Is there any food more delicious in season and yet more detestable out of season than the tomato? Juicy, sweet, tart, firm and bursting for a precious few months during the summer, fresh local tomatoes pretty much have it all. Out of season—well let’s not even speak of that mealy mess.
In honor of this maddeningly short window of tomaticular perfection, here are five ways to get your fix around town.
Caprese salad at Bizou (above)
You can’t go wrong with the age-old combination of tomatoes and mozzarella. But you can go even more right when you combine housemade mozz with local heirloom tomatoes at the height of freshness.
And that’s just what you get with Bizou’s caprese salad special: a bed of baby arugula topped with creamy cheese and slices of heirloom varieties like Mr. Stripeys, fresh basil, oil and a balsamic reduction. “We change it up a few times during the season,” Bizou chef Brett Venditti says. “We might use garlic olive oil, sometimes a basil oil, or do a burrata.”
Gazpacho at Feast!
Feast! starts treating its customers to its summer staple, cold gazpacho soup, as soon as the weather dictates, but chef Megan Kiernan says patience might be advised. “It gets exponentially better as the weather warms up,” she says.
That’s because she’ll move from using hothouse tomatoes to locally grown heirlooms. What won’t change is her clever recipe: She starts with chunks of white bread and soaks them in a purée of peeled and cored tomatoes, then adds a healthy pour of balsamic vinegar—“more than you would expect to use,” Kiernan says—cucumbers, salt, pepper and a bit of red onion.
“The secret is the bread,” Kiernan says. “It gives it the perception of creaminess.”
Fried green tomatoes at Maya
Don’t despair when September rolls around. Just remember these two ways to keep the taste of tomatoes lingering on your palate for months to come. Maya’s Christian Kelly has been rotating preparations of fried green tomatoes since the Main Street restaurant opened nine years ago. You might get the unripe ’maters with pickled red onions and pimento cheese or house-cured bacon and spicy aioli.
Bruschetta at Tavola
Italian food thrives on the tomato all season long thanks to the miracles of preservation. But when the fresh tomatoes start coming into the Tavola kitchen, chef Caleb Warr kicks the canned stuff. The rotating daily bruschetta special is a highlight of the season.
“My favorite one that I have always done is heirloom beans and a couple of super nice, ripe cherry tomatoes,” he says.
To build the base, Warr cooks the beans down, purées them and spreads them on grilled toast. Then comes the red crown: tomatoes seasoned with olive oil and salt and roasted until just charred. The blistered (though not bursting) fruits are then tossed with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper and dotted onto the bean spread. A classic tomato topper.
Bloody Mary bar at South Street Brewery
If the thought of all this chewing is too exhausting, sip your tomatoes. South Street Brewery offers its build your own Bloody Mary bar with more than 60 tomato-based mixes, hot sauces, seasonings and garnishes, every Sunday from 11am to 2pm.
The most tomato-centric meal in town is back after a break in 2015.
Rapture chef Chris Humphrey threw down his first five-course Tomato Dinner in 2011. The idea was simple: Dinners focused on meats, wine and beer are everywhere. Why not highlight the humble tomato?
No date for this summer’s soirée has yet been set, but Humphrey promises that, as in the past, the feast will feature five dishes with tomatoes as the star. Yes, there will be other ingredients, including meat, but they’ll all play second fiddle to the true fruit.
“It’s just a personal obsession, to be honest,” Humphrey says. “My wife and I both live on tomato sandwiches in the summer.”
Humphrey promises he’ll use as many techniques as possible to pull off the dinner. In the past, that’s meant tomato cocktails, powdered tomatoes, tomato ice cream and tomato donuts (#tomatonuts).—S.G.