When the first forkful of The Uprooted Kitchen’s savory buckwheat crepe enters your mouth, you’ll taste a lot of things: the ever-changing flavors of chef Erin Romanoff’s imagination, the local produce picked that morning from the farm outside the window and the history - and future - of Gilbert, Ariz.
A hundred years ago, Gilbert, Ariz. was the hay shipping capital of the world. Its fields were filled with crops like sugar beets, alfalfa and cotton. As the area grew and agricultural land was increasingly sold off for commercial use, members of the Johnston family, whose 400-acre farm is now the Agritopia neighborhood, were desperate to hold on to the roots that connected them to the land. Joe Johnston, an engineer by trade, dreamed up the Agritopia neighborhood, the first so-called “agrihood” in the country. The community that emerged from Johnston’s imagination surrounds an 11-acre certified organic farm. With a de-emphasis on vehicular traffic, residents and visitors walk to farm-to-table restaurants, a coffee shop, winery, brewery and independent artisan shops, all located on-site in a collective marketplace called Barnone. One of the restaurants is even housed in the Johnston’s family former home.
The 11-acre farm is the heart of the community. More than 60 varieties of crops are organically grown there each year such as blackberries, peaches, citrus, Medjool dates and market vegetables. It’s hyper-local, with all produce sold within five miles of its grounds to Gilbert’s vibrant restaurant scene, including The Uprooted Kitchen.
“It’s this oasis in the desert,” says The Farm’s director Katie Critchley. “It pays homage to the area’s agricultural history in a time where so much of our green spaces has been swallowed up by development. It’s a breath of fresh air.”
Critchley, like so many of the neighborhood’s makers, lives in Agritopia.
The Farm’s fields sit right outside of The Uprooted Kitchen’s windows. The plant-based restaurant, which started as a food truck, is about as hyper-local as you can get. Owners Erin and Chad Romanoff were always interested in whole, organic and locally grown foods, but they were having a hard time finding those things in Gilbert. So, seven years ago they opened their own food truck. The response in the community was overwhelming, leading them to expand to their brick-and-mortar location in Agritopia in 2016. That same year, they moved to the neighborhood with their sons. They can see their house from the restaurant.
Most of their produce is sourced from The Farm. Their menu reflects the locality and seasonality of their ingredients, with five items on the menu rotating each week. For instance, some weeks the buckwheat crepes have a Southwestern flair. Some weeks, the flavors are more Mediterranean, with sweet potato hummus and quinoa tabbouleh. You’ll find plant-based dishes like house-made granola paired with house-made coconut yogurt and the rotating plant-burger, with variations like an oregano white-bean patty topped with kale-walnut pesto and tomato sauce on the menu. In every bite, you’ll feel Gilbert’s connection to the land and its agricultural roots, and the ways in which the community is committed to the future.
“Owning this restaurant, in this community, is like a dream,” shares Erin Romanoff. “We get to share our love for things that come from the earth with a city full of people who love to eat.”
In the past decade, Gilbert has grown into a foodie’s paradise. Besides Agritopia, Gilbert’s downtown Heritage District has exploded with new and inventive restaurant concepts, such as the Route 66 themed Topo Arizona and The White Rabbit speakeasy. The city’s beautiful location and down-to-earth vibe has drawn in chefs and makers from every walk of life. The future of Gilbert will certainly be delicious, but it will also remain tied to the town’s roots.
Agritopia isn’t the only oasis in Gilbert. Head to the Riparian Preserve for a major dose of green.
“It’s unlike anything else,” says Gilbert Tourism Administrator, Glenn Schlottman.
On the 4.5 miles of shaded trails, you’ll see some of the preserve’s nearly 300 species of birds as well as a plethora of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The flat trails are perfect for a stroll for the whole family. Or, rent a cruiser bike at Bike Masters in the Heritage District where parking is plentiful and ride the beautiful Western Powerline Trail the three miles to the preserve.
It might not be an oasis, but Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Mountains just 30 minutes from Gilbert is a great place to take in the views. Hike the scenic, 4-mile round trip Siphon Draw Trail. If you’re a strong hiker, you can add on 1.8 miles with a hike to the top of the Flatiron for incredible views. Be sure to start early as the desert sun gets hot midday.
For more information:
90 E Civic Center Drive, Gilbert, AZ 85296
Find The Uprooted Kitchen at 3000 E Ray Rd, Building 6.