From Farm to Feast

Chef Allen Susser’s Farm-to-Table Culinary Event at Books & Books is a Chance to Celebrate Local Produce, Good Conversation and the Joys of Being Civilized

By Doreen Hemlock

September 2019

The meal felt like Thanksgiving, full of harvest foods and camaraderie. We were sitting at a long, communal table in the largest, wood-floored room of Books & Books, the summer too hot to let us dine outside in the courtyard. On the white tablecloth were simple decorations of fruits and vegetables: mangos, corn, cabbages and eggplants, among them.

Chef Allen Susser, the James Beard award winner and acclaimed author, welcomed us to the dinner he said aims to “build community.” We were an eclectic group: some local residents, some recent college graduates, some empty nesters, some Latinos, some Anglos, all excited to try a unique plant-based meal, this one paired with beers from Concrete Beach Brewery of Wynwood. Much of the produce was local, grown in Homestead and elsewhere in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, Susser explained.

Chef Allen began weekly farm-to-table dinners some four years ago at Books & Books’ downtown Miami locale, elevating the farmers market Mondays at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. He launched them at the Coral Gables bookshop in 2016, offering meals usually once or twice a month, often with more experimental fare. This year’s Gables lineup even includes a dinner featuring CBD, the cannabis oil known for reducing pain and anxiety, said Jonah Kaplan (the brother of B&B owner Mitch Kaplan), who runs the food side of the family business. Jonah had been prescribed CBD after a serious foot fracture and finds the oil helps him.

The culinary event usually takes place in the spacious courtyard at Books & Books. When the weather is not cooperating, it is moved inside to the main room of the bookstore

Our Tuesday night summer BBQ began with an unexpected rosé/beer, made with hibiscus flowers for color and zinfandel grapes for a fruity flavor. Our first course was comfort food: soft tacos filled with creamy avocado, roasted corn and speckled eggplant “caviar,” all topped with grated cheddar and piquant arugula. We served ourselves from big platters and quickly began chatting with dinner mates about travel, food and summer activities.

By the time the IPA beer was poured – with warnings about its 6.8 percent alcohol content – some of us were already sharing Facebook and email addresses. Next came individual plates in a kaleidoscope of colors: fat chunks of roasted butternut squash, zucchini, watermelon and feta cheese, plus round halves of small heirloom tomatoes, ringed by bright green pesto sauce. On platters as a side dish were roasted fingerling potatoes, with white-bean dip. The strong beer made me hungry, and I ate nearly all the hearty portions.

Still, we all found room for dessert: sunny passionfruit pie, next to fresh mango slices and salted caramel, vanilla ice cream, paired with molasses-rich Havana Lager beer. Chef Susser graciously answered questions, telling us about his forthcoming book on sustainable seafood and its recipes for the invasive lionfish. We left happy, curious to try farm-to-table meals in the courtyard once summer passes.

Books & Books
265 Aragon Ave.
Tickets for Chef Allen’s Farm-to-Table dinners at
. Usually $41.93 for five courses or $66.04 for the meal paired with unlimited wine, including gratuities. Walk-ups allowed when not sold out. Some meals feature visiting food writers and cookbook authors.