Snail may not have been on the menu at the Tarry Lodge, but it was on the tongues of many attending a special event Saturday at the Westport outpost of celebrity chef Mario Batali's culinary empire.
The "snail" that everyone was talking about was, in fact, the Snail of Approval Award presented to the restaurant by the group Slow Food Metro North, which bestowed a Snail of Approval Award on the restaurant in recognition of its emphasis on sourcing local products and eco-friendly practices.
Slow Food Metro North, a regional chapter of Slow Food USA, recognizes restaurants, food purveyors and other local businesses that support local agriculture and sustainable practices in Fairfield County, as well Westchester and Putnam counties in New York.
The group says that it presents the Snail of Approval to enterprises that work to provide, good, clean and fair food to their community.
Tarry Lodge Westport, which opened on Charles Street in the Saugatuck section of town about two years ago, highlights local products on its seasonal menus, but also has formed relationships with area farms.
"It's an honor to be recognized," said Mario Laposta, Tarry Lodge's chef. "Using local sustainable ingredients is a growing process. It's the approach you want to take because of the difference it makes to the food. The U.S. has been late to the table in terms of embracing this trend. It's really great to learn to cook this way and be excited about the food you make every day."
Laposta visits the Westport Farmers Market every Thursday and talks to local farmers on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. "The food we're sampling today -- such as berries, cheese, breads and produce -- is mostly from the market and local providers," said Laposta. "When we have something new to offer that's local, both servers and customers get excited about it."
Tarry Lodge partner Nancy Selzer, who has been in the restaurant business for a long time, supports the Slow Food movement, a commitment to farm-to-table cuisine. "To be the first restaurant in our group to be honored is great," she said. "We're very excited about this."
Fairfielders Karen and Rich Kotchko, among the many frequent patrons of the restaurant invited to the Snail ceremony, said, "When we eat meat, we only eat it here or get it from the Saugatuck Craft Butchery, which is where Tarry Lodge gets its meat. It's important to us to know how the meat is prepared and how the animals are treated. And the produce is so fresh, while the local economy is supported."
Annaliese Paik, a Slow Food board member who led the award ceremony, said Tarry Lodge has been cited beyond Snail of Approval status to achieve the group's highest recognition for sustainability -- the Green Restaurant Certification. "When you sit down at their tables, you can be assured of local, sustainable products," she said. "No feed lots, no factories, no bottled water, as well as safe cleaning products, composting and staff education."