Farm to Fork: Redefining Fresh Food at a Golf Course
It’s mid-morning on a Thursday and representatives from The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano are hard at work at Harvest Garden. Today’s tasks include planting onions and strawberries, the latter of which will be featured in many items on the summer menu at Harvest, a restaurant serving up California comfort food at The Ranch at Laguna Beach. While onions and strawberries are going into the ground, many lettuces, herbs and beets are ready to come out of it, and straight into the kitchen.
Many restaurants claim a farm-to-table approach, but Harvest is walking the walk. Situated just 400 yards away from the fifth hole at Ben Brown’s GC, Harvest Garden is a half-acre haven for local produce.
“We can’t grow all our produce here on site, but we do the best we can,” says RJ Bear, the property’s food and beverage director. “We partnered with The Ecology Center earlier this year to make sure experts are helping us decide what to grow and when, so that we are only planting produce that will thrive in this environment.”
Salads at Harvest will often feature the home-grown produce, currently including a Spring Menu salad that boasts gem lettuces, radishes and fennel under a green goddess dressing. But the can’t-miss vegetable on the menu comes in the form of the Sweet & Spicy Brussels Sprouts, which can’t be grown on site due to the high volume of orders for the side dish.
“We do change our menu seasonally, but those Brussels are something we can never take off. The regulars would hate us!” says executive chef Charles Imbelli.
Brussels sprouts have garnered a fad-like quality over the last few years, but it’s safe to say you’ve never had them prepared the way Imbelli does. These Brussels, which arrive in a large bowl that can be easily shared by the table, are fried crispy in a sweet chili sauce. They come with pecans and green apple, and all three provide a different texture and crunch under the Asian-inspired sauce. It’s no surprise the item is the most popular on the menu, and despite the large portion, almost all dishes heading back to the kitchen have been wiped clean by diners.
The family-style appeal of the Brussels sprouts can also be seen in the Bloody Mary Mussels. Yes, you read that correctly. Despite being listed as an entrée, the mussels are also easy to share, and provide the appealing flavors of a bloody Mary in a dish you won’t soon forget. The mussels are fresh and easy to eat, but the real star of this dish is the tomato sauce, which is garnished with all the best highlights of your favorite morning cocktail including bacon, olives, celery and of course vodka. Anticipating the addictiveness of the sauce, the dish is served with freshly toasted sourdough bread, perfect for soaking up all the excess sauce that sits beneath.
In addition to creative dishes such as those mentioned above, Imbelli also cooks up superb versions of more traditional golf course fare, and has a special place in his heart for a good old burger.
“The Harvest Burger is one of my favorite things on the menu,” he shares.
Cooked to perfection, the burger arrives to your table topped with tomato jam, fried onions, horseradish-beet sauce and Swiss cheese. It’s gourmet and elegant, but for those looking for a more traditional burger, Harvest has that too in Ben’s Burger, a cheeseburger served with melted jack on a brioche bun. Both items can be found on the lunch menu, which tends toward golfer fare.
“At lunch, more than 50 percent of our customers have come here to play golf. They are an important audience for us,” says Bear.
But who else is dining at Harvest? For the most part, it’s the local community. Going through an extensive remodel and rename almost four years ago, The Ranch at Laguna Beach boasts hotel accommodations, a quaint nine-hole golf course, spa and two eateries, the more refined of which being Harvest.
Nestled into a canyon in Laguna Beach, the property feels secluded and serene, but is just a half-mile from the Pacific Ocean and minutes from downtown Laguna Beach. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Harvest is a destination unto itself, changing its menu seasonally to keep locals consistently coming back for more.
Harvest is also committed to its 19th hole — or in this case 10th hole — obligations, boasting a bar with 18 craft beers on tap, an enticing wine list and specialty cocktails that would rival any upscale bar in town. You’ll find rosemary from Harvest Garden in your gin drinks and edible flowers in your Hibiscus Martini, showing that the commitment to fresh, local produce isn’t just for the food.
And in addition to satisfying your taste buds, Harvest is a site for sore eyes, flanked with 180-degree views of the picturesque canyon and golf course, with wall-to-wall windows covering half the bar and a stunning outdoor patio.