A Rosemary and Cucumber Collins, a signature drink at South Fork Kitchen & Bar, goes perfectly with pan seared scallops served with local corn and baby lima beans. ANTHONY INSWASTY PHOTO
Owners of new Stuart eatery offer dining experiences to remember
BY ANGEL MCLELLAN
Most memories are created around food: Whether it’s cracking peanuts at a baseball game, dropping a funnel cake at the state fair, or reminiscing with loved ones while sharing the same holiday meal every year. For Randy Wiley, it was sitting on the steps of a courthouse and eating a chili dog with his grandfather.
“Little things like that matter to people and you can’t recreate that at a large chain,” said Wiley, who is the general manager of South Fork Kitchen & Bar. “Here it’s more than just the food; it’s the experience, the sights, the smells, the tastes — all encompassing.”
South Fork Kitchen & Bar sits right in the heart of Stuart and has already made an impression in the few weeks since it opened its doors. Its concept is rooted deeply in the farm-to-table movement that promotes the idea of serving dishes using local products and ingredients. Much of the menu revolves around the produce, as proteins are essentially available at any given time. With the ability to affirm food traceability, establishments that implement these practices are often praised for the quality and freshness of their menus.
“Luckily for us we have some really great farms right up the street because we want to use the best local ingredients we can find,” executive chef Ron Kerr said. “Hopefully the farm that is closest to you is taking as much pride in their craft as you do yours and that’s what we look for in our vendors.”
The menu is very eclectic with influences of Asian, Cuban, American, Italian and French. Kerr explained that when they put the menu together they’re forming dishes inspired by eating at other places or by talking with purveyors.
It also caters to vegetarianism, veganism and other dietary restrictions. Both Kerr and Wiley agreed that the initial idea was to create a place where they would want to eat, so making the menu accessible for everyone was important.
“Because we prepare everything fresh we are able to tailor it to the needs of any customer,” Kerr said. “Whether they have an allergy, dietary concerns, or even if they just don’t like something, we have the ability to be flexible with the menu and we will come up with a dish that works for them as long as we have the ingredients on hand. For example, our vegetarian ceviche uses mushrooms to acquire the same texture as fish or scallops.”
Although all of the dishes South Fork serves embody a unique and simple touch, a few items in particular stand out. The tuna tartare is served over seaweed salad with grilled avocado and togarashi, drizzled with sweet truffled soy. Pan seared scallops with coconut basil butter come in groups of four or five, and are paired with local corn and baby lima beans.
Kerr’s duck confit is crispy on the outside and incredibly moist on the inside. This dish is served with seasonal chutney and baby spinach that has been caramelized in a rendering of shallots and garlic; the earthy, fresh taste of the greens mixed with the sweetness of the chutney is a flavorful combination.
A tart goat cheese cheesecake is topped with homemade passion fruit sorbet accompanied and garnished with a pomegranate honey. The tangy, tropical fruits complement the goat cheese in an intriguing, palatable way.
CUSTOMER COMES FIRST
“I would never serve something that I wouldn’t eat myself,” Kerr said. “So there are no shortcuts being taken regardless of whether or not the customer would ever know or see it. That’s also why I started (Bite Catering) about six years ago. I bought a food truck and was able to give the client more of a restaurant-quality product because we prep at the restaurant and finish everything on-site so that it will be fresh and crispy.”
One of the primary themes associated with the farm-to-table movement is the idea of giving back — to those you are feeding and supporting. With customers, it comes from wanting to serve nothing but the best and freshest ingredients and to ensure an enjoyable, memorable dining experience. With clients and vendors, however, it’s so much more.
It may be a lot cheaper to purchase produce from bigger companies, but Kerr said when it comes to the quality and opportunity to support their vendors, such as Importico’s Bakery and Kai Kai Farm, it is way more important than making a few extra bucks off of each plate.
“It feels good to be able to support people who truly love and have a passion for what they’re doing,” he said. “These people are trying to do the same thing we are and I think that supporting one another is super important for our community.”
DRINKS WITH A TWIST
Just as Kerr incorporates local flavor into his dishes, Wiley wants to use his background in mixology to incorporate the farm-to-table concept into his hyperlocal drink menu.
“We have developed a great wine list with the majority being from boutique wineries with anywhere from 1,000- to 10,000-bottle production,” Wiley said. “I also have a cocktail list I’ve developed using wine-based liquors and have created some twists on classic cocktails.”
Between introducing new bartending techniques, like smoked salt rims for his spicy margaritas or using rosemary and cucumber in his reimagined Tom Collins, as well as expressing ambitions to set up an herb garden and grow their own ingredients, Wiley wants to incorporate as many fresh products and ideas as he can in order to maintain their goal across the board.
In an effort to introduce people to local products they may not know about, South Fork plans to host a pairing dinner on the first Tuesday of every month. These events will consist of five course meals, each course paired with a new beverage. South Fork partnered with Sleight of Hand Wineries and Twisted Trunk Brewery earlier this spring.
Just as Kerr and Wiley support and have personal relationships with vendors, this is also how their customers feel when it comes to the personal service they receive at South Fork. Wiley explained that his goal for the restaurant is to provide five-star service and fine dining in a really casual atmosphere. Whether clients come in from the beach to have some cold-water oysters, a burger and beer, or they are coming in and celebrating an anniversary or first date — everyone is welcome to come and enjoy a meal.
PULL UP A CHAIR
The dining room even features a large kitchen table that resembles one you might find in any home, which Wiley calls the exclamation point on how they define their service. In an effort to take the pretentiousness out of fine dining, he wants his customers to experience high-quality food and personal service while feeling as though they are sitting around a friend’s kitchen table.
Wiley said he hopes that South Fork leaves a legacy of hospitality integrated with its service, which he feels many places forget today. In order to accentuate the family-oriented atmosphere, the east wall of the venue is lined with eye-catching black & white photographs. Although they appear to just be part of the décor, they actually have a more personal meaning — the photos are of Kerr’s and Wiley’s kids, a husband and wife who own a local farm, the restaurant’s food truck and more.
Creating arguably one of the most personable dining experiences in Martin County, Wiley said in the weeks since its opening, the restaurant has gained several guests who make it their regular weekly spot.
“They aren’t just coming in once to check out the new kid on the block,” he said. “I make it a priority to go around and talk to every single table in efforts to get to know them, because I want to be able to recognize them when they walk in the door. Little things mean a lot to people.”
If you go …
What: South Fork Kitchen & Bar
Where: 900 SE Indian St., Stuart
Hours: 5-9 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday; 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday;
Happy Hour: 5-6:30 p.m., Tuesday-Friday; Sunday from opening to closing
Specialties: Farm-to-table dishes, hyperlocal wine and beer
For more information: Visit www.SouthForkKitchenAndBar.com or call 247.7382.