Farm-to-table? How about farm-on-table? Under the expert direction of chef Sacha Levine, the produce playground’s new culinary program is pure, veggie-centric poetry.
Launched in the 1970s by Alice Waters, the Berkeley-based owner of Chez Panisse, this culinary crusade has led to more direct connections between farmers and chefs, including custom growing and other collaborations. So how about this as a logical next step: A farmer opens his own produce market and hires a local-leaning chef to run an on-premises restaurant using his produce as well as other products grown, raised or made by other local farmers and food artisans?
That’s the delicious scenario at Singh Meadows, a 70-acre piece of paradise situated on a floodplain and former golf course just south and west of Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe.
Local farm-to-table fans know the name, of course. For many years, owners Ken and Lee Singh ran Singh Farms in Scottsdale, closing the beloved farm-market hybrid in 2016 due to a conflict with their landlords in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Singh Meadows is the couple’s second act, offering a beautifully merchandised brick-and-mortar farmers’ market, a veggie-centric quick-serve restaurant in the same building and a grassy, pesticide-free park with a pond. The Singhs have added wonderful touches to this urban oasis since its opening two years ago – flower beds, hay bales, Adirondack chairs, metal picnic tables and outdoor games – but all pale to the recent hiring of chef Sacha Levine, because her sophisticated spin on Singh’s perfect produce is nothing short of sensational.
You may remember Levine from her stellar work at Ocotillo, but long before that gig, her style was fundamentally shaped by the local-seasonal ethos of two extraordinary chefs and mentors: Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot and Charleen Badman of FnB. Their influence is evident in Levine’s gorgeously composed but natural-looking plates and in her abiding interest in cuisines from around the globe. The Singhs have given Levine free rein, and she’s clearly in her element and having a blast. It doesn’t hurt that her kitchen team includes two talented platoon mates from Ocotillo: Kevin Dragos and Carlos Carbajal. Together, the three of them keep the cold cases in the market stocked with interesting salsas, sauces, compound butters, pickles and condiments – and Dragos also bakes fabulous cookies.
Meanwhile, the chalkboard menu, given a weekly tweak, offers around a dozen dishes, some of them breakfast-y, all of them offering up more labor-intensive technique than you’d expect from food priced between $9 and $12.
Where to begin, considering everything is scrumptious? Let’s start with the most drool-worthy bit of food porn I’ve seen in ages, the beet toast, a healthy, hippie-ish plate that brings Northern California to mind. Built upon a crusty grilled country loaf from Noble Bread that comes slathered with a braised beet and cream cheese mixture, it’s an edible garden, heaped with slabs of glistening gold and ruby red beets — some shaved and raw, some pickled, some curled into flowers, their golden centers filled with a sunny purée of golden beets, Dijon and olive oil. It also comes with buttery avocado slices, carrots, radishes, almond halves, fresh dill, dainty edible flowers and a sprinkle of a dried Turkish chile pepper called urfa, which evokes the earthy taste of the garden. See what I’m talking about here? Huge, huge bang for the buck.
Also in the too-pretty-to-eat category, a snack plate called Taste of the Meadows composed of grilled Noble Bread, fluffy ricotta, honeycomb, dates, pistachios and seasonal fruit, which happens to be pear, persimmon, blood orange and, at the moment, pomegranate seeds. I could happily nosh on this every afternoon during tea time.
Levine’s custardy duck egg frittata, cut into triangles and set atop a puddle of warm, spicy tomato sauce, is shockingly good as well. Layered with grilled sweet potato, greens and melted mozzarella, it’s so creamy and elegant that it transcends the breakfast genre – and for a measly eight bucks, no less! Homey, messy-to-eat Indian breakfast tacos, an homage to Ken’s heritage, are sure to become a Singh Meadows signature. Levine uses Lee’s recipe for the dal (a deeply spiced Indian stew made with lentils), tucking that creamy mixture, along with airy scrambled eggs and the thick yogurt called labneh, into griddled flatbread. She then sides this fusion-y taco trio with slivered red onion, sliced jalapeño and cilantro.
Caribbean tacos go in a deliciously different direction. Pleasantly spicy chunks of jerk turkey, set atop griddled flour tortillas, come heaped with sweet, crunchy apple-carrot slaw, the whole compilation dripping with meat juices and pungent harissa aioli. Crispy, cumin-scented disks of roasted sweet potato, topped with sliced jalapeños, make french fries seem vaguely irrelevant by comparison. Meanwhile, if you’ve never tried savory bread pudding, you won’t want to miss Levine’s decadent rendition, intersected with bitter winter greens, sweet roasted apple and sharp aged cheddar. Generously ladled with bacon gravy, itself chunky with crisped and fatty cubes of bacon, it’s the very definition of “guilty pleasure.”
For now, the only sandwich on the menu is a stellar ropa vieja breakfast torta, which combines spicy, tomato-y stewed beef with scrambled eggs and a melt of jack cheese, the whole moist and meaty affair set atop a toasted telera roll, then strewn with pickled onions. There are healthy rice bowls, too: spicy kimchi with roasted cauliflower and an oozy duck egg and Thai curry, brimming with potatoes, broccoli, cashews and sesame seeds.
To state the obvious, I love everything about Singh Meadows – the soothing setting, the neat-as-a-pin market and, most of all, Levine’s elevated but fun food, which is her own personal expression of the farm-to-table philosophy and a delicious rebuttal to the argument that it’s elitist.
Cuisine: New American
Contact: 1490 E. Weber Dr., Tempe, 480-225-7199
Hours: F-Su 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Highlights: Jerk turkey tacos ($12); Indian breakfast tacos ($9); savory aged cheddar bread pudding ($10); beet toast ($9); grilled vegetable and duck egg frittata ($8 ); ropa vieja breakfast sandwich ($12).
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