Sourcing the freshest, highest quality ingredients is a priority for the chefs who oversee the best kitchens in Southwest Florida. Finding fresh produce is as simple as walking out their side door for the culinary team at Veranda E, the alfresco restaurant at Hotel Escalante, located on the corner of Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South in Naples. “No one else in the area is doing what we are,” says Hotel Escalante owner Mary Brandt.
So, what’s doing there? Brandt is nurturing a vibrant aeroponic garden behind the restaurant. A traditional dirt garden containing root vegetables is also planted. Together, they form a gold mine for Veranda E’s global haute cuisine.
Brandt has always been intrigued with growing foods and can often be found among the towers in her fashionable suits and high heels, inspecting and pruning the plants. She first discovered the vertical plant towers at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT. “Since there is no dirt, the plants are organic, and everything is so much easier to control,” she says.
In addition, the water used in the system is filtered. This ensures an extra layer of protection from unwanted chemicals or contaminants that could affect the sometimes-
These 24-foot towers are home to a treasure trove of greens. At any given time, you’ll find numerous varieties of lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach, watercress, and bok choy in the towers.
The garden also has herbs, peppers, heirloom tomatoes, and snap peas. When the produce is harvested, one-third of each plant remains intact so it can regenerate. It’s quicker than starting over from seeds and adds another layer of sustainability.
Along with sustainability and unparalleled quality control, the garden also makes sound economic sense, especially considering the rapidly rising costs of produce. But perhaps the best part is the taste of the vegetables. None are harvested before they are ready.
“We can clip the greens and have them on a plate in minutes,” Brandt says. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.
The system in fact works so well that she installed an aeroponic garden at The MED, Brandt’s latest restaurant endeavor on Bayshore Drive in Naples. Herbs and edible flowers are also grown here. “The garden is front and center for guests to see,” she says.
While some of the aeroponic towers at Veranda E were damaged and many of the plants were lost during Hurricane Ian, they have rebounded and are overflowing with lush greens for the picking and eating.