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Grab a bite at one of America’s greenest restaurants By Alison Goldman for USA TODAY

top by Nashville’s Tayst for a short rib braised in Gewürztraminer and topped with foie gras. Cups in La Jolla, Calif. bakes a Brulée-J, a vanilla cupcake stuffed with sweet custard and bejeweled with caramelized sugar. In Chicago, head to Uncommon Ground for the huevos dish, made with black bean cake, eggs over easy, smoked chile sauce, and chihuahua cheese; it’s the kind of hearty breakfast that will energize you for the whole day. Many ingredients are made locally, so you never know what will appear on tomorrow’s menu. But whatever you do, don’t dare ask for a Styrofoam takeout container. These restaurants are all three-star certified by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), and they take sustainability to an entirely different level. So sit back and sample a tasting menu of America’s greenest restaurants.



Courtesy of Cups


The Green Restaurant Association grants restaurants green certifications based on a points system. Restaurants earn points in the categories of energy, water, waste, disposables, chemical and pollution reduction, sustainability of food, and sustainability of building and furnishing materials. The total determines how many stars the eatery receives, anywhere from two to four, though no restaurant has yet earned four. Visit the Green Restaurant Association at to see if there’s a green-certified restaurant in your area.


In this San Diego area hotspot, fresh, allnatural strawberry milk is on tap. Lavender, lemongrass, and edible mini orchids bloom on the patio. Weekend DJs mix beats in a swanky, kid-friendly lounge, complete with a backlit glass wall made from recycled milk bottles and posted fun-fact cards that detail Cups’ green efforts. But the main attraction at Cups is the cupcakes. Bakers churn out organic treats like the Vanilla Vixen, dairy-free PB Cup, gluten-free Bunny Love, and vegan Cookies n’ Cream, just to name a few. Cups, which opened in 2009, brings to mind a swankier, eco-conscious Candyland come to life. At this cupcakery/lounge/teaching kitchen, cupcakes are a sweet vehicle for an even sweeter goal. “It was important to me to do something that was sustainable and green, and that could not only have a good product, but might also teach people a little about sustainability in the process,” says owner Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach. “And what better way than cupcakes?”






Heirloom tomatoes, fennel, beets, and spinach. Rosemary, mint, lavender, and basil. Uncommon Ground flavors its breakfast, lunch, and dinner options with fresh garden ingredients—straight from the restaurant’s own certified organic rooftop farm. “We feel that, as a restaurant, it’s very important for us to participate in [a food sourcing] dialogue and teach people about the importance of a good food chain,” says Helen Cameron, who co-owns Uncommon Ground’s two locations in the Wrigleyville and Edgewater neighborhoods of Chicago with her husband. They opened the Wrigleyville location in 1991 and decided to expand to a second spot in 2007. The roof is about as close to home as a restaurant can get in terms of carbon footprint. Uncommon Ground aims to infuse a close-to-home vibe into every aspect of the two locations. Cameron lights fireplaces in the winter, hangs local artists’ work on exposed brick walls, and features live music every night of the week. The farm is only one of the restaurant’s green initiatives. Solar panels produce approximately 10 percent of the Devon Avenue eatery’s energy, and high-speed, energy-efficient hand-washers slashed paper towel usage. The goal at Uncommon Ground, Cameron explains, is to cultivate some green in every corner.



The Grey Plume, which opened in December 2010, bills itself as contemporary cuisine and fine dining, but “the underlying theme is knowing where our food comes from,” says Clayton Chapman, co-owner, chef, and semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s award for rising star chef of the year. “So whether that’s proteins, meat, and fish, whether that’s our dairy or our vegetables or our grains, we know the farms that we’re working with.” That farm-to-table approach means menu items swap daily. Among the offerings are truffled potato soup, parsnip ravioli, and Nebraska bison. The restaurant is Omaha’s first to gain GRA three-star Sustainabuild status. That means it is eco-friendly from the ground up, from the reclaimed farm wood on the floor to the recycled steel framing, dry wall, and kitchen ceiling panels. But that’s not all: According to the GRA, The Grey Plume is also the greenest restaurant in America. How does it feel to garner that sort of recognition? “Our general manager puts it best,” says Chapman. “He says that we are like the Prius, so we’re the greenest restaurant or the greenest car on the market, but we still do run on gasoline. And we’re very happy to be where we are, but every day is a work in progress. And when we can, and in areas that we can, we will do more.”


GustOrganics takes the word “organic” seriously: “Yes, we are 100 percent organic!” declares a sign above the bar. “Changing the world one meal at a time” boasts the website. And the restaurant has a lot to be proud of: Not only is it three-star green-certified—it’s the first and only certified organic restaurant in New York. That includes absolutely everything at this Latin-inspired spot, from the empanadas to the margaritas. (The bar is the first USDA-certified organic bar in the world.) Owner Alberto Gonzalez is an Argentinian who often traveled to New York. “I used to have a very hard time finding wholesome, fresh, good quality food at the price that I was able to afford,” says Gonzalez. “And that struck me as an opportunity.” He moved to New York City with a mission in 2006 and opened the restaurant in 2008. GustOrganics even takes water a step above the norm. The staff runs tap water through a UV lamp to kill bacteria, then through a purification system to remove metals and toxins while maintaining healthy minerals. Customers can drink it for free upon request, and GustOrganics uses it to cook all of the food. Despite the added costs of running an entirely organic restaurant, Gonzalez is adamant about keeping the food affordable, even if that translates to a smaller profit margin. “Part of our mission and vision is really to bring organics and sustainability to the mainstream,” he says. “We don’t pass along the higher cost on the things that we use to the customers.”

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It is pretty commonly accepted that what’s good for the environment—green home supplies, organic food—is not always so nice on your wallet. But Teri Van Goethem, who opened DC Bread & Brew in 2009, says anyone can go green. “I think [Bread & Brew is] a very good example that you don’t have to have a lot of money to have lots of green initiatives,” says the owner. “I opened this on the smallest shoestring you can imagine.” Van Goethem was looking for a catering business storefront when she happened upon what was to become Bread & Brew. She painted some of the walls with non-VOC light yellow paint, but she coated the entire place with green practices. It’s a three-in-one shop: The café, which occupies the main floor, puts the spotlight on local and natural ingredients. Vegetables and meats are

roasted in-house, and the kitchen makes the soup stock from scratch and flavors it with the local fixings available that week. At the bar downstairs, drinks are served on a recovered wooden bar sealed with an eco-friendly varnish. And Bread & Brew catering has seen a flurry of business Van Goethem attributes to the compostable catering trays and cutlery. The restaurant’s napkins are even made from recycled water bottles. “People are amazed when I tell them what they’re made out of!” Van Goethem says. Greening the business was never a decision for Van Goethem; it was an inevitability. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” she says. “All restaurants will be this way and soon—sooner than I anticipated. It’s a very good thing. Just a few years ago, being green just meant sorting out your trash.”

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The Meatless Monday menu at Bread & Brew is completely vegan. Pictured: homemade roll, chickpea patty with Old Bay seasoning; fries with garlic oil, salt, dried oregano.

FROM TOP: Bread & Brew’s house-made daily soup stock; the café’s recyclable dinnerware; a compostable take-away container; the recovered wooden bar with an eco-friendly varnish.


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> Tayst chef-owner

Jeremy Barlow

He ran with it. $8 faucet aerators save about 15,000 gallons of water per month; Barlow practices “nose-to-tail” cooking so animals are not wasted; even the restaurant’s art is eco-conscious—Tayst’s sous chef fashioned a sculpture out of scrapyard metal and wood from an

abandoned house. “I think one of the things that makes us unique is that we don’t have deep pockets,” says Barlow. “We’re a little neighborhood joint that’s open five nights a week, and the majority of changes we’ve made, we’ve done without dropping a lot of money.”

Courtesy of Tayst Restaurant

Jeremy Barlow, Tayst’s chef and owner, likes to play with his food. He is constantly reinterpreting classic dishes, like his polenta and duck confit incarnation of Frito pie, or his amped up movie theater snacks. “We’re basically a neighborhood joint with fancy food,” Barlow says of the restaurant. But there is one thing he is definitely serious about: sustainability. Locally-sourced food has been a priority since he opened Tayst in 2004. Ultimately, though, Barlow decided that the Nashville favorite needed to do more. “As a chef of a restaurant, I looked up and said, ‘Why are we just looking at the food aspect? We need to take this all the way to the front door,’” says Barlow. “So we started looking at all of our operations to say, ‘What can we tweak? What can we make better?’ ”

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Green Restaurants  

Profile of 5 Certified Green Restaurants®

Green Restaurants  

Profile of 5 Certified Green Restaurants®