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. The Farm is hyper-local with all of its produce sold within a five-mile radius of its grounds. Much of its bounty goes to the restaurants on-site, such as The Uprooted Kitchen, as well as the vibrant restaurant seen in downtown Gilbert.
“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 last 10 years, Gilbert has grown into a foodie’s paradise. Besides Agritopia, Gilbert’s Heritage District, located downtown, has exploded with new and inventive restaurant concepts, such as such as the Route 66 themed Topo Arizona and The White Rabbit speakeasy. It’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 was also remain tied to the town’s roots.
Food isn’t the only way to tune into Gilbert’s ties to the land when you visit. Sign up for a goat yoga class with Arizona Goat Yoga to get to know some of the quirkier local residents as you practice. Get up-close with Gilbert’s natural beauty at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. Here, you can hike through a wetland and wildlife sanctuary and fish. Children can learn about the area’s ecosystem through educational activities.
Find The Uprooted Kitchen at 3000 E Ray Rd, Building 6.
For more information:
90 E Civic Center Drive, Gilbert, AZ 85296