Keeping it fresh, keeping it local -- on the go

By Allison Costa 04/07/2011

The Local Cafe
1751 E. Main St.
Ventura
643-0237
$4.95 - $12.00

Rio Gozo Farm, Petty Ranch, McGrath Family Farm and Underwood Farms. What do these places have in common? They all supply fresh produce for Chef Tim Kilcoyne and his new restaurant, The Local Cafe. With affordable prices, a menu built around locally sourced produce, quick service and details geared toward easy takeout, The Local Cafe is making delicious, local food more accessible, even for those on the go.

The Local Cafe menu is structured around local ingredients that are available year round, ideal for those who like to find a favorite menu item and order it again and again. It is in the daily specials and the ever-changing list of deli salads where customers will see the seasonal ingredients available at the farms and in the markets that week. The menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas.

One of my favorite items was the daily pizza special a few weeks back, topped with pureed butternut squash, radicchio, bacon and mozzarella cheese. The brilliant use of butternut squash gave the whole pizza a vibrant, orange hue. A generous serving of crunchy bacon added a salty smokiness, and the radicchio added a nice color contrast. The thin crust was perfection — speckled with a few areas blistered until dark — and touched with a smoky flavor from the fire.

The pizza Cavalo Nero is another standout — topped with braised kale, ricotta cheese, grana padana (a hard cheese similar to parmesan) and olive oil. Though on another visit we enjoyed the meatball pizza made with local grass-fed beef and pickled peppers, on that particular day the crust was almost burned, overshadowing the other ingredients.

The grilled cheese and tomato soup combo makes a fine meal for a rainy day. The sandwich is filled with cheddar and mozzarella and cooked on a panini press until the bread is crunchy and the cheese gooey. The vibrant red tomato soup is simplicity in a bowl: no overpowering seasoning or herbs, just fresh tomatoes. On another visit, we ordered the soup of the day, vegetable soup with bacon. Sadly, the soup was lacking in flavor and color, and the only visible vegetables were potatoes and celery with nary a piece of bacon in sight.

Another star on the menu is the deli salad trio. Each time I stand in front of the deli case, I feel like a kid in a candy store, with so many of my favorite ingredients used in a variety of interesting combinations. Choosing only three is always a challenge. Seriously, how’s a girl to decide between a Satsuma mandarin caprese salad and a beet green salad with lemon, toasted almonds and fennel?

The farro salad is filled with mint and feta, with a flavoring similar to that of a tabbouleh salad, but heartier. The panzanella salad is filled with generous cubes of bread and tossed with tomatoes, cucumbers, balsamic and olive oil.

On another occasion, we enjoyed a butternut squash salad with bacon, another filled with golden beets and gorgonzola, and a broccoli salad tossed with roasted tomatoes.

The only deli salad that didn’t live up to our expectations was the Brussels sprouts with bacon. On that particular day, the sprouts were tough and tasted slightly bitter, leaving an unsettling aftertaste.

For dessert, The Local Cafe offers a selection of cookies and bars, like cream cheese brownies, tangy lemon bars and festive pink, blue, and green meringue cookies. Beverage options include bottled Honest Tea, fresh Meyer lemonade and a daily agua fresca. We sampled a Concord grape agua fresca and a strawberry basil agua fresca, both of which were light and refreshing.

Since the focus at the cafe is on the food, it is no surprise that the atmosphere has taken a backseat. There are some classy touches like the colorful photographs of local produce on the walls; yet the tables appear used and worn, the salads are served in takeout boxes, and only plastic utensils are available (making it hard to cut into the pizza and some of the salads). Some of the food is served on round pizza pans, and other dishes are served on VerTerra biodegradable plates made from fallen leaves, both of which make for a nice presentation.

Service is friendly and efficient with manager Nicholas Wedin taking orders at the counter and delivering food to the tables. Chef Kilcoyne is there most days, peeping out from the open kitchen with a friendly smile. While The Local Cafe seems to still be finding its way, it already has a loyal following, as seen in the long lines during the daily lunch rush. It seems that everyone wants a taste of Ventura County, even on a hurried lunch break.   

Visit my blog www.venturafoodhappenings.com or find Ventura Food Happenings on Facebook.

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