The Art of Daily Menus
Southern Roots Filling Station is committed to planning their lunch menu around daily dishes that vary from one day to the next based on farm-fresh ingredients, explained Mariah Salvat, co-owner and cook. Customers have learned to enjoy the surprises that each season brings. They’ve even come to expect it.
The steps between farm to table at Southern Roots are few and not far between. Some vegetables are grown as close to home as they come — hand-picked from Salvat’s mother’s garden or the community garden in the surrounding Riverside neighborhood. Others are sourced from nearby farms, including Berry Good Farms, Down to Earth Farm, Traders Hill and Veggie Confetti. Locally-crafted products including Shakti Life Products cashew cheese and kraut, Village Bread toast and Stubbees Creamed Honey also have their place on the menu.
These sources and ingredients aren’t just elements, they’re the foundation. They are the southern roots. Salvat leaves herself open to ever-changing inspiration, making the menu’s creation and execution equal parts humble and inventive. “Things are constantly changing in the kitchen, which keeps it fun,” she said. “I am so inspired by our local foods that they almost always dictate the menu.” Though the lack of root vegetables in the region and scarceness of particular crops at times can prove challenging for Salvat, the constant bounty and consistent surprises brought in by farmers far makes up for it.
“Our local farmers constantly bring surprises be it an extra bouquet of flowers for us to take home or a new item they’re growing they think we might like. It’s a highlight of my day to chat with them for a quick moment before they leave.”
While Southern Roots has a couple of consistent signature menu offerings, for the daily special, (a savory dish, a side and small salad), almost anything goes. Typically, it’s a spontaneous decision. “I am inspired by the day — the weather, temperature, what’s speaking to me produce-wise,” said Salvat.
Around 10:30 a.m. each day, the lunch special is hand-written on the chalkboard. One afternoon it might be Shakti Life’s kraut or cashew cheese, married with a medley of vegetables from the community garden, layered over rice or greens. The next, it might be warm lentils, paired with a crisp cool salad and a side of root vegetables, or whatever seasonal produce nearby farmers have delivered.
Having close connections to area growers is a key component in creating unique specials as the seasons change. Salvat’s approach to turning what she gets from neighborhood gardens, area farmers and food artisans into daily dishes is one that simply celebrates and enhances the flavors present, rather than making food taste like something it’s not. Her mantra: “When food is fresh, you don’t need to dress it up.”
Along with the local sourcing of seasonal food, complemented by Salvat’s mindful combination of flavors and textures, it’s the presentation, the simplicity, the connectivity — and the experience of what’s being served — that makes the daily dish here so innovative. “I like to say that with our fast-paced society, we slow it down in the kitchen so other people don’t have to,” said Salvat.