It doesn’t get much more local than that. The Hungry Diner is an extension of Walpole Valley Farms.
THELocal sourcing is all the rage for restaurants of all stripes, from the fanciest to the funniest. But – there is always a but – do they continually work with local farms, is the relationship more than words on a chalkboard and is the impact significant on the menu? These are all questions that farmers Chris and Caitlin Caserta have asked themselves.
The Casertas operate Walpole Valley Farms in the beautiful rolling, lush hills just south of the classic New England town of Walpole. Chris’s sister, Jackie, runs the nearby Valley Farms inn, an operation I mentioned when her now teenage daughter was learning to walk. The grandparents, who own all the land, are tucked away on a quaint farmhouse nearby. The entire family farm – with gorgeous barns, working farmland, and a viable business – is almost too good for words, but there is a good story to try and tell.
For the past 12 years or so, Chris and Caitlin have used the land to graze beef cattle, pigs and chickens for eggs and meat. The on-site farm store is open on weekends and offers cuts of steak, sausage, bacon, pork chops, fresh eggs, and even Grandma Bonnie’s jams and jellies.
The couple wanted to offer food in one form or another on the farm – perhaps a full-time farm stand with burgers and hot dogs. When an old ice cream stand became available, plans changed and a new round of research was undertaken.
The Casertas are both staunch followers of Joel Salatin, the subject of Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore Dilemma,” who envisioned a restaurant based on sustainable food sources with reduced impact on Earth’s resources. As Salatin said: “This magical and wonderful food on our plate, this food that we eat, has a story to tell. He’s got a trip. He leaves an imprint. He leaves a legacy. Eating with reckless abandon, without consciousness, without knowledge; people, this is not normal. With that mantra in mind, the couple went to many restaurants of the kind they were considering for their own operation, even as far away as San Francisco.
Research completed, the natives of Walpole have opened The hungry restaurant Last year. This is a full service, quick and relaxed restaurant where you order at the window and the food is delivered to your table. It was important to them that their food was accessible and not offered as fancy treats with only a loose connection to their farm.
This place is no ordinary restaurant – and is possibly the state’s first full-service farmer-owned restaurant. Everything shines with a sparkle of cleanliness. You can see their painstaking research everywhere, from pretty beer glasses and white subway tiles to the warmth of handcrafted tables and chairs. Local company Bensonwood designed and built the wood ceiling, built-in seating and tables using reclaimed wood. The local theme is applied by keeping the local money as well.
For the menu, it seems the big thing they learned was that people love burgers and beer – a trend that is now hitting the state hard. Chris is a craft beer lover, and 16 local or iconic beers are on tap, while burgers from their own beef and pork are the heart of the menu. Be sure to try Three Little Pigs, a pasture-raised pork burger with slow roasted bacon and Bonnie’s Bacon Jam.
The focus is on their own pasture-raised meats and poultry, but local sourcing outside of theirs is also evident. The artisan buns for the burgers come from nearby award-winning Orchard Hill Breadworks, local milk is used to make their own soft serve ice cream and milkshakes, and local cave-grown cheese is the mainstay of their mac ‘dishes. very popular cheese n ‘cheese. But there is a caveat – the cost, a lesson the restaurant public is starting to understand.
As Caitlin says, “the public needs to be educated on the real cost of food. The prices here are not out of line for the value of the meal. She adds, “If people expect Applebee prices, they’re first blown away.” But they quickly get the big picture – quality food, healthy ingredients, backing the quaint farms that dot the countryside – all of it comes at a cost. What is better for the environment is also, fortunately, for the guest and it is a profitable investment on both counts.
Raising beef and chicken on pasture is hard work. Pastures are changed daily so that the cattle can feed on fresh clover and other tasty green vegetables. On the day of my visit the herding was disrupted and it was quite a sight to see them run to what they thought was greener pastures. The Red Ranger chickens that the Casertas have chosen to breed are a slower growing variety than the typical white Cornish Cross. They are tastier, however, says Caitlin.
Keeping the faith throughout the operation, Caitlin says they are also trying to minimize the restaurant’s environmental impact by using compostable take-out containers, as well as other disposable products that are used to enrich their own soils, while food waste is given to their pigs. Diners inside also enjoy their meals on ceramic dishes and not on paper plates, another win-win.
As a family business, it was important to the Casertas that The Hungry Diner was also a community and child-friendly meeting place. The front yard offers a swing and plenty of picnic tables for playing the board games available inside. And, of course, there is a set of corn holes.
Walpole has always been an exceptional city in many ways. Just walking through it for a cup of Burdick hot chocolate is a joy. Now it’s even better.
Other foods found on farms
Local farms are learning they can cut out the middleman by cooking their own produce on site and providing meals to the public on special days. Here is a list of seasonal offers.
Burger evenings at Brookford Farm
250 W path, Canterbury
Held on June 1 and August 31, 2019 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Enjoy a grass-fed burger with all the accessories from the farm where it was grown. Enjoy live music and explore barns and fields. Bring your own chair. 25 $
Dinners at Mayfair Farm
31 Clymers Drive, Harrisville
Held July 27 & August 24, 2019. Head to the Mayfair Party Barn and enjoy live music and a multi-course, farm-to-table meal featuring farm-grown ingredients and others in the Monadnock area. Tickets and information can be found here.
Brunch and dinners at Moulton Farm
18 Career path, Meredith
Father’s Day brunch buffet every Sunday in July and August for $ 16.99, and farm-to-table dinners are held on Tuesdays June 25, July 9, July 23, August 13, August 27 and September 10 for $ 58. Find more information here.
Pizza night at Orchard Hill Breadworks
121 former settlers path, Alstead
They provide the dough, sauce, cheese, and access to the picking garden, and you bring your favorite toppings, chair, and silverware. Every Tuesday from mid-June to the end of August. $ 9. Find more information here.
Naughty Chicken Rotisserie Night at Vernon Family Farm
301 Piscassic Road, New fields
Organized on Friday evening where you can pick up or dine on site from 5pm to 6pm. Vernon’s own chickens are cooked on their very large roasting pan. Confirm via [email protected] or via Facebook messages, and Click here for more information.
Breakfast D Acres
218 Streeter Woods Road, Dorchester
Held every first Sunday of the month. Enjoy a festive farm breakfast with farm produce. Everything is organic and sustainable – and part of their mission. The center aims to combine the advantages of agricultural tradition and modern technology within the framework of an educational farm. D Acres offers hiking trails, periodic workshops and accommodations for overnight guests. Find more information here.