Lexington, SC (WLTX) The term farm-to-table means that only the freshest, farm grown food will do. It's not a new term, but it has been gaining momentum in recent years. And every weekend, I.P. "Sonny" Poole and his wife Janice are at their restaurant preparing a feast.
"My wife does all the cooking, she don't let me cook," admits Sonny.
It's a banquet, buffet style, made from scratch.
Sonny says, "They're old family recipe's that's been passed down from my mom and her friends. It's old southern recipes."
Much of the food you'll eat at Sonny's restaurant come directly from Sonny's farm, located in Salley, SC.
"I got okra here, tomatoes, cucumbers. And up the hill in the other field I have squash, watermelons, cantaloupes, peas," says Sonny.
What he doesn't have, and needs, he makes sure he gets from other local farmers.
He says, "I grow 50% of my vegetables on the farm. But what I don't grow, I have another farmer or two that I call them and can get what I don't have from them."
For years, Sonny ran a plant nursery from the farm, with a greenhouse in West Columbia. Some evidence of that still remains at the farm, planted trees and pots still stacked in certain areas, but after some tough years in the landscaping business, Sonny decided it was time to reinvent himself, as all resilient folks do, and put his West Columbia greenhouse to good use.
Sonny says, "I took the greenhouse and turned it into a restaurant."
And the result was Secret Garden Restaurant, and that southern cookin' we all long for.
"It has a flavor and a texture that everybody likes. So you got to have a good quality, old southern food. They'll [diners] say, this is what my grandmother used to make, and that's what we strive for," explains Sonny.
He spends the weekdays getting ready on the farm, picking fresh veggies and tending to his crops, then makes the hour drive up every Friday. The cooking starts bright and early, 5AM every Saturday morning, to be ready for the first visitors through the door.
"Well it's good home cooking. The collards are cooked just like I like, without the stems in em," says one man
"They are good cooks, and the food is fresh," says a woman who comes every week.
Sonny has a "Golden Spatula" from getting a 100% DHEC score from WLTX in 2013 that he's very proud of. He says he's received plenty of 100's since then, and would love to get an updated award. Sonny says farming is hard work, as you can imagine, but he's used to it. And there's a good reason for it.
"The reason I do it is to try to keep the costs down, and to have good fresh vegetables," he says.
And when people are happy with the food, he says it makes it all worth while.
"I enjoy it 100%." he explains, "Like I said, I was raised in it, farming, and I just love it."
And sweets to top it all off. Peach cobbler with a crust that's as moist as a milk-soaked cake, banana pudding, and even fresh pecan pie, the pecans are furnished from the pecans trees on his farm. This Secret Garden might be one of the best kept secrets in the Midlands, and it's rapidly becoming less of a secret, when it comes to farm-fresh southern cookin'.
The restaurant is open every Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to 3PM, and as of August 3rd, Sonny started a Friday night fish fry, and his goal is to make that an every week function as well.