Dining With Denise Neil

Seasonal farm cafe offers blackberry breakfast and morning calm

Blackberry scones taste even sweeter eaten next to the bramble from which the berries were picked.

That was the theory young farming couple George and Katharine Elder decided to test when they opened the Bramble Days Cafe at Elderslie Farm, George’s family farm near Valley Center, in the summer of 2012.

George built some walnut tables, and he and Katharine opened the outdoor cafe near the garage, right next to the family farmhouse where George grew up. They served breakfast three days a week, focusing the simple menu on the blackberries. Blackberry lemon scones. Blackberries, yogurt and homemade granola. Blackberry lemonade.

They added a fresh frittata made using vegetables – kale, potatoes, onions, tomatoes – grown on the farm by George’s sister Alexis, who runs a Community Supported Agriculture business there. Eventually, they added occasional dinners that also included goat cheese made by their neighbor and beef provided by nearby farms. And people also can purchase farm-made feta cheese, blackberry jam and scones and granola to go.

Three years later, the little cafe is a hit with city dwellers and young families who increasingly are demanding to know where their food comes from and how it was raised. Eating it next to the ground that produced it? Even better.

The Elders are among several farmers and gardeners statewide benefiting from the farm-to-table dining trend, which offers diners a chance to enjoy a meal that comes directly and immediately from Kansas soil.

“It’s certainly a trend that works in our favor,” said George, 30, who gave up a career as a middle- and high-school teacher to pursue his blackberry dreams five years ago.

The couple first planted their blackberry bramble on the 200-acre farm, about a 20-minute drive from Wichita, in 2010. Most of the land on the farm is used by George’s father and the farm’s owner, Philip Elder, to produce hay.

Blackberries take two years to mature, and in 2012, they had fruit. George suggested Katharine organize a “pick-your-own” business, but she had a bigger idea.

“It was a little bit of a ‘If I’m going to be there signing people in, we should have breakfast, also’ ” she said. “Who doesn’t want breakfast when they go to pick berries?’”

The pick-your-own-berry idea has been popular, though it isn’t happening at Elderslie Farm this year. The winter weather and some stalk-destroying mice teamed up to wipe out about 90 percent of the potential crop. But that still left enough berries for breakfast, which is served from 7 to 11 a.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for six weeks during the summer. The last service this year will be on July 25.

Katharine sells scones, granola and fritattas on white plates from one of George’s homemade wooden tables. Coffee is provided by Wichita’s Reverie Coffee Roasters. Vintage signs and arrangements of fresh wildflowers from the farm provide ambiance, and a box fan attached to the ceiling provides a breeze.

Before 9 a.m., the crowd is mostly groups of girlfriends or couples enjoying the peacefulness of the post-sunrise farm. After 9 a.m., it begins to buzz with young families who also are there to take advantage of the $1, 25-minute farm tours directed by George that happen at 9 and 10 a.m. People gather on a hay trailer fitted with a cooling mister and see the bramble, Alexis’ vegetable garden and the farm’s baby goats.

Six weekends a year, in the spring and in the fall, the cafe also offers farm-to-table dinners limited to 36 people. This spring’s dinners included a selection of their neighbor’s cheeses, vegetable tarts, a salad made from Alexis’ vegetables, beef short ribs, potato and kale medley and a fruit tart with a rosemary lemon crust. Wichita wine expert Jamie Stratton provided the wine pairings. (The dinners will start again in late September.)

Katharine says running the cafe is as idyllic as it sounds. Her 2 1/2-year-old daughter spends her entire summer purple from gobbling down blackberries Katharine uses in her recipes. The couple also has a 4-month-old son.

And for many customers, a morning of farm-life simplicity has become a symbol of summer, Katharine said.

“It’s turned into a delightful morning outing,” she said. “And now that we have two little kids, it definitely makes sense. It’s something I would want to do with my family.”

Farm-to-table brunch by Legacy Garden Works

Another semi-regular farm-to-table brunch is served by Legacy Works, a group that has a large urban garden that’s planted and maintained by at-risk youths ages 15 to 22.

The group’s garden sits on 6,000 square feet of empty property in a residential area just off Kellogg. The program is in its third year, and every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, the youths sell their produce from a farm stand set up in front of the Legacy House at 945 S. Wichita. (This week, they’ll have onions, potatoes, green beans and basil pesto, among other things.)

“The chance to plant something and watch it grow is a great thing for them,” said Josh Cranston, a head gardener with the program. “Just to be able to tend to and reap a harvest is an eye-opening experience.”

Legacy Works also offers farm-to-table brunches once a month, and the young gardeners work as the serving staff. The meals, prepared by a local caterer using the program’s produce, cost $20 a plate. The next brunch is scheduled for 10 a.m. July 25 and will feature a menu of farm-fresh eggs Benedict, Caprese salad, crunchy summer vegetable salad and seasonal fruit served over homemade ice cream. Another brunch is scheduled for Aug. 29.

To register for the dinner, visit www.legacygardenworks.org.

If You Go

Bramble Days Cafe

What: A farm-to-table breakfast spot that’s open from 7 to 11 a.m. Thusdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Farm tours, $1 a person, free for ages under 3, happen at 9 and 10 a.m.

When: The cafe will remain open through July 25.

Where: Elderslie Farm, 3501 E. 101st St. North, Valley Center, 316-519-1545

How much: Breakfast items are sold a la carte.

Information: www.eldersliefarm.com