Circa closing leaves a void

Local food pioneer Circa is dark, a “for lease” sign is in the front window and Hart’s future is uncertain.

For eight years, local food pioneer Circa was a fixture at 76 Albany St., at the stoplight in the village of Cazenovia. Chef-owner Alicyn Hart drew regulars for standing menu items like a cheese plate spotlighting artisan cheeses from local creameries, the Circa burger (with local beef, turkey or elk, plus a veggie option) and chef’s specials like heirloom tomato tart with fresh mozzarella and fennel fronds and Copper River salmon with braised radishes. A small market brought in folks who just needed to pick up a few things — like homemade bread, local eggs and free-range chicken.

Now, the restaurant is dark, a “for lease” sign is in the front window and Hart’s future is uncertain.

“Eight years to build a business and eight DAYS to break it down! How about that?,” Hart noted in a Facebook post July 1. “Although I’m not quite ready to talk about my feelings just yet, I can say this: It has been an absolute blast! I built a life here around this business, and now I’m ready to live it. I am grateful, honored, and humbled… by the gratitude I have been shown by this community.

So as I’ve been saying, I can’t wait to see you all on the other side — of the doors that is! Look for my surprise kitchen stints as they ‘pop up.’ “Hart is enjoying some time off this summer, including a visit and “food tour” of Connecticut, where she began her culinary career more than 20 years ago.

Linda Quinn misses her friend and favorite chef already. Quinn was at Circa for its opening in 2006, its closing June 21, its “Occupy Albany Street” bash June 22 and many meals in between, including a dinner to celebrate her marriage. It was one of the few restaurants in the area that meshed with Quinn’s interest in seasonal, local food, fresh from the farm and garden, prepared healthily and with little adornment, allowing the true flavor of meats and vegetables to show through.

“Circa’s emphasis on more health-conscious food was a real turn-on for me,” says Quinn, a nutritionist who lives in Manlius and serves as nutritional spokeswoman for the New York State Apple Growers Association. “We love her homemade pasta and whatever specials Ali had,” Quinn adds. “She was always trying something new and she never disappointed.”

Hart had made it known a year ago that she would not renew the lease on her 1,200 square foot restaurant space due to rising rent. Her lease expired May 31 and Circa remained open a few more weeks. She had hoped to move Circa to another location in the village, but that bid was shot down when the owner of the building withdrew his request for a zone change, due to neighborhood opposition to the restaurant proposal.

In May, Hart told Cazenovia Republican reporter and editor Jason Emerson that she plans to continue her search for a new location for her restaurant. “I plan to stay in Caz, but I plan to find a better fit for myself,” she said. Quinn mourns the loss of Circa but is optimistic about her friend Alicyn’s future.

“I keep telling her the best is yet to come,” Quinn says. “She has always been true to her concept of fresh, local food. I’m sure she will bring her energy to something — we just don’t know what yet. She’s an amazing woman.”

Margaret McCormick blogs about food at Follow her on Twitter at @mmccormickcny. Email her at [email protected].

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