What Fed Hill restaurateur is growing tomatoes on his roof? Baltimore magazine summer intern Elizabeth Laseter gives us the scoop. Here’s what she has to say:
Alan Morstein, pictured, owner of Regi’s American Bistro, is taking the ever so popular “farm to table” trend to the next level. Trek to the top of the colonial row-house-style restaurant and you will find an unusual sight—a carefully cultivated rooftop garden of heirloom tomatoes.
In nearly a month, the heirlooms will be full-grown (nearly 10 feet tall) and ready to make an appearance on the menu. Expect to see items such as homemade gazpacho, fried green tomatoes, tomato pie, and BLT sandwiches.
“Heirloom tomatoes are unique and special,” says Morstein. “It’s much less expensive to grow your own, rather than buy them from a farmers’ market.”
Compared to a conventional tomato, the heirloom has a more rounded oval shape, and comes in a greater variety of colors. Morstein describes the taste of an heirloom as “rich, sweet, and flavorful with low acidity.”
He grows an array of heirlooms, including Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Mr. Stripey, Yellow Boy, and Beefsteak. Each variety has its own distinctive shape, color, and flavor.
Morstein’s interest in local produce and foods ignited nearly four years ago when he began to frequent local farmers’ markets, including Waverly Farmers’ Market, Towson Farmers’ Market, Bel Air Farmers’ Market, and others. He obtains the freshest produce and meats for his restaurant, making weekly reports on his findings as well, he says.
“How can you not give your customers ‘the real deal’?” Morstein remarks. “If I can provide my guests with better quality food, then I am going to do that.”
He purchased heirloom tomato seeds from Knopps Greenhouse of Severn at the Waverly Market in April. Morstein first raised the plants under grow lights on the second floor of his restaurant, eventually repotting the plants on the roof to catch the sunlight. Morstein also installed tinsel foil strips around the plants to repel birds, squirrels, and other pests.
Growing heirlooms takes extra time and care. “My wife now calls me ‘Farmer Al,’” jokes Morstein.