A Fresh Take on Dining Al Fresco

Melissa Kossler Dutton

Walking up to the table at the Jorgensen Farms' annual August Girasole dinner is a bit like walking onto a movie set. The linen-covered table, placed between rows of sunflowers in a Westerville farm field, is beautifully set with flowers and candles.

The picturesque setting offers local foodies the chance to enjoy slow food at its finest while showcasing local produce and meat. It also offers Columbus-area residents the chance to savor fresh food in a unique environment.

With a description like that we were hooked, so we booked a date night for ourselves.

MELISSA: The idea of dining in a sunflower field sounded like an opportunity for a romantic dinner that was also a chance to sample some of Central Ohio's finest bounty. As a family that has bought produce from a co-op of local farmers for years, Geoff and I were intrigued by what the farm would serve.

GEOFF: I was reflexively inclined not to like this. My first impression was that there was something almost too cute about it, like a Pottery Barn catalog sprung to life. But the appetizers and mead in the barn set a relaxed and friendly tone. The food - goat cheese spread, roasted sweet peppers, gazpacho and tomato hummus - was cleverly prepared and delicious. We attended with 16 or so people from our informal wine group, and about 80 other people we didn't know.

MELISSA: While sampling the appetizers, we mixed and mingled with the other diners. People were friendly and eager to chat. A violin player contributed to the festive mood. When it was time to head out to the sunflower field, farm owner Val Jorgensen encouraged us to savor the food, the scene and the evening. "Girasole," she explained, means sunflower in Italian.

GEOFF: A Central Ohio landscape doesn't exactly lend itself to grandiose description, but, let's face it - you can't beat the hard blue sky of a late summer or autumn evening in the Buckeye State. Seated amid brilliant sunflowers, on a picturesque and fragrant farm, with a spread of well-prepared seasonal produce it connects you to local, rural charms that are so easy to forget.

MELISSA: The setting was completely amazing. It felt like a spread out of a Martha Stewart magazine. The wait staff served the meal from an antique wagon that doubled as a buffet. They carried dishes in egg baskets and other unique serving pieces.

GEOFF: The food courses ranged from OK (honey cake with ice cream) to excellent (spit-roasted lamb and grilled chicken). We especially liked that we were able to bring our wine to the meal. Using the menu the farm provided us the week before the dinner, a friend selected a few varieties that paired nicely with the food.

MELISSA: The ambiance was somehow just this side of Napa Valley, yet only 25 minutes from Downtown Columbus. These organic planters, who have puttered out of sheer love for years, recognize the special charm of their farm. And they have invented an enchanting way to share it with suburbanites who have an appreciation for locally produced foods. They started hosting monthly dinners in the fields earlier this year, and will continue through inclement weather and even in wintertime by moving the tables into the barn. If "Under the Tuscan Sun" is a bit outside your budget, consider a drive to rural Westerville.


**** Whatever it takes

*** Book a sitter now

** Only if Grandma is available

* Candyland, anyone?

VERDICT: **** (whatever it takes)


Dinner, $40 a person $80

Wine $25

Babysitting fees $60


Jorgensen Farms Third Sunday Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Dinner

5851 E. Walnut St., Westerville


Notes: These dinners sell out earlier and earlier each month, so reserve a spot online as soon as you can. The third Sunday of the month dinners are adults only, and you can also order a box of fresh produce to take home with you. On the first Sundays of the month, the farm hosts a family-friendly event from 1-4 p.m.