s going to happen is everything’s going to come at the same time: we;ve got tomatoes, various kinds of peppers, different kinds of pole beans, field peas, different things like that. I think once all these things come together, we’ll be using quite a bit of them on the menu.
Right now, we’re using squash blossoms on the menu, and as you can see, they’re the blossoms that come off the top of the squash and they come in varied different kinds of squash. So what we’ll do is we’ll harvest these, we take out the stamens, and then they act as a great little parcel for our filling, which is mozzarella that we make here in house, a little bit of ricotta, some anchovy, black pepper. You wrap the leaves up around the filling; it sticks very nicely. We basically dip them in a very simple tempura batter and fry them, so you get this wonderful crispy outside and the cheese melting and nice and gooey on the inside.
I’d like to eventually put more beds on the roof. I think we’ve got enough room for about three more beds, and maybe even figure out a way to winterize the beds so we can use them all year round. What I envision, and I don’t know if it’s going to happen this summer, maybe next year, is using the produce that we get from the roof to be about 8 – 10% of the total produce we’re using in the kitchen. You know, that’s our goal and that’s what I’d like to see next year.