The Dave Steward Trio performs live jazz at the Atomic Lounge during Sunday brunches. [Courtesy photo]

Atomic Lounge and Burger Co. Chef Tim Buckingham plans someday to have a farm south of Moab that will supply his restaurant with all the fresh produce and herbs he needs to create delicious meals.

For now, he tends raised garden beds on the restaurant’s premises at 1393 N. U.S. Highway 191 where tomatoes, chard, kale, squashes, melons and herbs grow for use in his restaurant’s kitchen. His produce sourcing is completed with purchases from Castle Valley Farms and other local growers.

“My future plan – I have property in La Sal – I want to do a five-acre farm for the restaurant here and a (future) farm-to-table bistro in Old La Sal,” Buckingham said.

Atomic also serves grass-fed beef, and organic chicken; the restaurant is known for its buffalo meat loaf and cowboy pork chops. Everything is made from scratch, and the Atomic also makes its own bread, including a gluten-free cornbread.

Buckingham, 58, is currently expanding its menu to include more fresh fish, steaks and an oyster bar.

“We still have our gourmet burger menu – we’ve kept all of our classics,” Buckingham said.

While the menu already includes fresh oysters, patrons will soon be able to watch oyster-shucking once a new oyster bar opens, “probably next month,” Buckingham said.

The Moab native once worked in the Atlas Minerals uranium mill, until it shut down in 1984, when he decided to “pursue what I love – cooking,” he said. So off to California he went to attend culinary school in Santa Barbara.

“My first restaurant job was at an oyster bar and fish restaurant,” where he met and often talked with the legendary Julia Child, Buckingham said.

“I thought (adding an oyster bar) would be a good concept for Moab – as something different,” he said. “Oysters have been a staple out West for a long time.”

It was in California, during the 1980s, that Buckingham was introduced to the farm-to-table movement.

Buckingham worked with renowned chefs and met and cooked for many celebrities at San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara. Expansive vegetable and herb gardens on-site supplied the restaurant.

He then became executive chef at a little bistro, a place so small he had to buy fresh food often in small quantities. He purchased meats from the local butcher shop and a nearby seafood market.

“I would go to the farmers market to see what was fresh, and create my menu from that,” Buckingham said.

He returned to Moab in 1991, because he wanted to raise his son here, Buckingham said. He opened the Center Café, a small California bistro-type restaurant that he operated for four years.

When the former Sun Downer restaurant appeared on the market in 1995, Buckingham bought the larger property so he could expand. He called his restaurant Buck’s Grill House, until last year when he revamped and remodeled the eatery, renaming it Atomic – a nod to Moab’s uranium legacy.

Buckingham claims the lounge has the “nicest patio in Moab” in back of the restaurant away from the noise of the highway.

Keith Herman and his wife Judy are regular Atomic customers.

“The buffalo meatloaf macaroni and cheese – God almighty – it’s simple and it’s delicious and what I eat most every time,” – though the burgers are also “wonderful,” and the pork chops are “out of this world,” Keith Herman said. “We love it.”

While the Atomic has stopped serving lunch during the week, there is a brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the Dave Steward Trio performing live jazz. Dinner is served seven days a week, from 4:30 to 9:30, or 10 p.m. The lounge stays open later.

Chef Tim Buckingham adds oyster bar to the offerings at Atomic Lounge

“I thought (adding an oyster bar) would be a good concept for Moab – as something different … Oysters have been a staple out West for a long time.”

For more information, call 435-259-5201.