Socially Conscious Dining at Wise Acre

Wise Acre Eatery is all local all the time.

When deciding with friends where this weekend’s brunch will take place, often the conversation revolves around which restaurant has the best eggs Benedict, the best breakfast potatoes, the best chicken and waffles. But what if you added local sourcing into the conversation? The pool of restaurants would shrink considerably, and Wise Acre Eatery would stand tall in the center.

Open since 2011, Wise Acre Eatery was founded on the vision of owners Scott Endres and Dean Englemann. “They had the goal of opening a restaurant where U.S. Foods and Sysco [food distributors] never pull up to the door,” general manager Aaron Spading says. What came first was the farm (then just a dairy farm), in Plato, Minn. Then Tangletown Garden Center, “and when Liberty Custard closed they saw an opportunity to create something really special—an actually direct farm-to-table restaurant,” Spading says.

Seven years later, they’re still going strong as a Plato farm-to-Minneapolis table restaurant, and even have a 900-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. The members can come pick up produce once a week as well as recipe cards to help them decide how to cook their weekly haul. “That’s one of my favorite parts of having a CSA—having a crop responsive menu at home,” Spading says.

“I feel like everyone everywhere is waking up to food consciousness,” Spading says. “It’s no longer a niche part of the market.”

But choosing to eat local doesn’t mean sacrificing taste. Wise Acre’s name is scattered on “best of” lists across the twin cities, and Chef Rodney Smith has a one-word answer to why: Bacon.

“That’s our biggest WOW factor,” he says. “When it comes out you get a thick bacon steak—it’s pretty hefty.” The next big item? The burger, which of course has bacon on it, and is made from beef raised on the Plato farm. “Our burger is our staple,” Smith says.

The brunch menu is a fan favorite, and Spading says it’s not a surprise. “If you think about a farm you think about eggs and bacon,” he says. Guests love Wise Acre’s brunch “because we harvest our own eggs, we cook them in bacon fat, we sauté them with fresh herbs that we grew—and the bacon is a big part of that too,” he says.
 
Everything on the menu has an extra something special that not every visitor will be able to put their finger on. But Smith spells it out: “We’re using different methods with everything from sous vide, confit … to bring out the natural flavor of the product. That’s what makes a big difference. We’re not trying to cover it up with sauces, cheeses, vinaigrettes and dressings,” he says. “We’re trying to give the opportunity for that burger to shine because it is an amazing burger. We’re trying to give those vegetables a chance to shine because they are amazing vegetables.”

And at Wise Acre, they know the produce is amazing not just because they can taste it, but because they saw it grow. “We know exactly where it’s coming from,” Smith says. “We know who’s growing it. We know exactly how it’s grown. We know the care that went into it from the time it’s in the ground to the time it hits your plate.” Due to that, they can control the flavor in ways the average restaurant can’t. And while it might sound like they’re just being picky—they fuss so you don’t have to.

“We don’t want to be a fussy place,” Spading says.

Smith chimes in: “We want to give the idea of actually sitting down on the farm,” he says. “We’re always in a good mood, having fun, smiling.”

Editor's note: Sous chef Butch O'Brien was promoted to the position of head chef at Wise Acre Eatery following the publication of this story.

Back on the Farm

Roughly 45 minutes from Wise Acre Eatery is the farm in Plato, Minn. 10,000 square feet of solar panels power about half of the farm that provides the ingredients for everything from burgers to salads at the restaurant. The 142 acres of land is devoted half to fields of produce, and half to pasture for cattle, pigs and poultry.

One acre of that land is filled with greenhouses. “Some [of the greenhouses] are set up for retail plants, most are for seeding,” Spading says. “But we have one that’s entirely devoted to growing sprouts and fodder for our cattle in the winter.” The farm raises Scottish Island cattle that are grass fed 12 months of the year—something Spading says makes their burger stand out. In the summer, those cattle also move between 62 different plots which is healthy for both the animals and soil.

The soil is a point of pride at this farm, too. “We’re extremely intentional with our soil and how we treat our soil,” Spading says. When it comes down to it, vegetables are basically made of soil, he says. So they’re only as good as the soil they’re grown in. “That’s just physics. If you ask our lead farmer he’ll say the only thing they grow out at the farm is soil.”

“We do incredible things for our soil which means incredible things for our vegetables. And that means incredible things for the plates we serve at the restaurant,” Spading says.

The farm, the soil, the plants and animals are all items the staff will gush about if given the chance. And for good reason. “I’m really proud to work somewhere that I think absolutely is on the cutting edge,” Spading says.