By KAREN HANSEN,The (Bloomington) Pantagraph via Associated Press
DOWNS, Ill. (AP) -- On the south side of Epiphany Farms, a 350-square-foot greenhouse slopes 30 degrees toward the sun.
Inside, the warm micro-climate has fostered lettuce, spinach, garlic, beets, sorrel, onions and a host of other crops.
Nearby, another greenhouse is nearly overfilling with plastic trays and buckets sprouting edibles and summer transplants, ranging from heirloom tomatoes, jalapenos and eggplants to blackberries, raspberries and grapes. Some have been hand-pollinated with paint brushes.
The indoor-growing lessons farm founder Ken Myszka and his partners learned over the winter and early spring are part of their prep for a spring 2011 opening of their farm-to-fork restaurant -- perhaps the first in Illinois and among only a few in the country. The chef-laden group recently secured a downtown Bloomington location at 111 W. Monroe St.
"The possibilities are endless, with a little attention to detail," said Myszka. "With patience, you can conquer the elements."
Myszka, Mike Mustard, Stu Hummel and Myszka's wife, Nanam Yoon Myszka, are in the second year of a three-year plan to bring the as-yet-unnamed eatery to the Twin Cities. The trio of men are professional chefs with a range of experience at high-end restaurants in some of the country's culinary capitals, including New York, Las Vegas and California's Napa Valley. Nanam Myszka, with international business and marketing experience from working in Seoul, Korea and Dubai, handles many of the administrative duties.
The twenty-something group -- at 27, Hummel is the oldest -- has piggybacked on people's growing desire for homegrown foods and are taking it a step farther. With the exception of cheese and dairy products, 18 of the farm's 72 acres will supply the restaurant. And fresh, organic vegetables will be the stars.
"People will rediscover what real asparagus, real lettuce tastes like," said Terra Brockman, a Congerville activist and founder of The Land Connection, a nonprofit that promotes local, organic and sustainable foods. She likens the restaurant to one branch of a tree that represents people's increased desire for fresh, healthy eating and includes home gardeners, farmer's markets and Community Supported Agriculture programs.
"We are suddenly on the forefront of having the best food imaginable," she said.
Those beginnings can be seen in an Epiphany Farms orchard created this spring with the planting of about three dozen fruit trees, including peach, plum, cherry and paw paw. In a half-acre plot nearby, daikon, arugula, sugar peas, shallots, broccoli and cipollini onions are nurtured in fertile soil.
And in defiance of Central Illinois' Zone 5 weather status, Mustard also wants to construct a wind- and solar-powered glass greenhouse that will grow tropicals like lemons, limes, bananas and mangoes.
The crops, as well as the pigs (with names like Pancetta and Mortadella), cows and chickens raised on the farm, will become the basis of their seasonal menu at the restaurant. The recipe calls for the downtown location to be open from March through January, with fine dining on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and casual breakfast and lunch fare on Sunday.
"We wanted to be in a neighborhood. We wanted to be downtown," said Myszka. "We didn't want to be on Veterans Parkway."
Their location -- where the city's Great Fire of 1900 began -- also will be in close proximity to Bloomington's farmer's market that opens Saturday and where the group will sell produce. (A CSA the group started this year has sold out.)
Restaurant seating will be for a cozy 65, and diners will have a view of the kitchen. Plans call for the hiring of additional chefs, who work on the farm, too.
A database of 800 potential customers from the group's private dinner parties, seminars and on-farm sales has been created. Myszka hopes to use software that will track food preferences and dinner companions.
While months of work still remain before the eatery opens, the partners are thinking ahead. Hummel is learning to brew beer and the group hopes to raise ducks and turkeys someday. Eventually the foursome also hopes their model can be replicated in other places -- perhaps Australia, Mustard suggests.
"It's amazing seeing people start to believe," said Nanam Myszka.
Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.