Growing Season

The Seedling Café sprouts a leaf

It may not be the most hospitable season or favorable economic climate for growing a new restaurant, but two young hopefuls have dug in and transplanted their sprouting café to nurture a new leaf — a full-scale restaurant.

Josh and Danielle Enright have opened the Rustic Leaf Bistro in the former location of the French Bistro, just west of the Milford Oval. The French Bistro was well known for its Alsace-influenced French cuisine served in a former caboose.

The new Rustic Leaf Bistro is a metamorphosis of the Seedling Café, the couple’s popular breakfast and lunch café in downtown Nashua. They sold the Seedling name to another owner and moved on and up to serving lunch and dinner in another town. The dining space has been expanded into the front rooms of the house, so seating has been doubled from when only the caboose and entry were used. White tablecloths dressed with a season leaf tell you this is not a café anymore.

“This is what I always wanted to do,” says Josh. He explains that when he and Danielle were looking for a restaurant opportunity, the Seedling space on Water Street was available, plus it seemed to be the prudent thing to do — start a business by preparing just breakfast and lunch.

The Seedling Café quickly became the go-to place in downtown Nashua for sandwiches with a sense of panache and a serving of social responsibility. Not only were Josh’s sandwiches creative takes on wraps, but, they were usually built with organic produce and laid on locally baked artisan bread. The café also offered homemade soups and green salads dressed with herbs grown in the Enright garden.

Danielle has maintained a vegetable garden for the past several years and it has been a source of 25 percent of the produce used in the café. What she couldn’t grow the Enrights purchased at the Amherst farmers market in season. Beyond the garden, Danielle manages a clutch of chickens that provides eggs for the restaurant, and she hopes to harbor a few more animals on their new property in Milford.

The couple not only bought a new restaurant, but also a new home in Milford. Their former Amherst home is being rented and the old garden will be maintained to supply the restaurant.

How hard was it to get a mortgage for a new home and a new business in this economy? It was pretty easy, admits Josh. The bankers probably understood that the property had intrinsic value, and it was good for the community to get a viable business in a property that had been vacant for a year. And maybe they had eaten at the Seedling Café.

The old red caboose that is part of the property will once again take diners on a culinary journey — not to France, but this time much closer. Josh and Danielle, who could be the poster couple for the buy local movement, plan to provide the same healthy style of cooking using free range and mostly locally sourced organic produce. Lunch will offer a few of the Seedling favorite wraps and a full range of salads, including one with baby spinach, fresh avocado, roasted corn, grape tomatoes, free-range eggs and gorgonzola cheese with a poached apple dressing.

But dinner is where Josh has been longing to go. This route will enable Josh to use his creative juices in a nighttime venue. It just wasn’t possible to really cook at the Seedling — the kitchen only had an electric stove.

The entrée items will use the same organic vocabulary as lunch items, but the scope will be expanded.

Frankly, I think it is time that New Hampshire restaurants get creative with vegetables and grains. It’s a nice feeling when you leave a restaurant, not with gut bloat, but a contentment that you did your palate, and your body, a favor.

As a matter of principle, Josh will not be serving beef in any form — no burgers, no steaks. Instead one will find a good selection of fresh fish, pastured pork, buffalo and free-range chicken with an accompaniment of roasted root vegetables, parsnip purée, quinoa or organic lentils, all dressed descriptively with words I like to see on menus — tapanade, compote, caramelized, coulis. Josh is familiar with the extended vocabulary used to take food presentations to the next level. He was a former sous chef at C. R. Sparks for four years before starting the café.

Josh’s only regret is that he is not opening in the full flush of the growing season. But let’s see how he can sharpen his brush with the limited palette of seasonal foods. Look for entrées to be in the $16 to $22 range.

Come spring, along with the growing season, the ice cream stand that is part of the property will open again. The Enrights will be serving flavorful ginger and rich chocolate ice creams from Walpole Dairy. Yeah, that stuff is better than Richardson’s and it’s organic, too! The good news is you won’t have to wait for spring, they are serving it for dessert.

The French Bistro had a following that traveled from afar to ride the caboose. The Seedling had a following that appreciated the sensibility of the Enrights as much as their sandwiches. Finally in New Hampshire many other restaurants are playing lip service to organic, local and sustainable food choices, and advocates are preaching the word, but the Enrights are the choir. Their new motto is “From Seed to Table” — a large plot to hoe indeed. Let’s all hope that the seedling-to-leaf transplant survives the harsh winter and flourishes for years to come in new ground.

Categories: Features