Summer is the most popular vacation season of the year, so it makes sense that area chefs would want to get away, too. But several of them aren’t headed far from their kitchens. They’re just out back in on-site gardens, an increasingly popular feature of restaurants that allows them to showcase homegrown — and extra-nutritious — produce. “We pluck tomatoes off the vine and put them right in salads,” says Harth’s executive chef, Tom Elder. “It doesn’t get any fresher than that.”

Executive chef Robert Weland kept things simple when he planted his first garden on Poste’s patio in the spring of 2005, cultivating only a few herbs. Now the space is bursting with fig and almond trees, and beds of lettuce. There are also 16 kinds of heirloom tomatoes, including rare varieties such as the pale yellow Ananas and sweet, earthy Chocolate Stripes, which are used in the chef’s tasting menu, 20 Bites. “There’s something really special about eating a tomato in the middle of the garden where it was grown,” says Weland, who offered up one of his recipes.

» 555 8th St. NW; 202-783-6060,

The Fairmont
This West End spot makes sure visitors sip or nibble on something homegrown. Blossoms from the cherry trees sass up the vinaigrette dressing; peppermint adds mojo to mojitos; and the white-, green- and purple-flecked tri-color sage brings a sweetly savory note to the signature duck breast entree’s blackberry sauce.

» 2401 M St. NW; 202-429-2400,

Restaurant Eve
Walk out the door of the eatery’s Sunflower Room and you’ll discover a not-so-secret garden. The 2,000-square-foot endeavor boasts peaches, nectarines, apples, cherry tomatoes, numerous herbs and even horseradish root, which pairs nicely with fresh hamachi sashimi. For chef-owner Cathal Armstrong, it’s a way not just to supply his restaurant, but also to create edible epiphanies. “You quickly learn how desirable it is to eat food at its freshest level,” he says. “Just harvest an onion and consume it immediately.”

» 110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria; 703-706-0450,

Glass-enclosed fireboxes flicker with flames throughout this newly opened Tysons Corner restaurant, but there’s a different kind of heat on display out back. The garden boasts nine kinds of hot peppers with tantalizingly terrifying names, such as Trinidad Scorpion and the Devil’s Tongue. “We’ve gone after the hottest varieties in the world,” Elder says. “I’m obsessed.” The spicy specimens add a kick to Harth’s homemade condiments, including Ghost chili ketchup and ancho-habanero barbecue sauce

» 7920 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va.; 703-761-5131,

Courtesy Chef Rob Weland, Poste

3 cups coarsely chopped red onion
3 cups coarsely chopped red peppers
4 cups English cucumbers (1-inch chunks)
6 cups fresh plum tomatoes
3 cups mixed heirloom tomatoes
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp Tobasco
3 tbsp Banyuls vinegar
3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 sprigs thyme (leaves
Salt, to taste

Makes 12 Servings
Combine tomatoes, onion, peppers, cucumbers, garlic, herbs, Tobasco and salt in a bucket. Blend ingredients with large immersion blender until well liquefied. While blending, slowly add all oil until it is smooth and creamy. Transfer in small batches to blender and puree on high for one full minute. Pass through chinois. Add vinegar and lemon juice. Adjust seasoning.

Written by Express contributor Nevin Martell
Photo courtesy of The Fairmont