Seven years ago Alice Waters came to town as part of a fundraising dinner being cooked by half a dozen local chefs. For some, it was a wake up call as to how much of our local bounty they were ignoring. But for Thad Morrow, it was business as usual.
Sourcing from local farmers isn't easy. For one thing, it takes more time to develop menus that can fluctuate with changes in season and with the vagaries of production conditions, like snow in April. It is far easier to rely on distributors who can pull from numerous farms in California. If a crop fails on one, they can almost always find it on another. And, given the less-than-fair wages being earned by those who harvest much of California's crops, it is cheaper to source this way, as well, at least in the short-run.
From the farming side, competing with wholesale distributors is a cut-throat business. So much so, that it almost cost one area family its farm a few decades ago. Truth be told, in recent months, many of the local restaurants that were buying from area farms aren't buying nearly as much as they used to. Some, unfortunately, are no longer buying locally at all.
But, working with local farmers is what Morrow does with bacaro night after night. And starting last week, during the day, as well. Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., you can now get the same type of locally-inspired dishes from bacaro's dinner menu, for lunch.
Says Morrow, "We wanted to get people in and give them a break. We wanted to make (bacaro) more approachable," And, he means it. For $8 you can get spaghetti carbonara with Moore Family Farm bacon and peas. For $9, you can get potato gnocchi with Blue Moon Farm kale and oven dried tomatoes.
For starters, there's the green salad with Blue Moon baby lettuce and white balsamic vinaigrette for $5 and creamy burratta cheese with grilled Spence Farm ramps and pinenut pesto for $7. There's also a salad of amazingly tender grilled octopus with Moore Family Farm bacon, Blue Moon spinach, green beans, mushrooms, and garlic croutons for just $8. The starter menu also features a daily soup for $5, and currently, toasted polenta with a fried Moore Family Farm egg, sautéed Blue Moon kale, and shaved parmeggiano for $5.
A cheddar and speck panino with pickled vegetables at $8 heads the Panini and entrees section of the menu, along with seared scallops at $15 and roasted grouper with local potatoes for $14. For those seeking something different, the lunch menu offers a panino of braised pork cheeks and pickled red onion with gribiche and slaw for $8.
Having spent the previous weekend picking ramps in the woods, Morrow paired last week's petit filet ($18) with fiddle head ferns, wild mushrooms, and farro, and served it with a black roasted garlic sauce.
For those who want to leave the choice to the chef, a three-course tasting menu is available for $22. Wine, cocktails, and dessert also are available. Morrow says a dessert panino and infused teas are in the works for later in the season. "We are working on a maple syrup tea that features syrup made locally by Will Travis."
Of course, lunch features the same impeccable service you receive for dinner albeit with the knowledge that as much as you might want to sink into the plush gray banquet for the rest of the afternoon, you do need to get back to work.
Speaking of work and paychecks, can you pay less for lunch? Yes.
Can you get more for your money? Not a chance.
bacaro is located at 113 N. Walnut in downtown Champaign, Ill.