The Crossroads will be getting a new kind of neighborhood grocery next spring. Craig Howard, the chef and proprietor of Howard’s, is in the process of rehabbing the building at 1708 Oak Street, for his café and grocery store. [Howard’s launched a Kickstarter campaign last Friday to try and raise funds for some of the infrastructure improvements.]
“I really think I can be a gateway to help introduce the community downtown to this network of sustainable growers,” Howard says.
In June 2012, Howard opened Howard’s Organic Fare and Vegetable Patch in the City Ice Arts building (900 East 21st Street). It was an innovative model – his shoppers paid $60 and were given an access code so they could enter the store at any time. The shop was somewhere between a cooperative and daily farmers market – Howard worked the land in an adjacent hoop house and had coolers stocked with locally grown goods.
“The space over there was based around community, but there wasn’t a lot of activity unless someone was shopping,” Howard says. “I”ll be here [at Oak Street] cooking and this will be an environment that people can enjoy.”
Over the winter, Howard will be building the tables and counters for the space, as well as continuing to cater events. He makes a weekly Friday night meal for the BadSeed Farmers Market downtown.
“The old space was a guy in a plaid shirt,” Howard (clad in a plaid shirt) says, looking around the rectangular brick structure. “I want this to be a little modern and clean looking.”
The grocery will be similar in set-up to Howard’s original location. His goal there was to feature 90 percent local goods – the kind of staples (eggs, cheese, produce, beans, meat and condiments) that you’d need for dinner. On Oak Street, he’ll have more organic produce, as well as grab-and-go-foods. The kitchen in the store will let Howard make and sell his own frozen pizzas, soups, marinated kabobs and burger patties.
“The grocery is the heart of the store,” says Howard. “But the café allows us to be a lot more flexible and use what’s available locally at the time.”
The café will serve lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Howard also intends to start a brunch club – an e-mail list to let people know about intermittent brunch service on Saturdays. The grocery store will be open from 11 a.m. to at least 6 p.m. (it may be later if there’s demand) to the public, while those with a yearlong membership will have 24-hour access.
On the roof of the building, owned by Julia Cole and Leigh Rosser, the plan calls for 22 raised beds that will be watered via drip irrigation taken from a rain collection system. There were also be an edible courtyard between the grocer and the adjacent building at 1712 Oak. The new beds will allow Howard to stop working a pair of plots in the Northland and on the city’s West Side.
“We’ll be doing a ton of salad greens and growing things specifically for the café and grocery,” Howard says.
The café will likely have six to eight things on the menu – a few sandwiches, salads and soups (and perhaps a small plate or two). One item that will be on all the time is the Griddled Burger – an 80/20 ground burger, pressed on a flattop like a diner, and topped with City Bitty pea shoots, pickled, seasonal vegetables, homemade American cheese and a house burger sauce.
The burger is a five-ounce patty seasoned with worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Howard will be baking his own buns in-house. The veggies (right now, for example, it might be something like turnips and carrots) are pickled in a half-vinegar, half-water solution with salt and a little bit of sugar – just enough to provide a bit of acid to the burger. The burger sauce is mayo made with sunflower oil and a dash of mustard. And the cheese (which will likely make an appearance in a grilled cheese) is Howard’s own invention.
“As a kid I really liked American cheese on a burger. But since I stopped eating it, I wanted to find a way to bring it back using good ingredients,” Howard says. “The cheese is made with white cheddar ground up in a Robot-Coupe. I’ve been using gelatin, but I’ll probably make a vegetarian version. I also use organic non-fat milk powder. Then I put the whole thing into a mold and it’s like American cheese.”
In time, Howard would like to offer classes and could see renting out his kitchen as commissary space for other local food producers.
“I’m just looking forward to getting in here before the growing season and building a community,” Howard says.[Images via Howard’s]