Fresh and friendly
Escargot Fricassee is always on the dinner menu at Harvest Table Restaurant and Bar on Hutchinson Island. A wide variety of entrees include: Out of the Pen, From the Field, Out to Pasture, From the Pond or Flew the Coop. GREG GARDNER PHOTO
Harvest Table offers quality meals with a large side of hospitality
BY ALISON O’LEARY
When Gina and Jimmy Cunningham met while working at the Admiral’s Table in Jensen Beach, the couple never dreamed that 35 years later they would own the Harvest Table Restaurant and Bar across the river on Hutchinson Island.
The family-owned business moved from downtown Stuart where only lunch was served to a new restaurant with dinner service and twice the seating. Married 26 years, Gina handles the restaurant and its books while Jimmy runs the kitchen as head chef and greets the customers. Their son Aidan, Jimmy’s sister Amy Summers, niece Cassidy Cunningham and uncle Charlie McCarthy work at the restaurant in a plaza on South Ocean Drive, across from the Courtyard Marriott.
“It is nice to have your family working here because you don’t have to pay them as much,” Jimmy, who greets patrons with a beaming hello from the open kitchen, said with a laugh.
“If you are a mean guy, you can’t have an open kitchen,” he said. “You’re yelling and your people ain’t smiling. But if you are having fun, people know it. People say, ‘This is like going to a show, watching you guys have fun, pumping out food.’ ”
On a recent weeknight, the kitchen crew came together for a little high-five celebration after sending out its last orders.
“For us, it is ‘KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid,’ ” Jimmy said. “It is all fresh. We have one small freezer and the rest is refrigeration. People can taste the difference between something that is frozen and when it is fresh. And we can make gluten-free food very easily and adapt dishes for vegetarians.”
After three years in downtown Stuart, a customer suggested moving to a larger location, a store-front building that he owned on Hutchinson Island. After a yearlong $750,000 construction project, the 90-seat restaurant opened last year with loyal patrons coming from as far away as Palm City.
Admiral’s Table influences can be found throughout the Harvest Table from design elements to the staff, many of whom worked with the couple at the Jensen Beach restaurant in the 1980s. The bread bar and soup bar stations were copied from the Admiral’s Table along with several recipes including the one for New England clam chowder, offered daily. The restaurant’s folksy, rustic, farm-fresh look comes from different places the couple saw on summer vacations in the Smoky Mountains.
In addition to working in the restaurant industry, Jimmy has done quite well in other business ventures. He ran a roofing company for three years and taught culinary students for three years at Martin County High School. After joining the American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program, he worked his way up the ladder and was executive chef at Willoughby Golf Club in Stuart for 10 years.
When the Cunninghams opened their first restaurant, longtime friend and prep cook Scott Shipes asked if he could work for them and then left Willoughby.
“I have known Jimmy for 30 years and we are like brothers,” Shipes said. “He knows what I am thinking and I know what he is thinking. We enjoy cooking. If you like what you are doing, you are set and it is not really work. We are like a happy family. We do as much as we can by hand and we really do care. We enjoy pleasing people.”
Sue Dermarkarian, a dietician who lives in Sewall’s Point, stopped by on her lunch hour to pick up a dozen of the famous black bean cakes (burgers). “I like healthy options and I bought these for my children who are coming to visit,” Dermarkarian said.
A black bean cake comes open-faced on a bed of greens with clover sprouts, tomato and avocado slices and three sauces that provide a different accent to the dish; chipotle aioli with some heat, a tangy vinaigrette and house-made hummus. The burger is a healthy and tasty substitute for the char-grilled, never-frozen Angus burger.
Harvest Table’s dinner menu includes 16 choices in a variety of handcrafted dishes from meat to fowl to seafood. There is a different entrée special every day. For an additional $3, you can take a trip to the Harvest Salad Bar that offers 33 items to create a masterpiece salad. The house French bread is soft and moist with special seasonings, instead of the usual hard and crunchy.
The Maple Leaf Farm roasted duckling comes perfectly prepared, not overcooked or too dry. The half of duck arrives on a bed of pickled scallions and a zesty chipotle and cherry brigand sauce.
The melt-in-your-mouth, apple-butter baby back ribs are seasoned with dried ancho chili powder and cooked low and slow. The ribs are roasted, not smoked, in a secret homemade mixture of Dr Pepper barbecue sauce and apple butter.
Made from another family recipe, Mrs. C’s amazing meatloaf is served with tomato jam and pan jus and is served at lunch as a meatloaf melt on thick rye bread. IBP prime rib is slow-roasted all day and served with a crispy Calgary crust and au jus.
Gramma Schaaf’s (Amy and Jimmy’s “sweet, loving and funny grandmother”) schnitzel a la Holstein is a large plate with boneless pork chops pounded thin, panko breaded and fried with an over-easy egg and capers in a lemon butter sauce. Scott’s (Shipes) famous bolognese with cavatappi pasta has a meaty red gravy with pancetta, fresh cream and pecorino. Shipes also prepares the homemade potato salad daily. A back-to-basics entrée is iron-seared calves liver and sweet onions with peppered bacon and balsamic demi-glace.
Escargot is a delicious mix of mushrooms, garlic, lemon and fennel with a fontina panko parmesan crust over escargots sautéed in white wine. The appetizer is rich in flavor, but not too filling. Round out any meal with a side of all-natural, hand-cut french fries.
COOL SOUPS AND DESSERTS
Chilled gazpacho is always at the soup bar for lunch and dinner. Every day there is a different soup de jour. Dessert favorites are gluten-free chocolate cake, berry berry mason jar delight, orange sunshine cake and the homemade Mississippi mud pie. Easily shareable, the mud pie is a delicious blend of coffee ice cream, hot fudge and almonds on an Oreo cookie crust, a dish that explodes with flavor.
Harvest Table’s menu has something for everyone. The handcrafted sandwiches are made from all-natural meats that have no additives or preservatives. Burgers and appetizers from the lunch menu are offered to dinner customers. It also offers more than 20 wines and 20 beers.
“We make everything from scratch and we use the best quality of every item we can get,” Gina said. “We get the freshest vine-ripe tomatoes, all-natural meats and we use local produce whenever possible. You can taste the difference in the quality of the ingredients. Jimmy has a way of combining the ingredients so that every dish turns out amazing. Most of our crew goes back to the Admiral’s Table. We have hometown hospitality and we like to get to know everybody. We have quality food and people fall in love with us once they try us.”
There is some outdoor seating in front, and plans call for adding a sunset deck off the dinner room.
If you go…
WHAT: Harvest Table Restaurant and Bar
WHERE: 10867 S. Ocean Drive, Jensen Beach
HOURS: Lunch 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; dinner, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
For more information, visit www.harvest-table.com or call 772.678.3463