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Luscious & Local 

Cooking with Ohio-grown food is anything but impossible.

Students enjoy the fruits of Case Western Reserve's "Eat Local Challenge." - WALTER  NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • Students enjoy the fruits of Case Western Reserve's "Eat Local Challenge."
If you're eating strawberries in January or tomatoes in May, chances are your food is better-traveled than you are. And while you're obviously not the only one who craves 'nanas on her Coco-Puffs each morning, there's a downside to buying food from halfway around the world.

What our food gains in geographical sophistication, it loses in freshness, nutritional value, and flavor. Meantime, the gas that fuels its worldwide ramblings pushes up its price, while at the same time degrading the environment. Then there's the local economic trade-off: While you're buying apples shipped in from Washington, apple growers in your backyard may be beating the bushes for business.

While the notion of relying on local food sources is well accepted on the East and West Coasts, around here it's still something of a novelty. So when Bon Appetit Management Company, foodservice supplier for Case Western Reserve University, informed local manager Heather Hise that she must develop a lunch menu composed entirely of foods from within a 150-mile radius, she got a little panicky. The meal was part of Bon Appetit's nationwide "Eat Local Challenge," in which 189 of the company's properties participated.

"I was skeptical," admits Hise, a transplanted Oregonian. "I've only been in Cleveland for a year, and I thought it would be hard to find the resources."

Turns out she was pleasantly surprised by the bounty of Northeast Ohio's small, family-owned farms. And on September 29, she presided over a lunch sourced 100 percent locally and held at CWRU's Leutner Dining Commons, where students sat down to dishes ranging from Lake Erie perch filets to Gala apple crisp with a crunchy spelt topping and a dollop of Hartzler Family Dairy's all-natural whipped cream.

Besides Wooster-based Hartzler, other local farmers and food producers who pitched in included Heini's Cheese House (Millersburg), Abe and Eli Miller Farms (Ashland), the George Jones Memorial Farm (Oberlin), Moreland Fruit Farms (Wooster), and K.W. Zellers (Stark County).

Okay, so some students bypassed the local fare in favor of pizza. But Evan Lewis, a Case sophomore from Massachusetts who denies giving a fig over the provenance of his grub, was happily munching his way through a vegan preparation of roasted squash stuffed with spaghetti squash, caramelized red onion, and a touch of maple sugar.

"My mom makes acorn squash sometimes," he observed, "but it doesn't have all this stuff in it. This is good. I'm going to have to tell her to jazz it up."

For more on local farms, farmers' markets, and sustainable agriculture, visit the Northeast Ohio Foodshed Network site at www.e4sustainability.org or visit www.ecocitycleveland.org.

Times they are a-changin' . . . at Boulevard Blue (12718 Larchmere Boulevard, 216-721-5500), Andy Himmel's hip little restaurant and jazz club off Shaker Square. Beginning next week, the joint will be closed Sundays, but open Monday evenings. "We gave Sundays a year and a half," Himmel says, "and they were very hit-or-miss. Plus, there's a lot more around us open on Mondays, and we've been getting more and more calls" to see whether the Boulevard is open too. The new hours are 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, when the kitchen cooks until midnight.

Blonde bombshell . . . That Budapest Blonde herself, Ilona Simon, recently gave a peek at the wine-and-martini bar's new 2005-'06 Blonde Tasting Series. Among the upcoming Wednesday-evening events are Italian Wines (November 2), Blonde 'Tinis (November 9), Wine With Turkey (November 16), and Holiday Wines (December 7). All tastings begin at 7 p.m. and cost $30 per person, apps included. Reservations, which are required, can be made by calling 440-237-0292. Budapest Blonde is at 6901 Rockside Road in Independence.

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