Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant

5670 Atlanta Highway, Alpharetta. 770-475-9100

Chefs and their customers are putting a huge emphasis on organic and locally grown ingredients these days. While many area pros turn to suppliers close to home, others such as Maria and Antonio Fundora of Casa Nuova in Alpharetta have taken another route: They're producing many of the ingredients for their dishes in their own garden.

It's not quite accurate to call the Fundoras' cultivated acreage a garden. The couple estimate that they have between 6 and 9 acres of planted rows behind their house, two short blocks from the restaurant just north of McFarland Road. The garden is just a portion of the 22 acres they have owned for almost 30 years.

Along the back of the expanse are raspberry, blueberry and blackberry bushes. In the main rows, string bean vines climb poles. Corn, cucumbers, eggplants, zucchini, onions, pumpkins, calabaza melons, watermelons, okra and potatoes are also mixed in. There are green, gold, red and jalapeño pepper plants. Three years ago, the Fundoras planted fruit trees that are just starting to sprout apples, pears and peaches.

As befits an Italian eatery, there are several rows of tomato plants, in various stages of growth, producing Roma, cherry and beefsteak varieties. Last year, Antonio Fundora harvested almost 600 pounds of tomatoes, most of which found their way into a sauce or dish at the restaurant.

"We use a lot of tomatoes," said Maria Fundora with a laugh. "They go into the marinara sauce and the tomato bisque. What we don't use, we can or freeze. We have enough to keep us in sun-dried tomatoes for the whole year."

The couple also keep a kitchen garden in the small plots around the restaurant's entrance. Basil, rosemary, mint and Italian parsley create a fragrant welcome for guests who later find those herbs on their plates.

"What's picked today shows up on the table today," said chef Antonio, a native of Cuba whose résumé includes restaurants around the metro area, New York and Florida.

Cucumbers show up in salads; zucchini and eggplant are layered into vegetarian lasagnas with cheese and tomato sauce. A side dish may be a simple assortment of sautéed veggies. Corn goes into chowder. Roma tomatoes are sliced, salted and put in the oven to dry overnight. There are enough ripening ingredients to keep the menu fresh through October at least, Maria Fundora said. And if there's an abundance left over, diners are apt to go home with gift bags of goodies.

The entire plot is fertilized from a nearby horse manure pile and watered from the family well. Antonio Fundora is installing a system to catch rainwater in enormous tanks that will keep the soil moist.

Having their own source of organic ingredients draws a loyal following, said Maria Fundora. "People know we're not buying from a large supplier. It's fresh; it tastes better. And that has a huge impact on the food we serve."



Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.
Reservations: Call ahead
Credit cards: Yes
Web site: www.casanuovarestaurant.net

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