Sunday, August 24, 2003

Campbell's scoop


J's serves tomatoes as fresh as fresh gets

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Where to eat tomatoes:

Even in August, at the peak of fresh tomato season, many restaurants serve those hard, pale-red tomato-like vegetables in salads and BLTs. But at J's Fresh Seafood in Hyde Park, they have a direct line to the real thing and are using them whenever they can.

Dan Fogarty has been a server at J's for four or five years, and is a graduate student in botany. He lives on the property of Wooden Shoe Gardens in Winton Place and grows organic tomatoes, which he brings to work with him. These are beautiful heirloom tomatoes of several varieties, and they're never refrigerated.

"Dan even covers them up to protect them from the air-conditioning," says Jimmy Gherardi, J's owner.

In February, the two picked out seeds back of about 10 varieties of tomatoes, which are ripening now. With a cold spring and lots of rain, tomatoes ripened late but quickly.

The varieties range from big red Brandywines, often described as the finest-tasting tomato, to meaty, almost solid Reif Red Hearts and beautiful Striped German, a yellow tomato with streaks of red, giving it a tie-dyed look. There also will be, as they ripen, Debarao, Red Grape, Rose and Valencia.

You can have a tomato salad with a variety of tomato types, sometimes served with miner's lettuce, or purslane. You can even order the simplest showcase for tomatoes: a sandwich of white bread, mayo, lettuce and several fat slices of tomato. That's what I had for a recent lunch. I was tempted to turn it into a BLT, but even without the bacon, it made a satisfying, flavorful summer meal when served with crispy homemade potato chips.

Chef Gherardi and his new partner chefs, John Moore and Scot Heckner, also have created tomato and filet carpaccio, wild mushroom ravioli with tomato nectar, whole trout wrapped in Swiss chard with raw tomato sauce and fedelini pasta with shrimp and tomatoes.

Whatever they're making will be on the day's special list.

J's is at 2444 Madison Road. Reservations: 871-2888.

E-mail pcampbell@enquirer.com




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