The Menus of Madison County: Circa

If Colgate had a dating scene, a typical first date might be lunch at Parkside. The second date would be an unobtrusive dinner at either the Hamilton Inn or the Club House. The third date, however, is a bit more of a challenge. For me, the clear choice would be Circa (76 Albany Street, Cazenovia, NY 13035). By this point in the blossoming (at a non-Jug pace) romance, the 20-minute drive would not need to be filled with awkward silences and questionable music.

Dining at Circa is a far cry from campus and Hamilton’s predictable menus. Circa offers what it calls “new American cuisine,” a cooking style that emphasizes the use of locally grown ingredients (including produce, meat and dairy). This is appealing both to the environmentally minded Outdoor Ed types and those with fickle appetites: Circa’s seasonal menu changes weekly.

On this weekend’s visit to Circa, my date and I were greeted warmly by the friendly staff. Although the casual atmosphere was accented with some zesty Flamenco music playing in the background, we rolled with it. Before sitting, we were distracted by the restaurant’s impressive deli counter, taking stock of the local eggs, organic dairy products, fresh bread and homemade meatloaf that was sold for takeaway. All looked very delicious.

Needless to say, we feasted. The meal started off strong with two sultry appetizers: a frisée salad with hard-boiled eggs and lardons (French for thick cut bacon), topped with a roasted tomato and garlic vinaigrette that is not for the faint of heart, and another salad of locally grown yellow, red and purple tomatoes with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil that I have been daydreaming about ever since.

With veggies covered in the first course, it was due time for some meat – the main courses were ancho beef tacos and brick grilled chicken. The tacos, I have to say, were just about flawless. Tender, smoky beef nestled in soft tortillas with a touch of hot peppers, tomatoes and dill – a surprising but ultimately delicious topping. The chicken itself was perfectly cooked, juicy with a crispy skin, but I was a bit disappointed with the sides it came with. The cornmeal onion rings were tasty but needed to be warmer, and the green tomato relish was dying for more vinegar and less sugar. I found myself wistfully thinking about the unbelievable cottage pie I’d had at Circa last winter and have since been trying to replicate at home.

The problem about going to Circa is that everything sounds delicious and choices about what to order are difficult (a locally raised wagyu beef burger served with smothered onions and local mushrooms and topped with fresh goat cheese, anyone?) My date and I solved this issue by sharing our plates; this strategy not only satisfies the curious palate, but also builds intimacy and invites conversation if used on a hypothetical third-date scenario.

For those of you over the age of 21, Circa also features an intriguing wine and beer selection (many from local vineyards and breweries), with recommended pairings for each entrée.

With a total bill of $60 for the two of us ($47 for food, $13 for booze), Circa won’t break the bank. However, it is an unusual find in Central New York that will impress any potential new significant other. And if Colgate doesn’t suddenly develop a dating culture, you could always show off our refined college palate to Mom and Dad, as Family Weekend is only six weeks away.