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Down on the Farm: RE Farm Café to Provide Unique Dining Experience

by and on June 25, 2019 5:00 AM

Out on a farm, the newest dining concept coming to Centre County is about ready to start serving, offering a genuine farm-to-table experience.

RE Farm Café, at 1000 Fillmore Road, is under the ownership of Monica and Duke Gastiger, who have been a part of the State College food scene for years, owning former local favorites Spat’s Café and Speakeasy and The Rathskeller.

In 2016 they literally “bought the farm” with the purchase of Windswept Farm, near University Park Airport. Their vision was to provide a dining experience that customers will take to heart, and then home with them.

“We’ve had restaurants downtown and we tried to source responsibly there, but we were looking at retiring, and there were lots of options. But we decided we wanted to do something here because this community is important,” said Monica. “So, we started to think about what we could bring our talents and our passion to. And having a small restaurant on a farm seemed like the ideal solution.”

After getting as much information as they could from the community, they jumped in. At first, they were looking to buy a small space on a working farm, but when that didn’t come through, they figured they would buy a farm and work to see their vision come to life.

“It was never our intention to be farmers. We were just going to buy a little bit of land and connect with the farm, but in the last three years, we have become farmers, quite by accident, but it has been a great thing,” Monica said. “We have incredible people working with us.”

Growers, farmhands and volunteers are all a part of the team, along with a group of talented chefs and cooks.

And after a lot of work, the farm is now up and running and the café is almost set to open. Monica said they tentatively hope to be ready by the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts weekend to start serving dinner at the café.

The holdup is partly caused by their commitment to doing it right. The building, the atmosphere and the food are all put together with the environment in mind, so they have been waiting for a part for their induction cooking space that is made in only two places in the world. There was a delay with a braising pan that is only made in Switzerland.

Induction cooking is being used because of its high efficiency without burning fossil fuels.

“They hope to have it shipped and installed in the kitchen in the next couple weeks … then it will need to be inspected and tested, but they are hopeful that it will be ready to go in time,” said Monica.

They also have been hampered by the weather in building a pond on the property, which will also act as a fire suppressant. She said they need five consecutive days of dry weather in order to have the pond finished, but Mother Nature has been less than cooperative.

The Gastigers said when they say “farm-to-table,” they genuinely mean it. Dinner at the farm will be more than sitting down to a delicious meal, though that will certainly be a part of it. The “culinary theatre” will allow patrons the opportunity to interact with the chefs and may include cooking lessons and information about what and where different local foods are produced and where they are available.

The café is set on the foundation of an old farm house that served as a bed and breakfast for many years. The building is focused on energy efficiency, right down to the direction if faces in order to make the most of solar energy.

The couple did its best to reuse as much of the old building as possible and an old fireplace is still standing in a conference dining area.

Dinner service will include two seatings Wednesday through Saturday and the location plans to have a brunch on Saturdays as well. Dishes will be locally sourced and prepared with food that is available in season. Monica said most of the food will come directly from their farm, but some will be sourced from other farmers in the area.

“The idea is to support surrounding local farms as well because local farms have a hard time making it. Local farmers usually have a second job because they can’t afford to be just a farmer. That’s not right,” Monica said. “Farming is a really hard job. It is a really intense, 24-7 job. So being able to provide a way for local small farms to actually be more viable is part of our mission.”

She said they will also source from local seafood companies that know their sources. They will keep their menu posted with what will be served each day, and what is on the menu is what will be available that day from the harvest.

On the farm there is a chicken coop to supply eggs, along with ducks, lambs and pigs. In the field, in view of the dining tables, farmhands will be tending to a wide variety of vegetables. A wooded area will provide forged food opportunities as well.

Chefs and food preparers will have hands-on experience working with the farm employees directly, knowing where that food comes from as they prepare it for the dinner plate. And the open cooking space will allow for an immersive dining experience, with food prepared out in the open for the customers to observe.

“I don’t think a restaurant should ever be embarrassed about what happens behind the scenes,” said Duke. “So there is no behind-the-scenes here. Everything is open. It also changes the demeanor of the kitchen staff because they know they will be performing in front of people.”

“If you are having dinner right here, you will be able to talk to the chef and be able to ask how they made something,” said Monica.

The couple plans for the restaurant to be “no tip.” She said staff and servers will be paid a living wage as a way to make sure all employees are compensated fairly.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the first seating will be more community- and family-oriented with a little lower price point for a three-course menu. The other seating will include a five-course menu. There is space for weddings and other events and a room for private dining.

RE Farm Café will allow customers to bring their own beer, wine or spirits and has a wine cellar area for customer usage.

RE Farm Café, according to the Gastigers, will strive to be a working lab available to learners of all ages with educational opportunities including cooking classes, and other courses on canning and preserving foods, mushroom production, forest farming, energy sourcing and solar systems.

“There is nothing else around here like this. Revival Kitchen is doing some really great stuff in Reedsville and we just want to see more of this happen, because we think people should have great places to go for dinner, and feel like you are a part of community,” said Monica. “Hopefully, you come out here and you say ‘I feel better because I spent this time outside,’ or ‘I learned about this’ — all of those pieces are important. It’s about what did I put in my body today. I’m paying attention to what is important to me and by doing that I am paying attention to how we support this community.

“Statistics show that communities that support local food have a better overall economy. Not just food, but overall,” she continued. “So, hopefully places like this inspire people to think and go to local farmers markets and try new things.”

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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