UCD's Dining Days: GRID's guide to dining sustainably

Image via universitycity.org/diningdaysYesterday kicked off University City District’s Dining Days, two weeks of discount dining at 29 West Philly restaurants, each offering three-courses for either $15, $25, or $30. While price is certainly a consideration in selecting which spot (or spots) to spend your dining day at, consider choosing a restaurant with a dedication to utilizing seasonal and local ingredients. After all, Philadelphia’s farmers markets are overflowing with offerings from regional producers right now, and the urban agriculture movement is growing (literally) by the day.

Speaking of farmers markets; why not base your dining day around getting to know some regional producers a little better? Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting the most out of UCD’s Dining Days, and ensuring that your experience isn’t simply a chance to try out a new restaurant, but also a chance to get up close and personal with Philadelphia’s foodshed.

Read on for GRID's UCD DD guide!

Step 1: Pick a day to get your dine on that coincides with your neighborhood’s farmers market. Tis the season of farmers markets in Philadelphia, and there is sure to be one happening by you on any given day. If you need some guidance, consult our most recent Local Food Guide for a comprehensive list of the city’s farmers markets. The Food Trust also offers a calendar featuring the days, times and locations of the 26 markets it sponsors.

Step 2: Choose a restaurant that highlights its menu’s locally-sourced ingredients. Participating Dining Days restaurants, including Rx, Marigold Kitchen, JG Domestic, Biba, MidAtlantic, Penne Restaurant & Wine Bar, Gold Standard, and the White Dog Café all feature dishes that utilize local produce, cheese, and meats – and most list the source right on their menu itself. However, if you have your doubts about the sustainability of a certain menu item, don’t be afraid to ask where it is from, especially at a restaurant that touts its use of local, organic, sustainable, and cruelty-free products.

Step 3: Make a reservation. Not exactly a tip on keeping your dining day sustainable, but if you’ve ever participated in Dining Days or Philly’s Restaurant Week, you know that everyone loves a good deal and spots fill up fast.

Step 4: On the day of your dining excursion, stop by your local farmers market to check out the offerings. What better way to know what to look for and expect on a locally-sourced menu, than to get up close and personal with the seasonal products themselves and their producers? Take some time to chat with your local farmers; ask them which restaurants they provide products to (great fuel for future restaurant excursions), what produce is currently in season, whether or not they practice organic growing methods, and what seasonal offerings to look forward to in the coming months. A farmers market is a great place to get educated on the local food scene, and asking questions often results in free samples…

Step 5: Get to your restaurant of choice on time and enjoy. With your newly acquired local food knowledge you’re ready to choose three courses and chow down. And remember, eating seasonally doesn’t have to stressful, it often just takes a little extra research, and flexibility to eat what’s available from the region’s hardworking farmers and producers.

**Note: If you’re a vegetarian or vegan looking to get your nosh on during UCD’s Dining Days, check out the veg-friendly offerings at the Gold Standard, White Dog Café, Rx, and JG Domestic. Plus, if there’s a place you’d love to try whose menu is teeming with meat and dairy items, try calling ahead to inquire about modifications or special dishes. Most chefs are happy to oblige.

More information on UCD here, plus check out the Food Trust’s and Philly Homegrown’s sites for the 411 on Philly’s local food scene.