(July 25) Restaurant owners and operates have learned that a surefire way to add sizzle to their summer menus is to toss in some berries.
Berries add the taste, color and excitement they need to make diners feel they’re enjoying something special.
Name a berry and there’s a good chance Scott Dolich, chef/owner at Park Kitchen, Portland, Ore., has it on his menu.
In late July, he’ll likely be working with blackberries, loganberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries and blueberries. He also features strawberries, marionberries, huckleberries and black cats — small blackberries — on his menu at various times of year.
Dolich buys all of his berries from three local specialty berry suppliers. Buying local is critical because berries need to be picked when they’re ripe, and they don’t travel well, he said.
And, besides, “The locals are proud of the berries grown in Portland,” he added.
In mid-July Dolich had six items on his menu that contained berries — four sweet and two savory.
For Nicole Coady, executive pastry chef for Finale Dessert Co., Boston, eating berries brings back childhood memories of the times she spent enjoying cobbler made from black raspberries or strawberries that her grandmother grew in West Virginia.
Today, when she puts together menus for the three Finale “desserteries,” she creates dishes that preserve the simple, vibrant taste of berries without overwhelming them.
Like Dolich, she sources from three suppliers who often buy locally. That not only provides fresher berries, but it helps her keep costs under control.
Coady always uses fresh berries, even if the company has to absorb the high cost of importing them during the off season.
She prefers pint containers because there’s less of a chance of the berries crushing each other than with larger packs. And she’s not afraid to send back overripe fruit or any berries that don’t resemble “little tiny, perfect gems.”
After a chef works with vendors for awhile, they learn what the chef wants and make sure the product they send meets her quality standards, Coady said.
Coady likes to use blends of raspberries or blackberries in her dishes.
“When I create desserts, I try to have a blending and balancing of flavors, and those berries tend not to be over-the-top sweet,” she said.
Berries with a tinge of acid help cleanse the palate and allow various flavors in a dish to come together, she added.
The 96 locations of Dallas-based Corner Bakery Cafe go through a lot of strawberries and blueberries, said Becky Foulk, corporate chef.
Personally, Foulk said she loves raspberries, but they don’t always hold up well, so working with them can be challenging.
Strawberries and blueberries add color and a natural sweetness that balances the flavors on the plates, she said. They’re great, healthful choices that are low in calories and packed with antioxidants.
Just about every chef has one or more berry favorites.
Dolich of Park Kitchen makes a salad out of gooseberries by splitting them in half, combining them with diced cucumbers, sorrel and mint, then marinating them with gin and olive oil with cracked black pepper and a cup of cooked white beans. He grills scallops, which he puts on top.
He also makes a crème fraiche tart with loganberries and sugar served with black pepper ice cream, and he serves up marionberries with pound cake and crème fraiche.