Over the past 35 years, Apple Farm has established itself as a tried-and-true Central Coast landmark, but that doesn’t mean it’s resting on its laurels.
Granted, the San Luis Obispo restaurant hasn’t outwardly changed much over the years, and really, it dare not. Visitors count on experiencing a décor that celebrates country, comfort and apples — lots of apples. Recently however, the restaurant has begun emphasizing more of the “farm” aspect.
About a year ago, Apple Farm decided to wholeheartedly embrace a farm-to-table concept in its menus (as do the other properties in the Boutique Hotel Collection: Sycamore Mineral Springs, The Cliffs and Sea Venture Hotel).
As Apple Farm’s marketing director Kim Wykoff explained, “It just made sense to do, especially with our location in wine country and with all the wonderful agriculture here.”
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Longtime chefs Stephen Walls and Willette (“Willie”) Vey began retooling the menus, working in more local produce and proteins whenever possible, while still keeping the comfort food feel that’s at the core of the Apple Farm menu. They were aided in their efforts by a then-new sous chef, Steven Smeets.
“Farm-to-table has always been my concept,” said Smeets, who is now the chef de cuisine for the restaurant. He’s charged primarily with the dinner menu, while Walls handles breakfast and lunch and Vey rolls out her considerable strengths in pastry. (She’s also the one you have to thank for coming up with all those tempting treats in the bakery.)
“We all really work well together,” said Smeets, a culinary school grad with experience in San Francisco establishments such as Spruce and Bix. “We all taste each other’s food and bounce ideas off each other.”
The Apple Farm staff regularly visits farmers markets, said Smeets, “and I have a couple of farmers who deal with us directly.”
As such, the restaurant is able to source the vast majority of its produce locally, as well as getting “grass-fed beef from Hearst Ranch and local fish from Central Coast Seafood.”
In a grand celebration of seasonal and local, Apple Farm is again joining with the other BHC properties in their third annual “Ode to Tomatoes.” The monthlong event features special dinner menus and occasions at all the restaurants, including a Bloody Mary Contest.
At Apple Farm, Smeets has created a savory menu showcasing heirloom tomatoes and a complementary array of basils such as Thai, opal and lemon.
For dessert, Chef Willie has added her touch with a decadent candied green tomato, Chèvre and shortbread cheesecake.
Starters for the “Ode” menu include a vibrant Sungold gazpacho with green Zebra sorbet (the regular menu also features a caprese salad with three different color tomatoes and housemade mozzarella).
The tomato-centric entrées range from a surprisingly delicate oxtail ravioli with Beefsteak tomato sauce, to a crispy duck confit with risotto-stuffed yellow Valencia tomato, to California halibut with Purple Cherokee tomatoes.
“I’m really just trying to think about what a farmer would make if he were a chef,” said Smeets. “Use simple flavors and stay true to the ingredient that you’re using, especially with heirloom tomatoes. They’re so versatile that you can’t go wrong with that approach.”