If we’re being totally honest here, the idea of locally sourced food has become so trendy in almost every contemporary dining scene, that it’s easy for this idea to become a place marker: something your favorite local restaurant does out of habit or appeasement for an increasingly conscious customer base.
Peter Nuñez, new head chef of German Village’s The Sycamore, does not fall into this category. His belief in the idea of local sourcing along with recognizing and appreciating our area farmland is nothing short of absolutely sincere.
“When we talk about local here, we’re not doing it because it’s cool. We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do. I want to help these places stay in business; I want to pay tribute to the people who pick and harvest produce,” he said.
Nuñez, who originally hails from California and is a veteran of the Navy, has worked in restaurants beginning in the year 2000. His culinary career has taken him from Virginia to Phoenix to Easton Mall, and more.
Most recently cooking at The Guild House in Columbus, he slowly developed important relationships with Central Ohio farmers such as Purple Plains Farm, Three Creeks Produce and Bluejacket Dairy. For Nuñez, these bonds have become more important than simply business relationships, with none being more critical than his friendship with the owners of Mitchell’s Berries in Plain City. Nuñez and the owners have developed a close friendship, and they have even given him a small plot on their farm to do with what he wishes.
“I’ve been sober for nine years now; and I needed something else to fill that gap. I found that going in to these farms, in walking these farms, and I got almost obsessed with it,” Nuñez said. Not only are his visits a release for himself, but Nuñez sees them paying dividends to his children as well. He recalls a story where his three- year-old daughter warned him against pulling too many dandelions, due to their importance for pollinators. “I get emotional talking about it; I have chills,” he said.
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And he’s been using this passion to transform the Sycamore’s menu into a tasteful and delicious farm-to-table experience for hungry Ohioans. While a few long-standing menu items such as the hamburger and hot chicken sandwich remained largely the same after Nuñez took over in August, the majority of The Sycamore’s dishes have been majorly reworked or replaced altogether.
Nuñez plans on releasing a new full menu every season from now on and will work to pack them full of locally-sourced options. Keep an eye out for a squash dish called Callavasa—a nod to his California upbringing— that’s served with smoked pumpkin seeds and a pepper vinaigrette. “I’m getting 50 pound bags from Hershberger Farms with so many different types of squash, and we want to feature them all,” Nuñez said.
During a recent visit, I sampled a vegetable dish from the winter menu—a fantastic combination of charred carrots, pea purée, and sassafras vinaigrette from Seven Acre Farm in Dublin.
The heirloom carrots impart a beautifully smoky and almost meaty flavor, deftly complemented by the light, creamy purée and balanced with the vinaigrette’s tangy zing.
With a seasonally changing menu, even some crowd-pleasing favorites have to go. This winter, Nuñez plans to swap out the Sycamore’s guacamole for a rotating hummus dish. “If I could serve guacamole all year, I would, but you have to ask, Is that the right thing to do? with avocado prices, with all these fires in California. People there are trying to rebuild their lives right now.”
And when you’re talking about winter menus, you have to think about hearty entrees to warm you up on cold nights. Nuñez doesn’t disappoint here. Look for a coffee-rubbed short rib (sourced from Blue Ribbon in Cleveland), with whipped sweet potatoes featuring a hickory syrup, all accompanied by bacon Brussels sprouts. Other featured items include a braised pork-belly dish, chicken with mushroom Marsala sauce, and a lobster mac and cheese.
No matter the time of year, expect that The Sycamore will be offering up something tasty and local for you to explore. And, maybe even better, to feel good about eating.
Visit The Sycamore at 262 E Sycamore St in German Village, or at thesycamoregv.com.