Circa: A New American Bistro

Since most Colgate students don’t have cars on campus, there might be little practical use in reviewing a restaurant located a solid twenty five minute drive away. But my dinner at the bistro Circa, located in Cazenovia, NY, was so splendid, and the message of the restaurant is so important, that I felt it warranted attention from the Colgate community. Cazenovia is a small town located approximately twenty five minutes away, and it is simple enough to get there – just follow Route 20 out of Hamilton and straight into Cazenovia.

            You’ve probably heard something about the locavore movement in the news, but if you haven’t, let me give a brief summary. There is a growing movement to spurn big chain supply restaurants and grocery stores and instead opt to purchase locally grown and raised produce, thus supporting local farmers and stimulating the local economy. Generally, the food tastes better, too. Circa’s message is explicitly to design a menu based entirely on local products. The menu changes weekly and combines local meats, cheeses, vegetables, nuts, honeys, breads and wines to create a “unique experience you can’t get at Applebee’s.” The restaurant opened in 2006 and is run by its cheerful chef and owner, Alicyn Hart, and her husband, with the help of local teenagers.

            Some struggle to understand the importance of paying for more expensive locally grown products when cheaper, sufficiently good-tasting products are available at supermarkets. But Ms. Hart and her contemporaries would like you to consider the following arguments. One, it is estimated that a dollar spent locally will stimulate as much economic activity as nearly three dollars spent at a supermarket. The logic here is that if you spend money at a local farm, the local farmer is likely to spend that money at the local pharmacy, and the pharmacist might spend it at the local bookstore, thus keeping the dollar in the local economy. On the other hand, if you spend money at a supermarket, most of it is shipped off to headquarters in New York or Boston and never returns to the local economy. Two, local products are good for the environment both in that they are often grown without the use of pollutants like pesticides and also in that less energy (a.k.a less fossil fuel) is required to transport the produce from farm to table, since it is grown and eaten in the same place. Finally, local food can taste so much better. There are fewer chemicals in the produce, and local farmers rarely use hormones designed to enhance growth or color. Surely these reasons warrant the spending of a few extra dollars to support a local farm.

            Our dinner, long in coming, was delicious. We started with the antipasto platter, an appetizer for $10, and it was excellent. A selection of thinly sliced proscuitto and parma hams, salami, provolone and mozzarella cheeses, olives, and crunchy almonds were served on a large platter, all of it local and all of it good. A similar platter of local cheeses, nuts, and honey was also available, but we didn’t sample it. The caesar salad, while good, was just like every other caesar salad, and perhaps not worth the $7. For a main course, I ordered the $12 hamburger, which garnered local criticism for its high price; in defense of the restaurant, it is an extremely good burger served on a good bun with great chips and a salad, and is available in three or four different types of meat. My eating companion selected the grilled chicken ($17 or so) and found it delectable, served with Moroccan couscous and a Greek-style assortment of mint, feta cheese, and olives. While I cannot legally attest to it, my of-age companion assured me that the wine was of good quality as well. In retrospect, our only complaints were the service, which took too long between courses, and the frequent grammatical mishaps that dotted the menu, a nitpicky complaint from a college student who probably works far less hard than the determined owners of this restaurant. All in all, 8.5/10 and the best of recommendations.

           Contact Crozer Connor at

[email protected].