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Eating good at Cazenovia's Circa Restaurant

For sheer audacity, one can't help but admire Applebee's slogan that its customers are "eatin' good in the neighborhood." With 1600 restaurants in 49 states, Applebee's not only has trademarked the phrase "There's nothing like the neighborhood," they also proudly proclaim "we're everywhere you are," apparently not noting the irony that neighborhood and being everywhere are near-perfect opposites.

In truth, I don't have anything against Applebee's. What they do, they do well enough, and I have plenty of friends with small children who look upon their restaurants as a godsend. But the idea that neighborhood and being everywhere are synonymous turns common sense on its head. So while I will eat at Applebee's if invited by friends, I draw the line at accepting their definition of neighborhood.

Which brings me to my neighborhood and to my favorite local restaurant: Circa, located at 76 Albany St. in Cazenovia. Circa is my idea of what a neighborhood bistro should be: friendly and unassuming, with an oft-changing menu that reflects the singular vision of a talented chef and the seasonal availability of locally farmed ingredients. Which is a long way of saying the ingredients are fresh, the menu changes weekly, and the food is exceptional.

Opened in February 2006 by chef Alicyn Hart and her husband Eric Woodworth, a Cazenovia native, Circa bills itself as a new American bistro that works "with local farmers and regional artisans" to create "a seasonal menu that changes weekly." An increasing number of restaurants make similar claims these days, but Circa walks the walk as well as talks the talk. I regularly pester Alicyn about the source of various ingredients, and to the best of my knowledge, every ingredient I have inquired about came from a local or regional farmer, cheesemaker, or producer: lamb from Meadowood Farm in Cazenovia, fresh herbs from Fresh Herbs of Fabius, terrifically flavorful, free-range chickens from Ingallside Meadow Farm of Canastota, etc.

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