During my White River State Park tour a couple weeks ago, I had one of those I-had-no-idea-this-was-here epiphanies, which was the discovery of the Wishard Slow Food Garden. This nifty urban community garden is situated just along the southwest bend in the downtown canal by the WRSP visitors center, and it is definitely worth paying some attention to.
So what exactly is Slow Food, you might be wondering? In simplest terms, imagine the polar opposite of fast food — soul-satisfying, heartwarming dishes prepared using wholesome fresh (often organic and locally sourced) ingredients, prepared with love and respect for the origins from which they came. Slow Food doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cooked slowly, although sometimes it is, or that it takes a long time to serve and eat, although sometimes it does. The whole movement started in Italy several decades ago (where Slow Food isn’t a new or shocking concept, just an everyday way of life). Chefs, culinary bigwigs, food industry experts and people who just plain appreciate good quality meals have jumped on board with enthusiasm. Myself included.
Right here in Indianapolis, the 6,000-square-foot Slow Food Garden consists of five big plots, each planted with some of the most gorgeous produce I’ve seen anywhere in town. Now in its second year, the project is sponsored by Wishard Health (nice move!) and supported by a state grant. Laura Henderson, the brains and beauty behind the Indy Winter Farmer’s Market as well as founder of the Growing Places Indy organization, directs the operations of the garden from planting to harvest.
Duos Food Truck is just one of the recipients that benefits from the Slow Food Garden, along with Pogue’s Run Green Grocer, Veggie Share and other local businesses. Duos co-owner and chef Becky Hostetter, a major Slow Food proponent, utilizes weekly yields from the garden as inspiration for the recipes she serves at Duos. Think deliciously fresh and healthy gourmet vegetable soups, salads, sandwiches and the like… today marked the third time I’ve eaten lunch at Duos, and food that was great to start with just keeps getting better with every visit. (Perhaps because Becky’s got so many great building blocks currently peaking at the Slow Food garden?)
For lunch today, I received a lovely sampler plate with tastes of Gunthorp Farms chicken salad, panzanella salad and a little slice of roasted portobello mushroom sandwich.
In the chicken salad, Becky replaced the usual mayo with a pickly giardiniera dressing and small pieces of marinated veggies, a genius move considering temps are hovering around 90 degrees at the moment and I’m not sure how well mayonnaise would have held up. The dressing had a little spicy kick of some flavor I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
For the uninitiated, panzanella salad consists of toasty white bread cubes mixed with chopped vegetables, herbs and a tangy vinaigrette. Yummy. The chopped tomato and peppers tasted like Becky had literally just picked them out of the garden, cut them up and tossed them into the mix. Which I imagine is exactly what she did.
The portobello mushroom sandwich was great, too, a meaty roasted bite of mushroom atop more of that same crusty bread with a little bit of cheese and a roasted red pepper jam on top. I could have easily eaten a whole sandwich of this stuff; as it was served, I couldn’t help but think that it would have worked perfectly as an awesome hors d’oeuvre.
An intriguingly named Ligurian vegetable soup turned out to be a light brothy cup full of fresh vegetables, chopped roughly to maintain plenty of bite and texture. I spied potato, kale, fennel, onion and I’m not sure what else amid a sprinkling of melty cheese and a scattering of chopped basil that lent a bright summery note to the whole dish.
I finished my meal with a little dulce de leche cheesecake square, a luxuriously creamy filling with a hint of cinnamon, draped with a thick caramel sauce that oozed slowly down the sides. Heavenly. I was so excited, I literally inhaled this dessert as I was eating it and got a little choked. It was totally worth it.
Thanks to a newly announced collaboration between the Wishard Slow Food Garden, Duos and White River State Park, Slow Foodies can count on finding Becky and company serving lunch each Thursday from a parking spot right beside the garden. This is an ideal location that allows you to enjoy your lunch al fresco along the rock wall in the shade, or stroll down the steps to eat alongside the canal. And because Duos changes up its menu each week, it’s always a new experience. The only downside to this much variety is that now I’m going to be bugging Becky about when she’s planning to make those cheesecake bars again…
If you want to find out more about the Slow Food Garden, stop by on Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. for community work-and-learn sessions each week now through August. I might just see you there.
For more info: