It’s not often that the concept behind a restaurant is designed specifically around children, but Local in Norman is an exception to many rules. Perhaps most notably, it is one of few restaurants in the metro that offers an on-site children’s center designed to offer fun for kids while parents enjoy their meal.
Local is the brain child of sisters Melissa Scaramucci, Heather Steele and Abby Clark, who blended the best practices of their favorite restaurants with concepts that have been bred into their family for generations—sustainable farming, seasonal eating and a celebration of all things local. “We all have young children,” explains Scaramucci. “It all started with our own kids and how we wanted them to eat. From there, the idea just evolved and continues to grow today.”
Local is a “farm-to-fork” concept restaurant located in the Normandy Creek Shopping Center at NW 24th and Main in Norman. None of the sisters had owned a restaurant before, so they collaborated with local farmers and Chef Ryan Parrott of the Iguana Mexican Grill for about a year to hone their concept prior to opening the doors in March 2012.
“We all love good food and are good home cooks,” Scaramucci explains. “Our uncle runs our family farm [Walnut Creek Farm in Waynoka], so we have a good background in that style of eating and farming. We literally brought that to the table with us. Since the movement of local eating has gained so much traction, we just felt like the time was right to open Local. If we would have tried five years ago, I’m not sure it would have been as successful.”
The restaurant features an open kitchen, patio, bar, a market featuring local products and meals on-the-go and a children’s center called Localville which includes a nursery, movie cave, reading space, art area, play houses and more.
“When the economy crashed a few years ago, we noticed people weren’t going out to eat as much, especially when it is $40 just to pay a babysitter to be able to leave the house,” she adds. “We wanted to create a place where parents and kids can all eat well and enjoy themselves.”
“We wanted our restaurant to be accessible,” Scaramucci continues. “Our entrees begin at $8. We want it to be food that people can afford. We don’t want to just be a special occasion restaurant. We want it to be something you can enjoy on a regular basis.”
For the Kids
Clark is a former teacher and Scaramucci has dubbed her the “mayor” of Localville. “In addition to our play areas, Abby makes sure that Localville offers different crafts every week and new experiences every time. We know how little people are, and we want to keep it from getting boring,” Scaramucci explains.
Localville is designed to allow kids to eat at their own pace while their parents enjoy their meal in the adjacent dining room. Children are also welcome to dine with their parents at the table and play in Localville before or after the meal.
“One thing you’ll notice about Localville is that there are no French fries, no mac and cheese and no chicken nuggets on our menu,” Scaramucci says. “We think it is terrible that those are your only choices for kids when you eat out. Here, kids can take ownership by choosing their own menu, which is full of the things that short people love, but that are also healthy.”
Children create their own meals from seasonal lists of fruits, vegetables and entrees including almond baked chicken, cheese ravioli, turkey sandwich, meatloaf slider, scrambled eggs and cheese pizza. “We make really good kid food. For example, our cheese pizza is made with local bread, using marinara made from local tomatoes and low-fat cheese,” Scaramucci explains.
Safety is a primary concern at Localville, where a secure check-in process requires parents to provide photo identification and other safeguards. All Localville staff undergo a background check and receive their food handlers certification. “Parents can relax and enjoy their meal, knowing that their kids are having fun and we will text them if their kids need anything,” Scaramucci assures.
Farm to Fork
About 70 percent of the food served at Local comes directly from farms in Oklahoma. “Even though many local farms have really diversified what they can produce, there are some things we just can’t buy locally, like lemons and olive oil,” Scaramucci notes. “But we try to have a local component in every dish. Our beef, buffalo and salads all come from local farms. We buy our fish directly from sustainable fishermen, so it comes in fresh. If we can’t get something locally, we work hard to find sources that have the same philosophies that we do.”
Being closely connected with local agriculture, Local’s menu changes with the seasons. “We eat seasonally and our menu reflects that,” Scaramucci laughs. “We will put fresh tomatoes on practically everything during tomato season.” Since all of Local’s food is handmade on site, the menu is accommodating to vegetarians and vegans, as well as those with gluten-free diets or food allergies.
Scaramucci’s favorite entrée is the four meat meatloaf, which combines local beef, buffalo, lamb and pork with a bacon and mushroom sauce. “I crave it!” she admits.
Other crowd pleasers include the restaurant’s Super Yummy Pita (which features local chicken and a house-made sundried tomato aoli), the stacked chicken enchiladas (rolled in blue corn tortillas with an ancho crema and tomatillo sauce) and their signature hand cut truffle chips (served with a trio of dipping sauces made on site).
Also changing with the season are Local’s decadent desserts. Current offerings include banana split bread pudding, carrot ginger cake and blueberry pecan cheesecake. Also, Local’s Buzz Bomb Cake (a flourless chocolate cake with a smear of brandied apricot ganache and topped with chocolate mousse) recently won “Best in Show” at the 2013 Festival of the Arts. “It’s really rich and gluten-free,” Scarmucci adds.
On Sundays, Local offers a family-style, themed brunch menu from 10:00am–3:00pm. “Our brunches were inspired by the excellent experience provided by the Princess Brunch at Disney World,” Scaramucci confides. “But we changed it up by bringing the buffet to the table. We love the ideas of bringing all the breakfast food you care to eat to you. We wanted it to be a memorable experience.”
Rounding out each week’s three-course brunch is a special “dessert” pancake, tied to the meal’s theme. Recent brunch menus have included pineapple upside down pancakes, red velvet pancakes, peach pancakes and mimosa pancakes with champagne whipped cream.
Beyond the Menu
Local also offers catering for weddings, receptions and events of all sizes, and can customize the menu to fit any budget or style. “We can bring Local to you,” Scaramucci says. “We have a very talented catering staff, so we have lots to work with.”
The Local Market offers local team apparel, gifts, home accessories and local art. In addition, the Market offers “grab-and-go” single-serving and family-size entrees. “We stock the market with things you could take with you, so come in for lunch and take home a turkey lasagna or housemade ravioli with you.”
“In the future, we would love to expand and open another location,” Scaramucci says. “Our first year has just been super huge and we love being part of our community. We do a lot and give a lot back to the community.”
And the accolades have already begun pouring in. In its first year, Local has been honored for excellence by the Norman Chamber of Commerce, the Festival of the Arts and the Firehouse Art Center’s annual Chocolate Festival. The restaurant was also a finalist in the “Best Family-Friendly Restaurant” category in MetroFamily’s 2013 Family Favorites awards program. And Scaramucci says the best is yet to come.
“I love how proud people are to be Oklahomans now, how people have embraced the 405, 918 and 580. They really want to eat local, buy local and wear a shirt with an Oklahoma theme,” she reflects. “Local for us means everything Oklahoma and we are proud to be part of that.”
Brooke Barnett is the Assistant Editor and Online Content Manager at MetroFamily Magazine.