Growing trend: Zynodoa puts the farm on the table

There's a growing trend, literally, among chefs and restaurant owners to source food from their own gardens and small farms, but few seem to be embracing that idea quite like Zynodoa in Staunton.

Dish had a chance recently to chat with owner Jeff Goode, who founded the restaurant with his wife Susan about five years ago, and to meet and eat the food of their relatively new chef James Harris.

The Goodes own a 50-acre farm in nearby Swoope, where they have two large gardens and raise ducks and hens, which supplies Harris with fresh eggs, potatoes, squash, peppers, tomatoes, and an assortment of herbs and other produce that he uses to create unique farm-to-table cuisine.

"I've lived all over the country," says Harris, who grew up in San Diego and formerly served as kitchen manager at the word-class Inn at Little Washington, "and I'll put Virginia growers before anyone in the country."

The Goodes' farm and gardens represent about 10 percent of the 80 percent of locally-sourced food on the menu, so Harris knows his way around the local farm scene. And he's constantly impressed.

"You can tell they work themselves ragged," Harris says of Virginia growers, "but you can tell they are happy. There's really a special thing going on here."

Ironically, one of the area's most successful farm-to-table restaurants, Zynodoa turns out to be owned by folks with no background in the restaurant business. A builder by trade, Goode initially signed on to renovate the historic building at 115 East Beverly Street, but when their original partner backed out, the couple found themselves with an empty restaurant. Goode says he just applied the same principles he followed in his construction business.

"The secret, I think, is just attention to detail," he says. "And a commitment to quality. The food has to be spot on, and you have to train and pay your staff well."

Goode says that his staff often take field trips to local farms, and before each evening Chef Harris briefs everyone on ingredient origins, so they can answer customer questions. The farm-to-table concept doesn't end there.

"We don't use olive oil because we can't get it locally," says Goode. "So we use locally produced canola oil."

Still, running a restaurant during a recession hasn't been easy.

"I'm proud of getting through the last three years," says Goode, who says he's also happy that he's managed to fulfill some design-build goals. The structure, a former dry-goods store with severe structural problems, earned him a commercial rehabilitation award two years ago from the Historic Staunton Foundation.

Meanwhile, he's got a hands-on chef in Harris. In addition to locally sourcing 80 percent of the menu, Harris makes his own pasta, smokes meat and seafood on-site, and bakes his own desserts.

The result? Baked and breaded trout from a Goshen fish farm, chicken livers from Polyface Farms, pork bellies from Buffalo Creek Farm, Virginia artisan cheeses, Virginia sea scallops, and linguine with little neck clams from the Chesapeake Bay.

Afterwards, Harris' excitement over how he sourced and created the evening's fare is palpable during a table-side chat.

"I hope I didn't talk your ear off," he says in an email the next day. "I tend to do that sometimes."

And we tend not to mind when the food is so inspired.

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1 comment

we love Zynodoa. It's not perfect (who is?) but the food is thoughtfully prepared, and very tasty. They are also very happy to work around 'food issues'--allergies and sensitivities. And the prices are significantly less than a comparable Charlottesville meal!