By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire
Elaine Cowan, owner of UX Locale, may be more tired than she’s ever been, but she’s never been happier. Her restaurant, known for “slow, peasant food with an Italian twist” reflects a desire to do something she’s wanted to do her entire life. Her recipes and cooking style come from fond memories of watching her family, friends, and “Grafton Hill” neighbors cook with love, affection, and a yearning to nurture others through food.
In her mind’s eye, and while she cooks, Elaine sees the enormous hands of her father flipping over a frittata in a cast iron pan. She sees the kind eyes of her former landlords, Fuji and Stella, whom she lived above in a three-decker home during early marital years. She sees the verdant leaves of dandelion salads tossed into olive oil, and can still smell the dusty earth of a freshly picked summer tomato.
Elaine Cowan is a foodie, a gardener, an artist, and an interior decorator whose Sicilian and Irish roots have become the fruits of her essence. Memories of the slow, sweet life, the dolce vita, she claims, have found their way into the kitchen of her new restaurant, UXLocale. Here, at her home away from home, she’s able to express a lifelong passion to cook, commune, and create. Tucked away on 510 Hartford Ave, Uxbridge, the restaurant is approaching its one-year anniversary and boasting a fine show of just how good it gets when people come together to eat.
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“This is an affirmation that people are good,” Elaine said, scurrying into the restaurant (and running late) on a stormy Wednesday afternoon during off-hours. “The world is crazy but people are good.”
Amongst the good people in her company are the farmers she’s come to know and appreciate while sourcing locally from them to provide sustainable, nourishing meals. The bulk of her produce comes from Foppema’s Farm in Northbridge. Her eggs are from Douglas Orchard and Farm, and Chockalog Farm. Microgreens are bought from First Leaves Family Farm, and spices, from Brozzian Bros., Whitinsville.
“Locally sourced food is not only good for the economy, it tastes better. Every day I’m amazed that the next day is better than the one before. I just want to live that slow, sweet life,” she said, finding a rare (and ironic) moment to sit down and reflect upon how well her family business is doing.
Her morning crew – a clutch four – includes her son, Chad, his girlfriend, Meena (both of whom traveled back home from Western Washington University last year to help her start up the restaurant business), her daughter, Antonia, and her early-arriving nephew, Peter. Whether it’s to knead Italian-imported dough, prepare fresh flower centerpieces for the dining room, or stir a homemade vodka sauce, Elaine and her family work steadily to set in motion both the expected and the unexpected. Like a choreographed dance, she and Antonia cook and create side by side at the kitchen stove, hardly needing to speak at all. Here, in a space that’s perhaps too small for an onslaught of orders acquired from a job well done, new memories blend with old ones.
“I refuse to be labeled, follow a recipe, fad, or trend, the former art museum educator admitted. “Everybody is rooting for each other here.There is no script. We have a server meeting before beginning each day but that’s about it. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into Italian or American. I have to have the freedom to be creative and I refuse to be called anything. It’s going to be artful but you may never get the same thing twice.”
Amid the cooking process, Elaine hasn’t forgotten her modest roots. “When you don’t grow up with a lot you learn to make the most of what you have. I like to do what I can with locally grown foods. Since tomatoes are so fresh during this time of year, I like to find about five different ways to serve them. We may run out of certain ingredients but customers can expect their meals to be fresh. It’s been good. People are just so good.”
In order to ensure that her dishes—such as the Antipasto Di Mare Misto, a ceviche- like salad with calamari, Spanish onions, fresh parsley and lemony vinaigrette, or Papa’s Vitamin G Carbonara, with smoked bacon, garlic, white wine, egg, peas, and parmigiana reggiano—are both creative and fresh, Elaine is indebted to local farmers (such as Aaron Socrat of Douglas Farm and Orchard) who are only a text away and able to “rescue her” daily when in a pinch.
UXLocale dishes, aligned with what’s in-season, are as varied as the dusky skies that blanket the farm’s new patio, with stretches of summer pinks, autumn golds and cottony winter greys. “Each dish comes out a little bit different each time. I don’t measure,” she confessed, commenting on the unexpected surge of business that arose during the fourth-of-July week. “People told me to close but I stayed open and I’m so glad that I did. No one was planning on this to happen. Everyone came together for me and it all just worked out. I have no formal culinary experience. I’m a social worker turned art educator. Food has always been such an important part of my life. I was at a point where I worked in hospitals - waitressing and catering to everything. But my passion was always there in the background. I finally said, ‘I’m taking an opportunity and going with it.’ I was petrified. I pulled out of my retirement and decided to do everything I needed to do to make this work.”
Doing everything needed to make her restaurant work has come with magnificent responsibility, which includes fourteen-hour days, the help of a generous community, and an on-going commitment to remain artful and upbeat. “I’d never be able to open up a restaurant if people didn’t give me things,” she says, gesturing to a cozy interior “brought back to its glory” with knotty pine, white linens, dim lighting, and the displayed work of talented, local artists. “We put in some really long hours. I put a call out on Facebook and workers from all parts of my life came out to help. Most of what I use for decoration is a hand-me-down from a relative, or we made it. There is an occasional crank, but most people have been phenomenal.”
Not only have UxLocale patrons been phenomenal, they have also become new friends—seated at a rustic bar seasoned by the wafting aroma of brick oven pizza—and which serves fine wines and specialty micro brews such as the Abita Purple Haze (on draught) and Rogue Dead Guy Ale (on bottle). “People are talking to each other,” Elaine said, thoroughly pleased by her restaurant’s spontaneity. “Two customers who lived on the same street for years, West Street, never knew each other but ended up becoming friends at the bar. They couldn’t believe they had lived so close yet had never spoken. This is how I grew up, this is the way things were,” she went on to say, sharing a pertinent memory of her former fifth grade teacher, Mr. Grillo, who had the class “falling out of their chairs laughing” at the stories created from the music he played, music which helped kids to really “listen” and feel joyful. “Everyone who crossed his path was just better,” she said. “There’s enough time for devices in the world. I just want that sweet, slow life. People here are hanging out, talking, and enjoying each other’s company. My family had something that they gave. They were so proud and loving. I’m doing the same. It’s exactly what I want.”
UXLocale is open for Dinner on Wednesday & Thursday, 5 – 9 PM, Friday & Saturday nights, 5 – 10 PM and Sunday Supper, 2 – 8 PM. Find out more about them at theuxlocale.com
ICE CREAM WINDOWS
WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY 2-9 PM
FRIDAY & SATURDAY 2-10 PM
SUNDAY 2-8 PM
510 Hartford Avenue, West
Uxbridge, MA 01569
Call for Reservations: 508-779-7515
Amy also happens to be an Italian, and a foodie. Write to her at [email protected]