Home cooks, professional chefs, and hungry eaters alike are rejoicing. Spring has finally sprung, bringing with it a whole mess of green goodness: kale, spinach, fresh eggs, asparagus, radishes, rhubarb, carrots, bok choy and baby greens are all making their way onto tables near you. Farm-to-table restaurants across Illinois are shaking off the winter blues and whipping up delectable seasonal dishes for their spring menus. Chef Ryan Lewis of Driftwood Cocktail and Eatery is doing the same.
I love Driftwood. Not only because I know that Chef Lewis is passionate about supporting local farmers and buys as much locally as possible. And not only because I love his tapa-style twist on the farm-to-table concept, which encourages customers to pick out several affordable small plates and share them amongst friends (who doesn't love ordering up mounds of food and sampling it all, afterall?). And not only because Chef Lewis often can be found checking on customers and tending bar himself. But mostly I love Driftwood because every time I go in there I learn something new and inspiring about sustainability. The first time I visited, I saw a whole row of pickled veggie jars lined up on a shelf behind the bar: evidence of the staff's hard work to preserve the flavors of the season for the coming winter months. A few weeks ago I found out they make their own worcestorshire sauce and apple cider vinegar in-house themselves. That quite frankly is mind-blowing to me. Can real people actually make their own worcestorshire sauce? I guess they can, because Driftwood is doing it. And upon ordering my last dish, the asparagus with preserved lemon caesar, I discovered that the rinds from the cocktail lemons used to make drinks at the bar are not merely discarded, but are carefully saved in jar full of salt and sugar in order to make the "preserved lemons" featured in the recipe. Nothing is wasted here. Every part of every plant and animal purchased is put to good use. From beet stems to chicken skins, the menu is chock full of exceptionally prepared dishes highlighting seasonal produce and sustainability. It makes me think twice about how I can live more sustainably as well. And if a restaurant can inspire me and challenge me to be more green in my own life while also serving up darn delicious food and drink, well that's something special.
Chef Lewis was kind enough to share his secret recipe for Asparagus with Preserved Lemon Caesar with us below, so now we can all practice saving those lemon rinds and eating up all the tender spring asparagus that is overflowing farmers markets right now. It's a simple but beautiful dish that makes a great light lunch or hearty side. Make it yourself or stop by Driftwood to say hi to Chef Lewis and order it while asparagus are still in season!
Asparagus Poached Egg (or any type of egg you like) Brown Butter Pretzels
Preserved Lemon Caesar Dressing 1 oz Preserved Lemons (diced)* 10 cloves Garlic (minced) 8 oz Mayonaisse 2 Tbs Cider Vinegar 1 Tbs Worchestershire Squeeze Fresh Lemon Juice 1 oz. Buttermilk 2 Tbs Garlic Powder Salt to taste
*preserved lemon can be found in specialty stores or online, but is extremely easy to make at home, lemon rinds packed in a 3:1 ration of salt to sugar by weight. Store at room temp for 1 month
Soak preserved lemon in water for 20 minutes, changing water at least once. Dice preserved lemon and mince garlic and add to bowl. Fold in other ingridients. Salt to taste. Use the salt from the preserved lemon to add a little more of the lemon flavor.
Heat a pot of water, add salt till it tastes like seawater, bring to a boil. Add the asparagus, cooking for approximately 20-25 seconds, plunge into ice water.
Heat a pot of heat to a simmer, do not boil, add white vinegar and salt. Swirl water with a spoon and crack egg gently into the water, let cook for about 4 minutes.
Brown Butter Pretzels
Heat butter over medium heat and let cook till it turns brown and gains a nutty aroma. Pulse pretzels in a food processor till broken up, after butter browns add to pretzels.