Head down the winding gravel driveway that leads to Plants of the Southwest, a native plants nursery located mere miles from downtown Santa Fe on Agua Fría Street. Then walk down the windy dirt path that leads past a fleet of little red wagons and beckoning tables of flowers, succulents, herbs and cactuses. Eventually you’ll find yourself at the rough-hewn wooden doors of The Kitchen, a mini pop-up restaurant owned and operated by local chef Olive Tyrrell. A small whiteboard propped up outside serves as the menu—The Kitchen only offers one prix fixe two-course luncheon that changes daily and runs $15.25. Just 25 diners can be accommodated at a time.
It feels like stumbling onto a precious secret, though the atmosphere inside has the warm feel of popping by a friend’s place for lunch. A rainbow of tomatoes, cucumbers and squash sit in ceramic bowls on the giant cutting block that anchors the open, airy kitchen and dining room. In full view of her tables, Tyrrell, assisted by her second-in-command Lily Martin, formerly of Sweet Lily Bakery and Rancho Gallina, acts as hostess, waitress, busser, food runner and chef. Watching her greet diners, take tables, pour tall glasses of iced tea, pull piping hot stuffed peppers out of the oven and assemble mountains of greens into salads while her hot food cools makes you marvel at what only two hands can accomplish with the earth’s bounty at the doorstep. The food is exclusively vegetarian, and sourced entirely from local farms.
Tyrrell operates The Kitchen seasonally, from April till November, and has done so since 2009. Some of her vegetables come from Leaf, Petal & Pod Farm, the farmers behind Arroyo Vino’s gardens and Izanami. Still more comes by way of Clare Price, who farms the Santa Fe Community Farm further down Agua Fría. Other veggies come from Nina Yozell-Epstein of local company Squash Blossom and Pojoaque’s Ground Stone Farm.
“I love anticipating seasons and what each harvest brings to the table—my late-summer and early-fall produce consists of peppers, chilies, summer squash, eggplant, cucumbers, braising greens, green beans, radishes, tomatoes, leeks, onions, beets, potatoes, peaches, pears and apples,” Tyrrell says enthusiastically.
Besides vegetables, the other ingredients are also locally and regionally sourced. Coffee is from Ohori’s Coffee Roasters, cheeses are from Tucumcari, and bread is either baked in-house or from Sage Bakehouse. Eggs come from Lamy and, for dessert, Tyrrell offers various slices of pie ($5) and Bavarian rum cake ($5) from the woman who ran the now-closed Renata’s German Restaurant in Pecos—a treat that occupies an almost cult-like status in local foodie culture.
Tyrrell has no formal training as a chef. “I grew up watching PBS cooking shows on Saturday mornings. Julia Child was my school,” she muses. “My dad was an artist and vegetarian when I was a teenager and he definitely lit the fire for me with his experimental cooking. No recipes. No plan. He’d buy and grow various things and we’d hang out in the kitchen and experiment. Food has always been an artistic venture for me.”
On the day I arrived, Tyrrell featured roasted peppers stuffed with lentils, basmati rice and Tucumcari feta, doused with Chimayó chile. There was also an eggplant frittata similarly served with feta and chile, and a kale salad topped with heirloom cucumbers, peaches, cilantro, mint and edible flowers. It looked almost like fairy food and tasted equally enchanting. Besides rum cake, there was a peach pie with a satisfyingly fluffy crust topped with vanilla ice cream. Panzanella was next on the week’s menu, a salad of toasted bread, tomatoes and peaches that can only be served in that brief window in the season when both peaches and tomatoes are ripe.
I asked her if she ever wants to create a standardized menu. “I think the concept of little or no choice appeals to people now. I don’t want to see a menu with 70 offerings,” she emphasizes, elaborating that not only is her prix fixe transparently seasonal, but it cuts down on waste and ensures that freshness can be tasted in every bite.
Reservations are not required, but are encouraged. As we spoke, the dining room filled with people. But Tyrrell says it’s taken years to warm public opinion to the concept of a seasonal pop-up.
“I think it’s primarily to do with local farms making and growing really cool shit,” she says with a grin. “Young people are daring enough to farm and they are doing amazing things. I support that wholeheartedly and I think other people do as well.”
The Kitchen at Plants of the Southwest
3095 Agua Fría St., 465-9535
11:30 am-2 pm (or until sell-out) Tuesday-Saturday