What's Fresh at: Deagan's Kitchen & Bar

Ohio sweet corn

Deagan's Kitchen & Bar in Lakewood is known for its abundance of creative vegan dishes as much as for its lengthy craft beer, scotch and whiskey options. It's natural, then, that executive chef Ryan Kaston is committed to using fresh, seasonal produce. "When the season changes, our menu changes," he says.

And nothing's fresher than a menu made with fruits and vegetables grown close to home. Kaston, who took over at Deagan's this April, agrees: "I would rather use anything and everything local — that I can know 100-percent is local — than order something from California."

Recently, sweet corn from Hiram, Ohio, has been a feature on Kaston's lunch and dinner menus. One of the newest entrees is a summer salad, topped with a corn, black bean and roasted strawberry salsa and tossed with cilantro-lime vinaigrette and fried plantains.

The restaurant's popular vegan bean sliders get a seasonal makeover with a local corn spread (in addition to chimichurri, a bright, vegetal condiment made with local herbs).

"I roast the corn, combine it with roasted garlic, water and a little bit of turmeric, and I puree that," Kaston says of the spread. The sweetness of the corn helps balance the sharpness of the chimichurri and the slight saltiness of the bean burgers for a fresh, summery flavor that often sells out.

But the well-loved veggie (technically a type of immature grain) is more versatile than salads and sauces. Its natural sweetness also makes corn an unexpected but welcome ingredient in dessert applications, such as Deagan's Ohio corn crème brulee.

"We boil the corn down, use the sauce and make it into a syrup, and then that syrup goes into the base of the crème brulee."

It's one of the ways Kaston makes sure the menu truly reflects the season, which more and more is what customers are demanding.

"You just ensure quality a little bit better [when you buy locally]," Kaston says. "You know with 100-percent surety that you can deliver that response to a table that is not only what they want to hear but that benefits them."

Ohio corn crops were a bit late this year, due to the harsh winter, but Kaston says he didn't worry much about how it would affect his summer menu. "I usually see [corn] in mid-July and into early August," Kaston says, though it didn't make much of an appearance at Deagan's until recently.

"Generally, when one crop gets pushed back, it leaves more time for the current crop to grow. All it really does it push a menu back by a couple of weeks." He says he simply kept more end-of-spring favorites on the menu until corn was available locally.

"You can always get corn somewhere else; it's just a matter of preference to use — and to say that you're using — local, Ohio-grown corn," Kaston explains.

But all good things must come to an end. High-summer favorites such as corn, strawberries and tomatoes don't stick around for long. "I'm very big on when [crops] are out of season, we just take them off the menu."

As the weather begins to change, he simply moves on to the next great crop. August isn't over yet, even if Kaston is already thinking ahead.

"All the root vegetables are really fun to play with," he says. "Your whole philosophy changes. It's a whole different realm. So I'm excited for the roots to pop up; I'm excited to get some pumpkins in there to play with."

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