Details on Gardner, Contigo’s New Vegetable-Focused RestaurantBy Megan Giller
May 1, 2014
This past weekend Contigo announced its plans to open a new restaurant called Gardner with quite a flourish: at a special booth at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. It will focus on seasonal vegetables, and partners Ben Edgerton and Andrew Wiseheart plan to open it in early fall on East Sixth Street in the old post office. We caught up with Wiseheart to learn more about the food he plans to serve.
“The majority of the dishes will start with the vegetable as the focal point, the way you’d build a dish around pork belly,” he told us. “A handful of them will also have protein as an accompaniment.”
Wiseheart is still conceptualizing the menu, but he pointed to the tastes that he served at the festival as examples of what it will look like. For example, Wiseheart handed out grilled white asparagus with pork salt wrapped in paper at the bottom, so that people could eat it “the way you’d eat a corn dog or turkey leg at a festival,” he said with a laugh. He also served roasted butternut squash with smoked and sautéed crimini mushrooms rolled in beef fat rendered in brown butter.
In other words, though the focus is on seasonal vegetables, Gardner will not be a vegetarian restaurant. Wiseheart definitely doesn’t take the easy way out either. That pork salt we mentioned? It came from Contigo’s coppa, which Wiseheart froze with liquid nitrogen and then turned into a powder along with lemon zest and herbs to elevate the flavor. He will also use interesting cooking techniques for pure vegetarian dishes. For example, at the festival, he served fermented Yukon potatoes steamed in a case of fig leaves and potter’s clay, then topped then with charred broccoli, yogurt-cultured aioli and an herb-and-oil sauce. “The fig leaves give the potatoes an almost sweet, nutty flavor,” he said.
So why vegetables? “As I get older I’ve become more aware that diet is important,” he told us. “As Americans, we eat so much meat. I see nothing wrong with eating meat, but I see the advantage in regulating how much we eat.” He was sure to add, though, “Don’t take that as an anti-meat statement.” Considering that Contigo is known for its housemade charcuterie as well as its killer burger and rabbit and dumplings, we would never.