By Taylor Bromante
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
As Baltimore’s veggie lovers eagerly anticipate the opening of Stall 11, a vegetarian/vegan eatery, there is one thing they can be even more thrilled about: its produce is grown with its own hydroponic farm.
The farm was conceived by Urban Pastoral, an urban farming development firm based in Baltimore. UP distributes fresh greens to a few locations in the city. Starting the first week of December, locals can taste the same greens at Stall 11, UP’s very first dining concept.
“I think that we’ve built a name for ourselves already by just selling our produce,” said J.J. Reidy, the founder and CEO of Urban Pastoral. “Now we can demonstrate our values through our menu.”
The UP team has been mastering hydroponic farming in its research and development facility for a little over a year. According to the UP team members, this means they are using a soil-less growing method that allows the cultivation of plants using recycled filtered water and organic nutrients. They also don’t use any pesticides or harmful chemicals.
The hydroponic farm facility in which the produce is grown, a 320-square-foot container called “Box UP,” yields the same amount of growth that could be generated with a couple acres of land. The facility grows different lettuces and microgreens in five-week-long phases.
“We want to bring small mid-sized production into the center of the city in an area where our customer base is so close that we don’t have to package and get in our cars to distribute,” Reidy said.
The Box UP is only about three and a half miles from Stall 11.
To promote local sourcing, Stall 11 will also sell and use produce from local farms, including Zahradka Farm, Karma Farm, Moon Valley Farm and Two Boots Farm.
Stall 11 will be opening in R. House, a 50,000-square-foot new style food hall located in the Remington neighborhood of Baltimore. Stall 11 will be feeding its guests alongside nine other food entrepreneurs and one bar, essentially making R. House a new-age food court.
“It’s not just about us,” said Stall 11 Executive Chef Melanie Molinaro. “It’s about everybody and trying to revitalize the food scene in Baltimore to make it a little bit greener.”
Molinaro, previous executive chef at the eccentric and sustainability-minded restaurant Encantada, was introduced to the UP team by a mutual friend. She had thought about opening her own restaurant for some time and decided to join UP in its mission of achieving urban regeneration through good, honest food.
“Mel’s bringing elevated ethnic food and giving that great fine dining experience but in a casual setting and for an affordable price,” Reidy said. “I really just don’t think that exists in this city.”
Molinaro became an executive chef at the early age of 21 and since then has won awards and been recognized for pioneering the vegetarian and vegan food scene in Baltimore. She has made it clear, however, that she wants Stall 11’s menu to appeal to everybody, not just vegetarians and vegans.
“I am such a sucker for colorful vegetables and herbs,” Molinaro said. “I just want vegetarian food to make it. I want to eliminate the stigma and I want people to like it for what it is.”
Molinaro has grown fond of using the hashtag “#noveggieissafe” on social media when promoting Stall 11. She expressed excitement about being able to grow produce in off seasons with the use of the Box UP facility. As winter approaches, Stall 11 will be serving up fresh leafy greens.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone grow lettuce like this before,” Molinaro said. “They have the best lettuce and I’m not just saying that. It lasts three and a half weeks in the fridge before it even starts to brown, which is insane.”
Molinaro and the UP team have said their partnership “just made sense.”
“She brings creativity to the menu and that’s what it’s all about,” said Christian De Paco, Stall 11’s operations manager and architect. “I want someone who’s not necessarily vegetarian or vegan to come for the food and have a chance to experience something and actually like it.”
Stall 11’s concept is a modern twist on global street food, featuring items like mushroom Ragu, Korean barbeque cauliflower, salads, smoothies and juices.
“There’s a negative connotation of vegan and vegetarian food,” De Paco said. “A typical person who tries our food will likely say, ‘I had no idea that vegan food could be so tasteful.’”
Stall 11 will offer retail products like produce from local farms, its own produce, salad dressings and ferments. The eatery has already started catering events, and will be open to curating customized catering menus in the future.
“All the events we’ve been doing have shown that there’s a big unfilled niche for healthy, local, plant based food that’s approachable,” Reidy said. “I hope Stall 11 will be true to having quality dishes and great consumer interaction.”
The UP team emphasized that ingredients on the menu will be sourced responsibly. Urban Pastoral’s tagline, “produce and progress,” resonates with R. House’s purpose in Remington. R. House is geared to revive the neighborhood by bringing in local, small food businesses contrary to a common large corporation.
“There’s a reason why all of these spaces are in lines of sight,” Reidy said. “Everyone brings completely different food concepts. I think of it as an environment where we have a lot of emerging food entrepreneurs and we’re all growing together. Communities are important in anything you do.”
While R. House developers finish up designing and constructing each eatery’s area, Stall 11 will easily be recognized as the vegetarian/vegan eatery in the bunch. There will be a live grow wall on the exterior of Stall 11’s space, flaunting a collection of live plants.
“It’s going to be a great place to showcase new flavors that Baltimore might have not had before,” De Paco said. “It’s all these amazing people in one space, allowing us to bring in new guests. If someone knows Arba (a Mediterranean eatery in R. House) they’ll come for it but also see Stall 11.”
Megan English, a resident in the Baltimore neighborhood of Patterson Park, is one vegetarian who can’t wait for Stall 11 to open its doors.
“I usually can find vegetarian options within the menus of restaurants I go to, but having the whole menu be vegetarian friendly would be awesome,” English said. “I definitely like the idea of supporting local farms as well.”
English, like many other vegans and vegetarians, changed her eating habits to ensure her meals were healthier.
“My ideal meal includes a source of protein, usually eggs or tofu, plenty of colorful veggies, and some type of carbs, like quinoa, bread or pasta,” English said. “I look for places that have bold dishes, I like when the chef isn’t afraid to experiment with flavor.”