You know regulars really treasure a restaurant when they protest a menu change. In the case of Satsuma Cafe, that change was to stop using kale early in June when local farmers growing the burly, vitamin-packed green switched to summer crops. Customers expressed anguish when informed of the change at the cafe's counter, and a few shared their disappointment in notes on Satsuma's Facebook page. "No!!!!!!!" was the common thread.
Such are the pitfalls of tying a menu to the food local farmers grow and which local seasons allow. Fine-dining chefs know this well. But few casual, inexpensive restaurants are as intimately in sync with local supply as Satsuma Cafe.
Cassi and Peter Dymond opened Satsuma Cafe last year, taking their cue from restaurants they'd visited in other cities — everyday places where the farm-to-table aesthetic was in full bloom. This takes considerable effort. They were thrilled to find the former Coffea space available just two blocks from their Bywater home. And although they walk to work, they must log many miles sourcing their menu from a constellation of local suppliers, most of which don't deliver. They soon had to sell their Corolla and buy a cargo van to accommodate the fresh hauls they collect around the area for their menu.
Satsuma Cafe is essentially a coffee shop with a menu of breakfast plates, salads, sandwiches and juices, all revved up by vividly fresh, locally grown produce.
Earthy, springy-textured, locally foraged chanterelles are added to scrambled eggs, which are collected from chickens pecking away in the same area code. Shiitakes might turn up in the daily quiche, and the same blueberries sold at the Crescent City Farmers Market might plump up the morning's pancakes. Arugula works its way into the "green breakfast sandwich," along with eggs, avocado and cheese. Lumps of crabmeat and planks of bacon take grilled cheese to new heights.
Satsuma still looks a lot like Coffea, with its mismatched tables, side patio and exposed brick walls mounting paintings and assorted artsy bric-a-brac. But also like Coffea, there is no proper kitchen. Cooking is done on a butane-fired camping stove, a small convection oven and a toaster. A party of four all ordering egg dishes at once can jam the works, and service often bogs down at prime meal times.
But I've always been impressed by how neat the end product turns out. A crown of micro-greens and toasted seeds might top a salad of crackling-crisp lettuces, and that's just the automatic side item for a turkey sandwich.
Until a few weeks ago, kale starred in many of these dishes, and you can count me among those looking forward to the potent green's expected return in fall. But in the meantime, we have the glory that is the Creole tomato. It's cut thick for one salad with crunchy ribbons of fennel and Vidalia onion and another with local spinach, boiled egg and blue cheese vinaigrette. It's also blended into a cool but spicy gazpacho with jalapeno and lime. At Satsuma Cafe, the seasonal goods always seem ready for their close-ups.