The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

Adventure to Pittsboro! Discovering Angelina’s Kitchen
January 11, 2010, 5:43 pm
Filed under: Food, Sustainable Agriculture, Travels | Tags: , ,
Angelina's Kitchen, a Greek restaurant in downtown Pittsboro

Angelina's Kitchen in downtown Pittsboro

With temperatures dipping below freezing for several days in a row, it certainly felt like winter had settled in quickly. I parked on the main street of downtown Pittsboro and braved the cold as I found my way towards Angelina’s Kitchen, a Greek restaurant that recently opened this past March. (As part of The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project, I was interviewing the owner, Angelina herself.) After a turn onto Rectory Street, a cheerful handmade sign greeted me – “Angelina’s Kitchen – Local Food with a Twist.” I had heard great things about the food and perhaps even better things about the owner for some time now; a visit felt long overdue.

I had first read about the new restaurant on Sustainable Grub, a blog written by Dee Reid, a local gastronome and food enthusiast. Dee raved about Angelina and her commitment to local farmers, calling her a “one woman economic development machine” whose Greek-inspired menu revolves around fresh meats and vegetables raised and grown right in Pittsboro’s backyard. A month after reading the blog entry, Gillings’ project manager, Robin Crowder, and I began compiling a guide listing caterers that focus their endeavors on using local ingredients. I emailed Angelina to see if she wanted to be part of the guide; it required signing a pledge to “buy local when possible.” Compared to some businesses’ skeptic responses, Angelina wrote back enthusiastically. It was clear she went above and beyond the “when possible” requirement. She wrote, “Our relationships with our farmers last all twelve months, many of them happy to sell to us especially when the farmers markets are not up and running (in Pittsboro).” Her website is a clear indication of her strong commitment to farmers as well, with a long list of the local farms they purchase from and a daily message in which she’ll call out to farmers for needed ingredients. (I chuckled at a recent message – “This weather is killing our outdoor greens…I am putting a call out for collards, even if they are frozen – just chop it off at the root and bring it to us.”) Now, a few months after exchanging emails with her, Angelina’s name surfaced again. I recently began contacting people in Chatham County to interview about the intersection of their local food system and the county’s economic development, as part of aim one for this project. On three separate occasions, I was told I should talk to Angelina. One person emailed me, “Angelina is one of the greatest promoters Chatham farmers have (not to mention her food is out of this world delicious)!” Angelina was not only eager to participate in the interview but arranged for several key people to join us (including a person that is a local celebrity to many, myself included, Agriculture Extension Agent, Debbie Roos).

On this extra cold, but sunny day, I walked into the cozy Pittsboro shop and introduced myself to a smiling woman behind the register, who I could only guess was Angelina. She came out from behind the counter, gave me a warm hug, and quickly told me to order anything I wanted, which, she told me, “was on the house.” She named the farmers behind her dishes as if she was naming the ingredients themselves. When asked what she would recommend, she pointed to the specials board with several names of dishes scrawled in marker, all of them made with local ingredients. There was a Greek chicken soup, spinach rice, a vegan potato soup, Smith Angus Farm beef ribs with a tomato bar-b-que sauce, braised cabbage and a green chili beef stew she specifically pointed out, made with spicy peppers grown by Doug Jones of Piedmont Biofarms and beef from nearby Murray Cohen’s farm. All of these specials were in addition to her regular menu of other Greek offerings. After taking her suggestion and ordering the chili, she led me into her small side office which also serves as the restaurant’s pantry. I was struck by the small amount of non-perishable items it held, a few mason jars of canned fruit, some spices and cans of dried beans. The emptiness of the pantry shelves reflected the menu; most all of the ingredients Angelina uses are fresh, arriving daily to be used within hours, even in January.

A delicious gyro - a staple at the restaurant

A delicious gyro - a staple at the restaurant

As Angelina ushered in Debbie Roos and others known for their involvement in the local food system–Neha Shah, Director of Travel and Tourism for Chatham County and Tami Schwerin, Executive Director of The Abundance Foundation– talk turned to Chatham’s farmers. “I love our farmers! I’m going to go out around town with a wooden spoon and bang on other restaurants to get them to buy from them more.” Angelina said, with a laugh I can only describe as a sort of cross between a hearty chuckle and a girly giggle. Our interview, amidst delicious plates of chili, falafels, scalloped dikons and sweet potatoes and crispy baklava made with local honey, was full of stories, lessons learned, enthusiasm and hope for the future. I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with all that the group told me was happening within their local food system. To name a few things they mentioned: an increase in farmers (one of the only places in the nation with such a statistic); a prevalence of community gardens; and a multitude of events focused around local foods. Farmers, mostly young and looking happy to be out of the cold, intermittently interrupted to drop off boxes of their produce. As Angelina wrote out a check to one, chatting with him about the recent cold snap that had frozen much of the greens in the ground, I thought of what Debbie Roos had told me earlier in the interview about Angelina’s support of farmers – “If all our businesses were like Angelina’s, oh my gosh!…She’s going to be a great role model for other local businesses in the future.”

It was quite an afternoon — I left Angelina’s with a full stomach, some new friends and over an hour of tape recording from the meeting to transcribe. I knew I’d be back soon – you don’t need another reason to come to Pittsboro, the food at Angelina’s is reason enough, but there are still many more people to interview about how Chatham’s local food system has affected the county’s economic development. A big thank you to some of the biggest forces behind the local food scene: Angelina Koulizakis, Neha Shah, Debbie Roos and Tami Schwerin.

Crispy, handmade baklava

Crispy, handmade baklava

1 Comment so far
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I’m so glad you had a chance to meet Angelina. Our local real-food revolution is really evolving thanks to the unique network of farmers, chefs, entrepreneurs and activists in our area.
Congratulations on the nice coverage of your project in the Carolina Alumni Review!

Comment by sustainablegrub

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