Aquaponic garden grows fresh produce year-round at Sag Harbor restaurant

The atrium room at Page at 63 Main in Sag Harbor. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

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It’s a chilly mid-March afternoon in Sag Harbor. Hungry patrons bundled in winter coats pass bare trees as they make their way into Page at 63 Main to enjoy a fresh salad unlike any other they can get on the East End this time of year.

The farm-to-table concept has been kicked up a notch at Page, so much so that it bills itself as “seed-to-table.” The restaurant has its own in-house aquaponic operation, allowing it to grow everything from basil to lettuces, to tomatoes, regardless of the mercury.

Aquaponics is a growing technique that combines hydroponics (growing plants in water) with aquaculture (farmed seafood). The soil-free produce is 100-percent organic and compliments dishes comprised of other locally sourced ingredients. Executive chef Cleon Clarke heads to the basement level flatbeds to pick organic greens when the orders start to flow in around noon.

“I love that I can pick it myself and use it immediately in a salad or to garnish a dish,” Clarke said, noting that Page’s aquaponic garden is unique to the East End. “Something like this is a dream for a chef … to have these fresh greens in the winter. I use them daily.”

Guests can ask to be seated near the aquaponic garden display in the atrium room on the far side of the restaurant. It is well lit by the natural light pouring in through large windows, and evokes an enchanted garden/greenhouse vibe. The herbs and veggies grow ornamentally in rows on the white walls in between the three fish tanks.

The tanks — filled with tilapia, coy and goldfish — provide all the nutrients for the plants to thrive. The organically fed fish naturally enrich the water, which is then pumped to the plants. The produce cleans and filters the water before returning it to the tanks — a perfectly symbiotic environment.

The aquaponic garden in the dining room is more for aesthetics than consumption. The restaurant has three more growing locations on the rooftop and in the basement, where Freddy Fernandez, Page’s aquaponic system manager, grows the plants on a larger scale for the kitchen.

The output is significantly more eco-friendly than traditional in-ground farming, Fernandez said, adding that some of the produce is ready to go as little as a week after being seeded. He works closely with Clarke to tailor the growing cycle at the restaurant to the menu.

“The produce is extremely flavorful,” Fernandez said. “When chef makes something with basil you know the smell is coming from Page. It fills the air, and you can tell it really makes a difference in the food.”

Sample some of the house-grown veggies and herbs in plates such as the popular organic lacianato kale salad served with pomegranate seeds, toasted pecans, manchego, or the margarita pizza with fresh basil.

Page restaurantis located at 63 Main Street in Sag Harbor.