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Eat Near: The Loft 5's Table to Farm dinners

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Table to Farm copy

The farm tour at one of The Loft 5's Table to Farm dinners / KATHRYN BRASS PHOTOGRAPHY, COURTESY A.J. LATTERI-CASTER

Farm to table. OK, that makes sense. You take the food from the farm and serve it on tables set up nearby. But Table to Farm? That's what Antonia "A.J." Latteri-Caster and her Anna Maria-based event company The Loft 5 call their outdoor dinners at Bradenton's King Family Farm. It makes sense, I guess: "We literally bring the tables into the rows of peaches," Latteri-Caster says.

She started the series of dinners two years ago, inspired by similar "dinner in the woods" events she had participated in at Colorado's Copper Mountain Ski Resort. A mutual friend introduced her to Shelby King, and voilà, a new partnership was born. But it was difficult to generate buzz. People didn't know what they were in for, Latteri-Caster says. That first year, "we'd beg our friends and make our family come."

While building a consistent audience of diners has proven to be a challenge, Latteri-Caster says interest has grown. Last June, the company had 125 diners; in March, as part of Eat Local Week, the farm welcomed 95 guests. Typical attendance runs much lower, between 20 and 40, Latteri-Caster says.

Held mostly on Wednesday nights (but not every Wednesday night) during the height of the Florida growing season, from October to early June, the events start off with a welcoming cocktail, usually something that features herbs or juice or fruit or honey from the King farm. The food portion begins with a small starter, such as lemon and blueberry waffles, then diners take a tour of the sumptuous King property.

For the actual meal itself, some items are staples. Latteri-Caster and her team offer crudités from the farm on the table, pairing, say, fresh-from-the-soil radishes with anchovy butter and the like. The actual dinner menu isn't usually completed and posted online till the night before the event; each week highlights what's in season at King at that precise moment. Some dishes even feature local protein, like tilapia farmed on-site by Ben King and his sons. The Loft 5 sets up grills and burners outside and cooks the dishes (usually seven courses total) fresh to order.

Being in the event business, Latteri-Caster is careful to make sure everything looks fabulous, too — easy enough in the romantic setting of the King lot. "There's a lot that goes into it," Latteri-Caster says. "The tablescape and the thought process — we want everything to look pretty."

Since the farm dinners started, she's also begun organizing events like weddings and anniversary parties on the property. While it's been tough to build consistent excitement around the Table to Farm dinners, each year gets a little stronger. She's committed to the series, and calls herself and Shelby King "bricklayers," leaders in the local food event business: "We're paving the way."

Upcoming dates for The Loft 5's Table to Farm dinners are: Dec. 4, 14 and 18. Each event begins at 5:30 p.m. Reservations are required, and cost $65 for one or $120 for two. Call 779-9801 or visit theloft5.blogspot.com for more information. King Family Farm is located at 4630 60th. St. E., Bradenton.

This is the 36th entry in Eat Near, a regular column dedicated to all the lovely food that folks on the Suncoast grow, raise, kill or craft. If you have an idea for someone/thing to feature, email me at eatnearsrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.

Last modified: December 2, 2013
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