“I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act. Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth. Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as “consumers.” If they think beyond that, they recognize that they are passive consumers. They buy what they want — or what they have been persuaded to want — within the limits of what they can get. They pay, mostly without protest, what they are charged. And they mostly ignore certain critical questions about the quality and the cost of what they are sold: How fresh is it? How pure or clean is it, how free of dangerous chemicals? How far was it transported, and what did transportation add to the cost? How much did manufacturing or packaging or advertising add to the cost? When the food product has been manufactured or “processed” or “precooked,” how has that affected its quality or price or nutritional value?” (Wendell Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating”)
“I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.” (Wendell Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating”)
“Our passion is SOL (Sustainable, Organic, Local). We work with local ranchers and farmers to bring you locally raised, humanely treated, grass-fed Beef, Bison, & Lamb; Free-range Turkey, & Eggs; & as much local, organic produce as we can get our hands on. Our sodas are cane sweetened, our bread is local, & our hearts are full of love.” (The Cove, menu)
Wendell Berry’s writing should be required reading for everyone, for everyone lives on this earth, everyone lives in a community, and everyone eats. Although Berry’s mission to instruct us in humane living began decades ago, only in recent years have people begun to share his ideas and realize that our knowledge of where we get our food and how well we know our food sources is as important to our essence as humans as it is to our physical and social well-being. Fortunately, through the work of Berry and others such as he, more people are eschewing the medicalization of food as they embrace the intricate relationship of their lives to the food they eat, and the relationship of the their lives and food they eat to the ethical treatment of animals, plants, and the earth.For this reason, farmer’s markets are hugely popular. When one buys his produce, meat, or dairy products from a farmer’s market, one meets the people directly involved with the growing, raising, and gathering of the food items he’s purchasing. He knows how the produce or meat was raised, and he knows the plants and animals were raised nearby. When he gets home with his purchases, he takes satisfaction in the meal he prepares, for he has intimate knowledge of the ingredients he used to create the dishes for his dinner.
As preferable as planned and intelligent home-cooked meal is to a meal prepared in a restaurant, where one is somewhat estranged from the food he eats, sometimes eating out is necessary. People with busy schedules eat out to save time; people on vacations and thus without access to kitchens eat out; people celebrating special occasions eat out. People do eat out at times. Thankfully, most cities have a plethora of restaurants from which one can choose; thus, people who are inclined to be careful about their food can usually find a restaurant or two that approaches the food it offers from a humane and agriculturally sensitive perspective. People who want to eat sensibly when they eat out, but who also have to eat gluten-free, have a much more difficult time finding restaurants that serve both ends. Such restaurants do exist, however, and none serve as a better example of conscientious food offerings with an extensive gluten-free menu than The Cove. Located near down-town San Antonio, The Cove is unique among restaurants for other reasons, as well. It is also a working car wash. Although it’s a small restaurant, it has made a big name for itself, for the quality of the food it serves as well as for its appearance as a “best of” feature restaurant in Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
We ate at The Cove recently, on a temperate, early spring evening. The restaurant has indoor seating in the bar, but mostly the seating is outdoors on a patio and a playground. We chose to sit on the patio. The Cove is definitely a family-friendly restaurant, yet it is also a great date place. It offers live music several nights a week; it also offers frequent beer and wine tasting events. The evening we ate at the restaurant, we just missed the live music of Sweet, ‘Shine & Honey. The band played from 1 pm to 4 pm that day, but we arrived just before the 6 pm Sunday closing time.
The Cove’s menu is fairly simple: mostly tacos, salads, and burgers. These tacos and burgers are original enough, however, that the trip to the restaurant will be enjoyable even for those people who aren’t especially concerned about the source of the food they eat, but who love delicious, interesting dishes. What’s more, the people at The Cove make eating gluten-free super simple. Every burger can be made gluten-free, and served on a gluten-free bun (the gluten-free buns are provided by the locally owned Little Aussie Bakery located in the general vicinity of The Cove). The sweet potato fries and the French fries are fried in dedicated fryers, so they are safe for Celiacs to eat. The staff is trained to prevent cross-contamination of the gluten-free orders, and can answer well any question having to do with their gluten-free offerings.
Both Phillip and I ordered the Blue Bison Burger, a burger made with thunderheart bison from Shape Ranch. The burger is topped with bacon, blue cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, spring mix lettuce, tomato, and onion. I actually wanted Phillip to order something else, so that no one could mix up our burgers and I wouldn’t end up suffering from cross-contamination somehow (yes, I do tend to be a bit over-cautious when eating out). The girl who took our order reassured me that the gluten-free buns are readily identifiable from the wheat buns, and that the staff members are trained to know the difference. With that reassurance, I graciously allowed Phillip to order the bison burger as he desired! He ordered the fresh cut fries, and I ordered the sweet potato fries. I also ordered a soda; I love the Maine Root sodas, which are made with cane sugar. I really love the cream soda. Cream soda made with cane sugar is sometimes difficult to find.
While we waited for our dinner to arrive, we spent our time watching families with young children enjoy themselves on the patio and on the playground. We also read the large information board that hangs on the wall just outside the restaurant door. This board tells the source and location from which all the food served at The Cove comes.
Although I appreciate The Cove’s relaxed ambiance, commitment to sustainable, humane agriculture, and creative menu offerings (this eating establishment is almost more Austin-like than San Antonio-like), I have to confess that the quality of the bison burger failed to meet my expectation. The meat was a bit dry, and the chipotle mayonnaise didn’t make its presence as well known as it could have. For the meat’s dryness, I partly blame the type of meat. I’ve had bison burgers at other restaurants, and every one of them has been less juicy than a beef burger. The chipotle mayonnaise could be applied more generously to the burger. The gluten-free bun that held the burger and fixings together was flavorful and pleasing of texture. It held together as well as any wheat bun.
I could give the burger a pass, considering the quality of the gluten-free bun, except that the sweet potato fries were inexplicably soggy. Not one was crispy, and they were luke-warm when they arrived at the table. The fresh cut potatoes were better; I tasted Phillip’s fries and they were somewhat crispy. For the record, Phillip didn’t think his burger as dry as mine. I couldn’t taste his for comparison, of course, so I accept his assessment of his bison burger. The prices at The Cove are on the high side, which one can easily over-look considering the restaurant’s mission and the cost of organic and local ingredients. For the price of the meal and the care that the ingredients receive down the line from the farmer / rancher to the servers who carry the food to the tables, one would hope each meal would be of exemplary quality. This particular night, this hope remained unfulfilled. Having made this point, I will say that in the past when we’ve eaten at The Cove, we’ve had dishes the quality of which we found pleasing. I remember having greatly enjoyed the Naked Burger (described by the menu as No Buns, No Fries, Happy Thighs! Served on Spring Mix. Topped w/ Spinach, Mushrooms & Spicy Poblano Sauce), and Phillip remembers having been very pleased with the flavor and texture of the fish tacos (Grilled Tilapia, Cilantro Coleslaw & Spicy Poblano Sauce in a Corn Tortilla).
Despite the slightly dismaying meal Phillip and I experienced this specific evening at The Cove, we will definitely return to the restaurant. This place has many more positive qualities than negative, not the least of which is that the owners and staff pay as close attention to the needs of the gluten-intolerant as to the source of the produce and meat they serve. Even though one cannot expect all restaurant owners to cater so well to the specific dietary needs of their patrons, other restaurant owners should at least be as attentive as The Cove’s owners to the natural rhythms and symbiotic relationship of agriculture, nature, and human society in relation to eating. Perhaps when other restaurateurs see that patrons are willing to pay a higher price for the benefit of enjoying meals comprised of locally sourced, unprocessed, organic ingredients, we will have more such restaurants from which to choose when we decide to eat out.