Some of you may know this already, due to my recent propensity for shouting at roof tops, but I have a new favorite restaurant. In the past, I may have been afraid to dedicate myself to such an idea as a single favorite place, but last week that all changed, because I found a place in Norman called Local.
An unassuming name for a surprisingly well enacted idea, that combines a wide range of flavors and food types, with locally sourced ingredients. Not every ingredient you need for a dish can be found in your back yard, but if you look real hard you might be surprised that a lot of them can be found closer than you think. The idea behind Local is to use as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, in the best way possible, showcasing what Oklahoma has to offer.
The brain-child of local restaurant magnate Chef Ryan Parrott, Local has recently set up shop in a shopping center at 24th and Main in Norman, just East of I-35 (right behind Rusty’s and Panera Bread). A multiple award-winning chef, Parrott is well-known in the Oklahoma City area for his work at The Boulevard Steakhouse, 501 Ranch, The Mantel Wine Bar and Bistro, and Deep Fork Grill; as well as operating the 9th street favorite, Iguana Grill (review forthcoming).
Local’s food was amazing, to say the least, and I was impressed not only by the wide range of fare, but also by the staff’s knowledge of that food and its origins. If you are running a restaurant based on local ingredients, it bodes well that they know where the food is coming from. Their menu can please any appetite at any time with food ranging from Asian to Southwest to All-American at any given moment, though their menu is subject to change due to the regional nature of ingredients and availability.
Walking in the door, the first thing I noticed was the decor, and seeing the dedication to design and style already had me thinking well of the place before I ever sat down to eat. But then, I saw the menu, and I knew I had found my place. Before we get to the food, I want to tell you a little more about the restaurant itself, as it stands apart from many others for several reasons. One is the gift shop up front where you can pick up Local shirts and accessories, as well as many made-in-Oklahoma items, and even pre-prepped food if you are in a hurry. Second is the nursery area, with staff on hand to take care of the little ones while you eat, they offer a play area, reading room, movie cave, and more; all to make your life easier. Third is the bar, where you can stop in to relax, spend and evening, or just wait for a table; they are open until two in the morning on the weekends and offer many original drinks with locally sourced ingredients, specialty small plates, and a chef’s choice of late night sweets as well. Walking past all of these fine distractions, you finally reach your table, where you are presented with that menu I mentioned earlier.
I expected something good, but at first glance I was hit with that dilemma I so often have, where I cannot pick a meal. Normally, I fight that off quickly by picking out a certain ingredient or type of food that sounds good at the moment. That didn’t work here, mostly because I wanted to order one of everything and spend a few dozen hours sampling anything they would bring me. Eventually I settled for ordering more food than I could reasonably eat for myself, under the auspices of bringing some home for my wife, which I did.
I started out with the Truffle Chips, home-made potato chips in truffle oil, alongside three home-made dips, pesto, tomato ketchup, and garlic sour cream; and they were executed perfectly without letting the truffle oil, which can be known to be a little pushy flavor-wise, take over the dish. Now, to save my fingers here, I’m going to stop saying home-made from now on, as that seems to be a core principle of the restaurant and we should just assume that every menu item is indeed made from scratch in-house, or at least as much as they can do so.
For my real meal I settled on the carpaccio, because I figured that if I could only have one dish I had better make sure it was different from anything else I planned to eat that week. Carpaccio is an Italian dish created in the 1950’s to accomodate the diet of a Venetian duchess (I wish I could talk people into inventing foods for me), and is traditionally made from thin sliced raw beef that further pounded out flat, usually topped with a mustard sauce. Local’s version was just that, but taken even further with an Asian flare, adding julienne green papaya, red bell pepper, onion, and carrots, mixed with peanuts and a spicy Thai style peanut sauce. I cleaned the plate. The meat was tender, the vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the sauce was spicy, tangy, and nutty all at the same time.
Finishing that off I knew I could not pass up dessert, and so, I ordered a dish that I am fairly certain you have not tried before, butternut squash cheesecake. It sounds weird at first, but hear me out, because the butternut squash’s flavor is not unlike a pumpkin, though a bit sweeter and more savory, but its difference in texture also made it lighter and fluffier than a pumpkin cheesecake. One word, Delicious; capital D.
Unequivocally the best meal I have had in a restaurant in quite some time; but had I the stomach, I would not stop there by any means, because I saw wonders that day. One stand-out dish was the meatloaf cupcakes; meatloaf packed in a cupcake pan and baked into a muffin shape and then topped with piped mashed potato “icing” alongside goat cheese rolls. And the dessert menu may have been the most difficult thing to decide about, with apple tarts under mint-apple compote, or banana-split bread pudding with vanilla gelato in caramel sauce, and cookies with house-infused milk (that day it was peanut butter milk).
Another reason I will be going back is the fact that their dinner menu has a lot of options that were not available to me at lunch, but have since been calling my name in my dreams, beckoning my return. Overall, Local does not fail to impress, with its dedication to concept, originality, fantastically thought atmosphere, and the knowledge and professionalism of the staff. I would feel comfortable here in any circumstance, from a casual lunch, or a late night hang out, to a professional meeting, or a romantic dinner; so go whenever and however you want, I don’t think they will mind.
If you look below, you’ll note the cheesecake is so light it is trying to float away. Check out their menu at eatatlocal.com