The concept of farm-to-table dinners is not new to Edmonton but RGE RD (Range Road) has done a fabulous job bringing it to the forefront of our food scene. Although I haven’t written a review or a post on RGE RD, I most certainly have enjoyed their restaurant dinners and Chef Lebsack’s dishes at various food events. A few weeks ago, Jody and I luckily got tickets to the annual farm dinner out at Natures Green Acres, where RGE RD originally started before the restaurant storefront opened. And boy, was it an experience!
Similar to Taste of Markerville, my first rural Alberta dinner, Natures Green Acres is roughly an hour and a half outside of Edmonton.
We were greeted by free range roosters, curious at us city folk I suppose, and eager to clean up the insects on the front of my Corolla. I’ve never seen so many chickens like this before, and uncaged! They all looked so comfortable and happy!
As guests were arriving at the 3 o’clock mark, h’orderves were already on its way: country style terrine with roasted beets, a vegetable antipasto on potato latke, and Noveau beef rosemary sausages. So delicious!
And true to RGE RD’s menu, potato and wild sage perogies were served with a sage brown butter hollandaise sauce, a clear winner for all guests. I had just recently tried this dish at the restaurant a week prior and OMG. So delicious! I could have eaten perogies all night and called it quits.
Once guests were well rested from their travels and food in their bellies, we were formally welcomed by Chef Blair Lebsack and his partner, Caitlin, and Danny and Shannon Ruzicka from Natures Green Acres. This was the fourth annual dinner, expanded from the 30 or so seating from 2012, based on Sharon’s post, to over 60 guests. It’s amazing how many people the farm accommodated that night, we definitely wiped out their gardens and produce!
While Chef Lebsack and the team from RGE RD prepped our dinner, we got a look at farm life. Danny is a trained farrier and went through the process of how he shoes the horses on the farm to prep them for herding cattle this fall.
We followed Shannon around the farm for a tour of the gardens and animals. The dogs joined us too! It’s so beautiful and peaceful out on the farm.
Earlier that week they had received a new batch of pigs. These cute little guys were a little nervous with the big group of people but seemed calmed by their larger Tamworth pig cousins. Shannon told us that they were being kept fenced until they settled in and will be let to roam free in the bush afterwards. They can always return back to their pen though for feed! Oink oink!
The farmland had regrown back to its natural state, but earlier in the season they would move their day old chicks around in portable pens, allowing them to feed on grass and enjoy the outdoor air. Moving the pens around multiple times a day allowed the chickens a better quality of life, never having to sit in their wastes for too long. Natural lawnmowers! They had two varieties of chickens, half of the 600 they bought had already been butchered. The other half, the roosters that greeted us at the start, were still growing. Gathering and butchering 300 chickens will be the next step in a few weeks.
We didn’t get to see the grown pigs further up the farm because we were late for dinner! Tents were set up in the middle of the pasture in case of gloomy weather. Such a gorgeous sight!
There was time for one more story though: the teepee rings from when Aboriginal tribes would trek throughout the land towards the buffalo jump close by the farm. Super interesting and a great part of Canadian history right in their backyard!
We were also shown to the wild mint growing near the creek through the pastures! Wild mint surprisingly has more of a spearmint scent to it!
As we approached the tents, the RGE RD crew was hard at work with our dinner. They had multiple tables set up for prep and drinks, a cobblestone oven, open grills, and even a portable wood burning stove top as their kitchen!
My coworker had asked why I wanted to drive out and pay for a “salad on a log”. This dinner was so much more than that. It’s the whole concept that everything on our plates that night came from that farm. We saw the gardens. We saw the chickens and pigs. It’s an amazing experience to really know where your food comes from and how it was grown! That and because it’s the most beautiful looking salad you’ll ever get!
Dinner service started off with a raspberry wild mint sangria, a refreshing and beautiful drink after our farm tour.
First course, “The Edible Farm” came out quickly, making all dinner guests whip out their cameras. I mean, how could you not? The salad was a combination of everything you could imagine from the farm: arugula, swiss chard, baby greens, beans, pickled onions and beets, and more!
Alongside the salad were small jars of rhubarb compote herb vinaigrette and pork rillette. Sooooo amazingly delicious!
I don’t know about the other tables but “The Edible Farm” brought ours together. While other tables shyly munched around the salad, our table wiped our board clean! Why would you not scoop everything up?! Picking up peas with your fingers for lack of fork control is the only way to bond with new friends. Some of us fought for the pickled onions. Others, the pickled beets. As our clean board was being taken away, we quickly dragged down the other tables’ boards in front of us and wiped it clean too! I can’t say enough about the company Jody and I had that night, we were an awesome eating team!
The obsession didn’t start and end with the communal salad either. The next bite was rye sourdough bread, freshly baked that morning by the hardworking staff. Ah-maaaaazing. It was hard to resist when I knew that three more courses were coming plus a dessert course. I had nearly stuffed myself full from the salad! What we wouldn’t give for a whole loaf to take home. We were eying the extra loaves on display beside the cobblestone oven. Jody bravely asked if she could buy the loaf, to which Chef Lebsack replied, “Sure! Here’s the loaf. Just come by the restaurant as payment.” Um… deal?! Our fellow diners followed suit for the last remaining loaves. Maybe we’ll see them at RGE RD in the near future! 😉
At this point in the meal, the cows were coming home! The Nouveau beef are allowed to roam free, grass-fed (no grains whatsoever) and butchered in late fall. They were slowly heading back to the farm as our mains came out.
Our first of three meat courses was the dandelion rubbed chicken breast and pork cannelloni, with onion puree and nasturtium. Such a gorgeous plate, and delicious! The chicken was perfectly cooked and stuffed with pork. What stood out the most for me was the onion puree. Unbelievable in flavor and natural sweetness!
More pork for the night: a loin and pork belly of grown Tamworth pigs, with a side salad with ricotta and Saskatoon berries.
Courses were evenly spread out with ample time in between to rest and converse. Wine pairings were also included in the price, making our table quite enjoyable and conversational! I was almost stuffed by the time the Nouveau beef came out. Tonight was loin and cheek, wrapped in a thin zucchini slice. A sweet pea and potato “risotto” with pork jowl provided as a nice, and surprisingly light side. So beautiful and my favorite of the three meat courses!
By this time the cows knew what we were up to and joined us for dinner. Shannon tells us that they somehow always arrive during the beef course. DUN DUN DUN.
Dessert was the most unusual thing I’ve ever eaten, and one that I will never forget. A stinging nettle semi freddo with wild mint mousse and honey cream sandwich left the palate surprisingly refreshed. Did not know that stinging nettle had that kind of effect. Taste to eat, nasty to pick! It was amazing. I think everybody at our table was pleasantly surprised as well! And kudos to RGE RD for somehow serving this cold, as I did not see any coolers or refrigerating systems in the pasture! How could there be?
The meal finished off with coffee offerings from Iconoclast Koffiehuis (a local fave of mine!) and tea. The whole trip was amazing and a completely different feel from Taste of Markerville, although both had the concept of a long table farm dinner. I think what made this experience all a more enjoyable was the fact that Danny and Shannon let us into their homes, their farm, meet their animals and produce, and their way of life. It’s amazing that every ingredient was sourced from their land, a true definition of farm-to-table (and hospitality)! I can’t wait for next year’s event, I will be booking the weekend off for sure. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience, and annual if you can make it out! Several nods to the RGE RD team for an amazing service and dinner and to Chef Lebsack and Caitlin. I will always remember this summer as the summer I saw a chicken in a tree!
For more farm table dinners by RGE RD, visit their website: www.rgerd.ca and follow them on Twitter. Make sure you follow Danny and Shannon as well, their website: www.naturesgreenacres.com. You can find them on Twitter and at the City Market on 104 St selling meat pieces IF they don’t sell out their whole or half animals!