The Ecology Center is known for its open farmland, organic food offerings, and Friday night outdoor dinners in which chefs prepare fresh multi-course meals using ingredients right off the farm.
The San Juan Capistrano-based site has now expanded its sense of community outreach and agricultural awareness with a new restaurant called Campesino Café.
The eatery has a vegetarian menu and opened June 21 in time for the summer solstice. Campesino Café is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and serves breakfast Wednesday through Sunday. The restaurant also serves lunch.
Jonathan Zaidman, The Ecology Center’s director of impact and partnerships, said they aim for the food to be “super-local” and “tastefully oriented” for community members. Though the food is literally farm-sourced, Zaidman said they do intend for the cuisine to have an “elevated” touch—a popular dining concept and one helped along by The Ecology Center’s Tim Byres.
Byres spent six months on The Ecology Center’s farm as resident-chef leading the Hearth dinner series in 2021.
The menu will change seasonally. No matter if it’s summer or winter, though, customers can expect the usual café offerings of coffee, tea, and juices—the latter being handmade.
Zaidman said reception has been good so far for the restaurant.
“We’ve been so fortunate to have anything we host to be very well-received,” he said. “We couldn’t be more excited.”
One of the ideas behind Campesino Café is so families can enjoy The Ecology Center’s offerings every day. The Friday night dinners are already a popular event with families, often selling out.
The atmosphere at Campesino Café is intended to be casual and relaxed. The name comes from a Latin American term meaning “of the land” and translates to “farmer.”
The new restaurant also gives The Ecology Center an additional avenue to discuss and promote its work, which revolves around locally sourced and sustainable food, bringing people together, and giving patrons a chance to directly know where their food comes from.
“A lot of restaurants say that they are farm-to-table, but our regenerative, organic farm takes things one step further and brings the table to the farm,” The Ecology Center Founder and Executive Director Evan Marks said. “It’s a completely unique experience to offer our guests the opportunity to consume ingredients sourced within walking distance of where they’re sitting. This is another way we’re connecting our community back to the land.”
Campesino Café is also intended to reflect and honor the area’s Mesoamerican history and culture. One example of this is the corn grown on The Ecology Center and which will be featured in menu offerings.
The restaurant will also have multiple fruit ingredients, including berries that will be used in a goat milk parfait.
“We’ve built on our culinary offerings by creating a beautiful on-site restaurant that will make regenerative cuisine more accessible to our community,” Marks said. “The menu changes every day, because the planet is constantly evolving and growing.”
Zaidman describes the current state of Campesino Café as Phase 1, with more to come. A second phase of expansion will see the restaurant incorporate cooking with live fire, pizza, and hot food.
The Ecology Center will bring back its Peace Pizza offerings once that part comes to life, Zaidman said. Such development is expected to happen in the next couple of months.
“The café will continue to evolve with new offerings,” Zaidman said.