|Kerbey Lane Café: Fresh, Affordable and Local!|
Kerbey Lane Café: Fresh, Affordable and Local!Kerbey Lane Café has always been passionate about offering fresh, affordable, local food to its customers. To do it right, the restaurant has, over the years, developed strong working relationships with local vendors. Kerbey Lane’s commitment to keeping its money in Central Texas and promoting other local businesses serves a number of purposes: it ensures the freshness of its products, supports the local economy, and cuts down on emissions involved in transporting goods long distances. Kerbey Lane’s Food and Facilities Director, Carl Leefe, says, “We connect with local farms and producers, bring their goods to the restaurants, and, in turn, our customers support the farms and producers. It’s a cycle and it’s unusual. Not a lot of restaurants are doing this. We’re a little ahead of our time considering how long we’ve been doing business this way. I think that’s one reason why Austin has supported us these many years.”
The restaurant has been working closely with Cora, Bobby and Kit Lamar of Oak Hill Farm in Poteet, Texas, for eighteen years. Cora’s Blue Ribbon-winning strawberries are featured in Kerbey Lane seasonal recipes, but the farm supplies the restaurant with a wealth of produce throughout the year. Oak Hill Farm’s broccoli and spinach are on the seasonal menu now, and a loyal following of regulars is already looking forward to the acres and acres of tomatoes that will be ripe and ready in May.
Since opening in 1980, Kerbey Lane has made it a point to support like-minded, local food producers. El Lago has provided the restaurant with its chips and tortillas for over twenty years. Good Flow, the honey and fresh squeezed juice company, has provided Kerbey Lane with its honey and orange and grapefruit juice for many years. Other longtime local vendors include Nile Valley Herbs, East Poultry, and Third Coast Coffee. Leefe says, “Our regulars become regular supporters of these businesses in and out of the restaurant.”
The cooks and recipe testers in the Kerbey Lane kitchens came up with the recipe for all-natural breakfast sausage and have Pederson’s Natural Farms make it for them. The milk and cream come from Hill Country Dairies; Lone Star Chevre provides goat cheese that’s free of antibiotics, BST, and insecticides; Kevin Roberts’ Food You Can Trust supplies the eggs; White Mountain Foods the tofu; Richardson Farms the all-natural pork, beef, and poultry; and Love Creek Orchards the locally-grown apples. The restaurant also works closely with Segovia Produce and South Texas Organics, whose produce is grown under the strict guidelines of the National Organic Program.
Leefe loves perusing local farmers’ markets for unique products, too. These mostly show up on the restaurant’s seasonal menu. “We’ve been using Lancito lamb for about the last six months. It’s grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free. You can really taste the difference because it’s so fresh. We’ve made lamb burgers, leg of lamb, lamb stew, and all the recipes have done really well.” He mentions the fact that the restaurant shares customers with the farmers’ markets, Central Market, and Whole Foods. “By now our customers simply assume that we are going out of our way to source this stuff. We don’t feel like we have to put out a banner that says, ‘Serving All-Natural Burgers’ or anything like that. We’ve been doing this a long time. People, especially here in Austin, want to know where their food is coming from and we’ve got a lot of practice at getting the good stuff. We’re really looking for the story behind the food so we can offer the best quality at an affordable price.”
The latest Kerbey Lane venture involves bringing its famous pancakes to the retail market. So far, the packaged pancake mixes are being sold in twenty-five area HEB stores, all Texas Central Markets and local Whole Foods Markets. Leefe jokes that the mixes are “‘Whole Foods Certified.’ We wanted their approval, so we included the very finest ingredients in the mix from the very beginning.”