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A locavore's delight 

click to enlarge The Local's smoked salmon flatbread ($11.50), highly recommended. - PHOTO BY MARK LEE.

On a recent visit to The Local Eatery & Pub, my wife and I received such exceptional customer service that we were almost prepared to overlook the fact that one of the dishes we'd sampled had been less than satisfactory. A small problem was handled in such an exemplary fashion that I was given pause to wonder why there are so many substandard servers out there, people who don't seem to realize that their paycheck is more or less directly proportional to their professionalism.

So named because it is both a watering hole for nearby residents and a restaurant specializing in locally grown and reared ingredients, The Local occupies an unassuming spot in a small strip center just north of 146th Street. The interior is tastefully decked out in earth tones and plenty of wood. Although there are televisions, they appear to be mercifully muted most of the time, and not necessarily tuned to sports. The bar is thoughtfully situated well away from the main dining room, allowing a sensible and welcome segregation of those with children and those without. Although quiet during the day, the exposed hard surfaces can cause quite a clatter at night when the place gets busy.

In addition to its regular menu items, The Local offers monthly selections based on seasonal ingredients. These might include lamb from Viking farms, outstanding beef from Gunthorp or produce from Homestead Growers.

From the regular menu, I can strongly recommend the decadent, succulent and thoroughly more-ish "Cheese Steak" sandwich ($10): a generous serving of braised beef tongue topped with a caramelized onion and fig compote. Original and truly delicious. Also to be highly recommended is the smoked salmon flatbread ($11.50): the bread soft and nicely chewy, the cream cheese, dill and onion topping a perfect contrast to the salmon's briny, savory tang.

Again excellent are the pulled pork sandwich and the chicken ranch wrap, each $8.99. The generous serving of fish and chips didn't quite justify its $12 price tag, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it was prepared with Great Lakes white fish, which just doesn't quite match up to a good piece of cod.

The only dish that really didn't work was the macaroni and cheese for $10. The béchamel seemed to have cracked, rendering the sauce watery and bitter. As mentioned earlier, this was handled admirably by the manager, who took time to explain and rectify the issue in an accommodating and unpatronizing manner. Now that's service.

An addendum: As much as I admire the ambition and the stated intentions (the website carries a virtual manifesto of the restaurant's commitment to local foodstuffs, as well as a list of suppliers), I feel that the case may be somewhat overstated. Although the diversity of Indiana-raised food has grown almost exponentially in recent years, our choices are still determined by a landlocked continental climate, a short growing season and unforgiving winters. Much as it is to be applauded, the luxury that some refer to as locavorism can only ever be just that: a seasonal luxury, not a template for self-sufficiency.

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