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Natural Next Step: Oxford Eateries Respond to Demand for Locally Sourced Ingredients

It’s not an Oxford thing; it’s a national shift.
More than a mere trend, consumer knowledge about what goes into their food grows by the day. Interest in healthy eating as well as tasting natural flavors and knowing the origin of foods is high. Oxford restaurants in recent years have increasingly brought more locally sourced ingredients to the table where feasible, and now a few new venues are starting that way from scratch.
Oxford Canteen is basically like a food truck, if that truck had no wheels and were called the Lyric Theatre. Grab-n-go is an option at Living Foods, too, though their offering is more dynamic, with meals ready to take home for the oven as well as an entire retail element. And Locals Restaurant & Bar is a cozy spot with savory entrees and a lot more.

Locals’ Chef Roland Shnider with signature dishes Catfish Bananas and Fire-Ice Salmon. / Photos by Sarah Beth Wiley

Locals Restaurant & Bar Opened in early 2014 at 309 North Lamar Boulevard in the former Boure and Golden Rule Bar-B-Q, Locals Restaurant & Bar aims to supporting local and regional farmers, suppliers, and vendors. Offerings include daily specials, plate lunches, steaks, pasta, sandwiches, and burgers, BBQ, soups, and salads, drawing on produce and meats from the community and reaching up as well as a full bar. In April, Owner Bobby Tekwani brought in new Executive Chef Roland Schneider, whose resume includes cooking for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in 1980 on a visit to Switzerland and doing dinner for Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and other leaders during their visit to Ole Miss for the 2008 Presidential Debate. Schneider immediately created a new dinner menu to try to set Locals apart from other Oxford restaurants. “I added items that Oxford has not seen,” he says. “It’s not a fine dining place; it’s as casual as it can be but with great food.”
Catfish Bananas

One shining example of Schneider’s unique twists is Catfish Bananas. “The first time I did fish with bananas was 1969, then forgot about it,” he recalls. “Then I had my own restaurant in Germantown, where I had a regular customer who tried to challenge me. She ate everything I had on the menu, and said, ‘Just fix me something.’ One day, I had some flounder filets and bananas. She liked it so much she took her dish to several tables and said, ‘You have to try this; this is unbelievable.’” Schneider considered it a no-brainer to adapt the dish to Locals, considering Mississippi’s farm-raised catfish. “When I started talking to Bobby here, I said, ‘Everybody has reuben sandwiches. Everybody has Philly steak. We’ve got Italian restaurants. We’ve got barbecue restaurants. But nobody does something like that.’”
Another interesting dish is Fire-Ice Salmon. The “fire” comes from grilling the fish—which, while salmon is obviously not locally sourced, it’s topped with the “ice,” which is a cold, fresh local tomato/cucumber/onion salad.
The Oxford Canteen is a small restaurant in the alley by the Lyric Theatre.

Oxford Canteen With the opening of Oxford Canteen, Chef Corbin Evans aims to compete by concentrating on food that’s fresh and fast. Oxford Canteen opened in late March, serving lunch made with locally sourced ingredients—served from a window on the west side of the Lyric Theater building (1006 Van Buren Avenue), into the narrow alley between the Lyric and South Depot Taco Shop. Customers may take their food to go or have a seat at a bar-style countertop mounted on the Lyric’s exterior wall.
“We have soups, salads, sandwiches, fresh deserts, juices, iced coffees but all farmers market-style foods—local and fresh.” says Evans. “I like the ketchup fried rice and the roasted vegetable sandwich with the balsamic onion marmalade … Different seasons offer different things. I always get excited for tomatoes and blueberries.”
Evans says the Canteen plans to add a dinner menu and probably breakfast, “with all the catering we can get internally through the Lyric events.”
Living Foods has an array of groceries and snacks for the health-conscious.

Living Foods When Melody Sharp decided to open Living Foods (formerly Local Flavor) recently in the former location of Olivia’s (at 809 College Hill Road next to Studio Whimzy and Sky Mart) she kept the freezers stocked with the ready-to-go casseroles that Olivia’s customers loved so much.
But generally, Sharp decided to go in a different culinary direction from menus she saw in Oxford, instead offering vegetarian and vegan fare, along with grass-fed beef and gluten-free options. Each week, she adds more gluten-free options to her to-go and eat-in menus.
Other options include chicken Rotel pasta, breakfast casserole, and veggie pie, and the freezer is stocked with Delta tamales. Small casseroles feed three to four people, while bigger dishes feed six to 10. Pricing for small casseroles in the $7 to $12 range.
Customers also can get organic juices they’d normally find in larger cities, such as wheatgrass shots and many other flavor combinations—a good thing to find, no doubt, for those still reeling after Ron Shapiro’s Main Squeeze closed its doors.
From reports by Gretchen Stone, Tad Wilkes, and Margaret Wood

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