French toast with honey, seasonal berries and warm local ricotta custard. Creamy polenta with local garlic cheddar sausage and garden-fresh broccoli flowers. Organic, farm-fresh eggs with braised pork shoulder, pickled tomatillos and cornbread.
These mouthwatering dishes might sound like the kind of thing you’d find at a pricey farm-to-table restaurant. But Executive Chef Richard Jarmusz is serving them up to guests at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s (UVMC) new Garden Atrium, which opened in September. The 100-seat café, which is connected to the hospital’s rooftop garden, serves seasonally inspired dishes aimed at highlighting the garden-fresh produce, along with other local products from a bevy of nearby purveyors.
UVMC launched its backyard garden a few years ago to help employees and the public learn more about gardening in small backyard spaces. The hospital already had three restaurants on site—but building a dedicated space to serve its freshly harvested fruits and vegetables seemed like a natural fit. “This added dining location deepens our commitment to the mission of serving our patients and guests healthy local food, supporting Vermont’s food economy, and being environmentally responsible,” Director of Nutrition Services Diane Imrie said in a press release announcing the new location.
Offering more healthy, local fare wasn’t the only reason for opening the Garden Atrium. Families of hospital patients are usually tired and stressed, but often they lack a quiet environment where they can rest and recharge. The café was also designed to offer a calmer, more comfortable environment for guests, many of whom may be waiting anxiously while their loved ones are in surgery. After ordering at the counter, guests can opt to sit at traditional tables or in plush armchairs surrounded by bookcases and a gas fireplace while they wait for servers to bring them their food. Weather permitting, guests can even take their meals outside to the garden, which overlooks picturesque mountains. “Being served helps people relax. It’s a serene place without the hustle and bustle,” Jarmusz says.
During the growing season, Jarmusz and his team aim to have 80 percent of the café’s food—much of which is organic—come from the garden itself. Recently, the garden has been growing kale, squash, leeks, peppers and cherry tomatoes. A coalition of 70 local vendors supply additional ingredients like meat, poultry, butter and cheese, as well as pantry staples like beans, honey, vinegar, sunflower oil, dried fruit and maple syrup.
And with nearly all of his ingredients coming from nearby sources, it’s no surprise that Jarmusz intends for the Garden Atrium’s menu to shift with the seasons. Last month, guests were treated to fresh pasta with roasted tomato sauce made from garden tomatoes, as well as polenta with garden tomato broth, pickled onions and sliced garden-grown radishes. Jarmusz even offered housemade basil strawberry ice cream.
Now that the weather is cooling off, guests can warm up with heartier fare. Garden Atrium’s club sandwich, made with ham and cider-brined turkey, is served on butternut squash challah bread with maple whole-grain mustard. The warm green bean and purple rice salad is tossed with carrots, leeks and braised greens, and is tossed with a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Local pork sliders are made even more satisfying with braised vegetables, wine and herbs.
Come winter, the rooftop garden will close down for the season. But that doesn’t mean that the local ingredients will go away. “Things like meat, butter and cheese is always local for us. The only concern is the produce,” Jarmusz says. Year-round, Jericho Settlers Farm in nearby Jericho Center supplies UVMC with greens grown in a biomass-heated greenhouse. Jarmusz is also working with other local farmers to procure broccoli, carrots and potatoes that can be frozen for use during the colder months.
What’s more, UVMC’s year-round dedication to local food feeds into Garden Atrium’s larger sustainability goals. In addition to using local ingredients, the café is committed to becoming a zero-waste facility. “It’s one of the reason we’re using real plates and silverware. We’re also composting and buying bulk items in containers that can be cleaned and returned,” Jarmusz says. To spread the word to his customers, Jarmusz has kiosks outside of the café that highlight the various initiatives. He even took his team to a local farm to help staffers learn more about how the farmers work. “It gives servers more perspective so they can convey that to customers,” he says.