To my way of thinking, there is a hierarchy in the restaurant biz predicated on a few discernible keys. Those keys are four in number in my book: the kitchen, the chef, the menu, and for want of a better way to put it, the staying power of the place.

So, for what to look? In my view, it starts with the kitchen. Does the back of the house qualify as a scratch kitchen, putting ingredients together to achieve “homemade” eats? Chefs? Do they know the herbs, the spices, the chop of this, the slice of that, cook times, flavor profiles, or in short, the nitty-gritty of turning out good, wholesome, tasty food? The Menu? Easy: does the menu feature a solid array of dishes that will accommodate a wide range of tastes and appetites? And staying power. Has the place been around a while with a trajectory that indicates continued success? 

One eatery that checks all the above boxes is Through the Garden on Kenwood Road just north of the Creek Road intersection. As for staying power, this restaurant has been in its present location at least since the early 2000s, and under the same ownership since 2005. We stopped in recently to speak with owner/operator/chef John Caldwell, who offered insights to his menu and the favorites of his patrons. “Our most popular dish is probably the blackened salmon salad. We have a lot of salads here. We make all our dressings here. We have a scratch kitchen — we do desserts from scratch. In summer, we do a cobbler, a blueberry, and a peach cobbler. Those have been very popular. And we do bread pudding and apple pie — all from scratch.”

The crispy blackened salmon salad

In the course of our discussion, Caldwell spoke of a variety of dishes he turns out in his kitchen, starting with the blackened salmon salad. “We use our blackening spices and put a nice crust on (the salmon). It’s a little spicy but not too spicy. We do the same salmon for our chipotle bowl, and that is a popular one too.” The blackened salmon salad features a romaine and iceberg lettuce base, with dried cranberries and pine nuts, sprinkled with a bleu cheese crumble and served with a basil vinaigrette on the side.

The chipotle bowl

The name “Through the Garden” implies a vegetarian orientation for the menu, which Caldwell explained this way: “It does not weight the menu toward vegetarian dishes, but we do incorporate a lot of vegetables into our dishes for some very healthy options.” One dish he cited is the chicken penne, again, stating that the dish is one of the leading choices among his patrons. This dish is billed as “a garden classic,” made with zucchini, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, pepperoncini, (hold the feta), all topped with grilled chicken. The pasta is dressed out in classic Mediterranean fashion, with olive oil, herbs, and white wine (see photo). Looks delicious, doesn’t it?

The zoodles, featuring noodle-shaped strips of zucchini with olives and other veggies

A restaurant that has been around for decades has to be doing something right. Right? The secret to the success of Through the Garden? According to Caldwell, it’s simple: “You can get fresh food here; it’s all made here. We focus on fresh seafood, fresh meats, lots of fresh vegetables, doing all the prep. Like our gazpacho soup. We have it in the summer, starting about when the temperature gets above 70 degrees. A lot of people ask for it even in February, but we just make gazpacho when it’s warmer outside.”

Gazpacho is an uncooked soup that is served cold and hailing from the Andalusian region of southern Spain, where, incidentally, it’s hot most of the time. Gazpacho is made from a puree of vegetables, including fresh tomatoes as the base, along with onion, sweet bell pepper, zucchini, celery, cucumber, garlic, and breadcrumbs. “Some of the vegetables are ground (into a puree), and then we add some vegetables in chunks to give the soup more body. When it’s hot out, this is a very popular soup — a popular dish.

The gazpacho soup, a summer delight served cold

Exterior signage at Through the Garden

“Our grilled salmon and our mesquite-grilled mahi with creamed spinach are popular choices too, and that’s pretty much year-round. The grilled salmon is topped with basil butter, and you have the choice of two sides with that. You get two sides with all the entrée dishes. The mahi is topped with the creamed spinach, and people love that dish,” he said.

See you at Through the Garden!