If you’re dining at Backwoods Crossing and the chef suddenly runs out the door, don’t be alarmed.
He may be fleeing the kitchen to fetch fresh Flamingo Pink Swiss chard, dragon carrots or perhaps the Devil’s Ear lettuce grown in the garden surrounding the restaurant. Or there might be a pressing need for purple Midnight Dreams bell peppers, deep orange Turkish eggplants or fresh eggs.
“We want to grow special items, not something you’re going to buy at Publix,” said Backwoods Crossing chef Jesse Rice, who owns the restaurant with his brother, Tyler.
But there’s also plenty of familiar food grown here. Broccoli, brussels sprouts and shiitake mushrooms are among the 30 or so winter vegetables and herbs that could wind up on your plate. In the summer, when the number of varied crops will more than double, there’s even more green goodness.
Some restaurants may embellish their farm-to-table boasts, but diners only have to walk outside to see the crops sprouting at Backwoods Crossing. But that’s not the only reason to dine here. The food is delicious and creative, a special experience in Tallahassee.
Jesse, 31, and Tyler, 29, spent months transforming a building that was once Stinky’s Fish Camp into Backwoods Crossing and opened
for business May 30. Jesse also owns Backwoods Bistro on Tennessee Street with his longtime friend, Taylor Harrell.
Backwoods Crossing is very different from its cousin. It has the folksy feel of a farmhouse, with an indoor porch and gleaming pine floors. The brothers turned crepe myrtle branches into lovely accents, displaying garden equipment and colorful pictures of vegetables. When the weather cooperates, diners can also eat outside in the garden.
The brothers grow crops on three of their four acres but they now have a full-time gardener, and aim to keep planting.
Step inside and you’ll see the “growing room” where tiny seedlings take root. These seedlings later move to the greenhouse, then the garden (tomato plants flourished in the greenhouse all winter).
Backwoods Crossing doesn’t have an official organic certification but Jesse said natural methods are used: no pesticides. Their kitty, Athena, helps keep bothersome critters away.
Aside from crops, the Rice brothers have a rooster and 73 chickens, which will produce about 18,000 eggs a year, used in the restaurant or for sale to take home. Soon, Backwoods Crossing will be raising quail for eggs and meat.
Backwoods Crossing can’t grow all its own food, so the place also uses ingredients from local and regional farms as well as typical food distributors.
One menu offers a broad selection of dishes, including steak, seafood and duck, from varied sources. A separate sheet called Garden Creations features about nine or 10 starters and entrees that change weekly. Each of these dishes features at least one to three items grown in the Backwoods Crossing garden.
This looks like a fun choice: A $50 sampler of six small plates for sharing. Allow 30 minutes for Jesse and his cooks to create dishes on the fly, using what’s in the garden. It’s on our list to try on one of our visits here. My husband and I like the make-your-own salad, checking off choices for lettuce, vegetables, protein, toppings and dressing. A few items (like nuts, cheese and meats, marked with an asterisk), aren’t grown on site. The cost depends the types and number of the ingredients you choose. (A lettuce is $5, vegetables $1 each, for instance).
Our salad included a blend of lettuces grown on site: butter crunch, merlot and Devil’s Ear, which despite its name, has a heavenly, nutty taste. We added yellow and purple dragon carrots, beets and mushrooms, garnished with orange segments. The salad was fresh and refreshing, altogether memorable. We couldn’t resist the rich blue cheese dressing (which we got on the side) — all dressings but the Caesar are house-made.
Another hit: glistening slivers of raw scallops in a carpaccio with a citrusy zing. The mollusks are layered with rings of green bell peppers plus chopped tomatoes and greens — the produce from the garden — topped with a faux caviar. I got the dish by mistake. I had actually ordered a different scallop dish — but it was a fortuitous mix-up.
Also good: the pork slider with slow-cooked collard greens. A friend and I thought the barbecue sauce was a bit sweet but liked the meat. The restaurant gets whole hogs from the Great Southern Forestry in Monticello. I prefer the steak sliders on the regular menu, with two juicy tenderloin patties garnished with crisp wisps of fried onions, arugula and a blueberry-jalapeño reduction, which sounds like an odd combo but it works. The light sauce has a mild fruity taste and a slight kick. Most dishes include a side salad, with greens from outside sources.
The kitchen nails old-time corn fritters, made with corn off the cob. One of my favorite dishes combines the addictive corn fritter with two crab cakes in a stack with sliced avocado, tomatoes and a drizzle of house-made remoulade sauce. It’s downright decadent, — and delicious.
Even more decadent: the desserts. I’ve sampled the bread pudding (with a caramel reduction), sweet potato casserole (it tastes like Thanksgiving) and cinnamon-scented apple crumble (with Bourbon-glazed Granny Smith apples). All house-made. All worth the splurge.
There’s a full bar with creative cocktails and a range of beers and wines. Happy diners can “Hydrate the Kitchen,” which means buying a round of suds for the cooks. They’ll hoot and holler their thanks.
On one packed Saturday night, service was slow and disorganized. On two other visits, the staff was attentive, efficient and welcoming. The young servers were helpful in explaining ingredients and making suggestions.
Starters $8 to $12; soups and salads $6 to $13; sandwiches $9 to $12; entrees $17 to $27; desserts $5 to $8.
This place is truly down-to-earth. We love its fresh fare, creativity, homey atmosphere and farm concept. Jesse Rice says “the sky’s the limit” for the restaurant. We agree.
Tallahassee Table Rating
Worth the Drive
When you go …
6725 Mahan Dr., Tallahassee
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Live music 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday nights. Happy hour 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays.
Reservations: For six or more.