Exploring Terroir, Part III: The Local

What happens when any question of global logistics and history is thrown out the window, and we stick to the truly local? 

After watching good restaurants in the Hardwick, Vermont, area fail, one after the other, local residents decided that if they really wanted to keep one around, they’d have to invest in it.  So they decided, riffing on the increasingly familiar acronym CSA, to open a CSR, or community-supported restaurant. One hundred thousand of the investment in Claire’s was in the form of $5,000 community-sourced loans, to be paid back with interest within five years, and fifty “restaurant shares” of $1,000 each, held by local residents.

Since opening their doors in May, Claire’s has been packed and with good reason.  The food, even when basic, is delicious: Maine crab cakes, a green bean salad, the perfect steak with butterific mashed potatoes, local grains and sprouts in a broth with roasted yellow tomatoes.  Even the glasses and chairs are made locally, but this information, while made available, isn’t shoved down the diner’s throat.  The restaurant is built around a sincere celebration of local work, and not just because it makes the menu look good and quotable.

This is refreshing.  So many restaurants have capitalized on the allure of ‘local,’ ‘seasonal’ and ‘sustainable’ that I often leave a place with a slight feeling of the artificial.  When the portion sizes are immense, the lights stay on all night, the toilet has a turbo-flush, and every plate leaving the kitchen is awash in micro-greens that took forty thousand gallons of oil to grow, the fact that the greenhouse was next door doesn’t really do much to convince me of the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability—just of a savvy sales strategy.

The local-food movement is coming into its own just as ‘organic’ did, and both terms have seen and will continue to see a lot of redefinition. Some of its manifestations will cheapen it; others will enrich. Claire’s is the latter: a gathering place for the local community that will stimulate commerce and serve up its fruit. The suppliers are the customers; the customers are the investors; the investors are the suppliers. Maybe they’ll stay in business after all.

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