The flood that raged through Lyons last fall left the town temporarily isolated from the outside world. So when the waters receded and the rebuilding began, restaurateurs and Lyons residents Katie Baum and De'Anna Duncan wanted to bring a new community space to Main Street, restoring some of what had washed away.
"We wanted to create an artistic space where we could educate people about the local food movement and the providers in the area -- and really just give back to this community that needed something so badly," Baum says. LOCAL Eat + Drink is a neighborhood eatery with an unyielding commitment to locally sourced ingredients, but it's also a place of education: your dinner tells a story of where it was grown, or your neighbor might tell you all about their life before they ask you to pass the salt.
The robust dining scene in Lyons was dealt a heavy blow by the September floods. Although the flagship businesses on Main Street, like the original Oskar Blues and Duncan's Pizza Bar 66, stayed put after the storm thanks to donations and elbow grease, many of their patrons weren't so lucky. Lyons residents were told they might not be able to return to their homes for as long as six months. For those who did, the water was still unsafe, and rubble was strewn across the landscape.
LOCAL's predecessor at 432 Main, the well-respected sushi bar Sushi Matsuri, eventually had to close its doors, leaving another hole in the iconic downtown of Lyons. "We wanted them to make it. So badly. But when we found out they couldn't, we knew somebody was going to take it," Baum says. "And we wanted it to be us. We didn't want some company from New York coming in because we had a flood."
Though Duncan and Baum had food-service experience from Pizza Bar 66 and Eat Catering Co., respectively, putting the restaurant together for an April opening date was a serious challenge. "Holy cow, what kind of money do we have? We don't have any investors, this is all personal money, how are we gonna do this?" Baum remembers thinking. But LOCAL got up and running, and quickly found itself dealing with crowds galore, fighting for a seat at one of LOCAL's community tables.
The space is clad mainly in reclaimed wood, courtesy of the folks at StoryBarns, who scour farms across the state for their materials and re-purpose them in new ways. "With us being LOCAL, it was important for us to keep everything as local as possible," Duncan says. "So all the barn wood is from a few local barns. These tables are from an old potato farm." The country-chic overhead light shades are actually grape and olive washing baskets. And a rustic door taken from an old farmhouse partitions the dining room from the entryway.
"Part of this idea was, I do a lot of farm dinners... that's the concept. It's a big, long farm table, you source all our ingredients locally. Sixty-five strangers sit down at your table and they eat your food -- and they come as strangers and leave as friends," says Baum. "People leave crying, like, 'I can't believe I just did that."
The culinary team -- Baum, chef Ryan Elftmann and "Yum Yum Creator" Eric Lennard -- changes its menu of small plates every two weeks, according to the ebb and flow of the fields. "A lot of people are like, 'Why does it change so much?' Well, we don't change the menu. The farmers change the menu. We take a list of everything that's local, and that's what makes the menu. It's the best we can do with the best ingredients we can get around," says Elftmann.
So LOCAL's antipasto board is spread with house-cured prosciutto and root vegetables pickled with herbs de provence. The beet salad features beets plucked from Lennard's backyard garden down the road, blasted into foam and poking out from under dehydrated beet "dirt."
"We had a lot of fresh beets come in recently, so we wanted to take beets and pull as many different textures out of them that we possibly could," Lennard says. "The number of people who come through here in a week, just bringing us produce, is astounding. You don't just meet with your Sysco rep every week."
Fruit and veggie shipments dictate Bar Manager Drew Reid's cocktail menu as well; it's currently focused on summer refreshers and tangy local flavors, mixed with booze from nearby distillers. "People spend a lot of time working on these really great spirits. There's good and bad spirits, but there's a lot of really great product out there. They're using these herbs and all this different stuff in there, so it's easy to highlight those by adding little things, and not try to mess with it too much," Reid says.
Chef Elftmann counts the Strawberry Rhubarb Revival as one of his favorites. It's a sparkling concoction of pureed strawberry and rhubarb simple syrup, with citrus vodka and brandy for backbone.
Both LOCAL's plates and its walls tell stories. In a place that lost so much last year, the restaurant team wants to feed patrons body and soul. "You can't go anywhere without hugging someone. And it doesn't matter whether they're your best friend, or you knew them for two days before the flood. Everybody here now has each others' back," Baum says.
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"It always kind of was that way, but it's just been distilled at this point," Lennard adds. "It's less of a town, more of a family."