Giving Green in Indianapolis
How can one restaurant make its corner of the world a better place? At Public Greens in Indianapolis, garden-fresh meals fund healthy lunches for local schoolchildren.
Young farmer Tyler Henderson tugs carrots and ruby beets from long rows of raised beds surrounded by industrial buildings. Tyler looks twice for bicyclists before crossing the Monon Rail Trail in north Indianapolis on his way to drop the veggies off at Public Greens, the restaurant that owns the garden-and the country's first establishment to use all of its proceeds to feed children.
Tomatoes, herbs and dozens of other ingredients from the garden (plus 25 local farms) inspire the menu. While guests enjoy made-to-order salads and small plates created in the open kitchen, chefs in a nearby production kitchen prepare similar dishes for Indianapolis Public School system students who often miss out on three squares a day.
"Quality food should be available to everyone. Period," says Martha Hoover, owner of Public Greens and founder of The Patachou Foundation, which channels the restaurant's profits to fund students' after-school meals. "While we feed children, we teach them about the foods they're eating and show them what I call ‘the joy of the table.'"
To date, about 18,000 children have received meals through the foundation, which Martha started in 2013 to fulfill her vision of creating restaurants that become "radically connected" to the communities they serve. "Very few of these kids experience the nightly dinner around a table like my children did," she says. "Nothing replaces a family table. But this might help."
Patrons ordering from the chalkboard menu featuring about two dozen affordably priced entrees, salads and small plates are supporting her efforts but also reaping the rewards of artfully plated, palate-pleasing dishes dreamed up by executive chef Tyler Herald.
Tyler gets daily texts from the area farmers who supplement what's growing in the restaurant's garden. Those texts are key to creating a new menu every week; although some items, such as the vegan chili, remain on the menu as perennial favorites. In spring, the chef barely keeps up with demand for his ramp beignets, with a thin, crispy exterior and mashed potato-like interior.
And with every bite of the beignets comes the equally comforting thought that a hungry kid is enjoying a nutritious meal a few miles away.
Another spot giving green
Inspiration Kitchens, Chicago Former Chicago police officer Lisa Nigro used to tow a red wagon filled with sandwiches and cups of coffee around her Uptown neighborhood to feed the homeless. The wagon gave way to a soup kitchen, and in 2005, Lisa's dream expanded to include a brick-and-mortar restaurant. A free culinary training program allows students like Quantrell Taylor, a convicted felon, to develop skills leading to jobs in the food industry. Chefs prepare dishes such as pulled pork with poached eggs or sweet potato soup with toasted pepitas at the Uptown and newer Lake Street locations. At Lake Street, guests dine at recycled wood tables surrounded by botanical photographs on exposed-brick walls. Many ingredients (such as the basil infusing the lemonade) come from a parking lot garden, teaching employees about the importance of sustainability at home and in the kitchen. "Inspiration got me started," Quantrell says, "and gratitude keeps me going."