Guess what we saw last Tuesday when we were strolling down the Mall? Why, the newly reopened doors of The Nook. Being devoted correspondents—as well as hungry for lunch—we marched right in and asked for a table.
Well, what do you know—the place was full! On its second official day of business! We were happy to wait a few minutes, since it gave us a chance to scope out the changes new owner, Stu Rifkin, and his partners have wrought since last summer when they took over the Downtown landmark (which has been in existence for more than 50 years). Floors: old vinyl gone, replaced by classic small black-and-white tiles. There’s a schmancy wooden bar matching the half-wall that divides booths from entryway. And the menu looks like it was designed by, well, a designer.
The Nook is all new, and actually serves alcohol at its spiffy bar.
Once we had our booth and opened that menu up, we realized that The Nook is still itself, but—just like its brick walls that used to be covered in plaster, and are now gloriously revealed—it has a bit more style now, a bit more self-consciousness. (Historical photos of Charlottesville bedeck those bricks: Can you say nostalgia?)
Well, it’s nothing new for diners to turn into trendier, less crusty versions of themselves—a very similar case is the Blue Moon Diner, which recently reopened on W. Main Street. The Nook still means plates of sandwiches and chips, chicken salad on lettuce (Romaine now, not iceberg), and bottomless cups of coffee. Rifkin says the bar menu also seems to be catching on, with pioneering patrons already having done lunchtime shots of tequila.
We enjoyed the bustle peculiar to a brand-new restaurant that’s pulling about as much traffic as it can handle, and we especially loved the tiny carrot-cake cupcakes that topped off our meal. For the full experience, we’ll have to try out dinner, another big change from its previous incarnation under Terry Shotwell. (Nook at night, anyone?)
North, south and central
Back in fall 2004, it seemed like the Pizza Bella family of restaurants was riding high. There were two Pizza Bellas—one up at Forest Lakes and the other off Avon Street—and Willie Manning, son of Bella owner Christine Manning, had just taken over the 20-year-old Rococo’s Bistro off Hydraulic Road. Chef Hernan Franco had joined him in the venture and brought plenty of experience with him, since he’d worked at Rococo’s previously before Stu Rifkin bought it during the ‘90s.
Times have changed. Rococo’s shut its doors last month (more on its fate in a moment), and now so has Pizza Bella North. Both seem to be more widely mourned than most defunct restaurants. We should have more for you soon as to what exactly happened, but for now we will say that Pizza Bella South is still around.
Neither of the two spaces is without a shepherd. We have it on good authority that Pizza Bella North will become an Indian restaurant. And Rococo’s will be guided by the able hand of Alejandro Montiel, who’s enjoyed some success with his Latin-flavored eatery in Crozet, La Cocina del Sol. Montiel was once a chef at Boar’s Head Inn and helped develop the menu at Belmont café La Taza—both fine credentials, in our opinion. We’ll bring you more details as soon as we can.
Hong Kong, the Mongolian grill, and the take ’n’ bake pizzeria Superstars Pizza—both on Emmet Street—have closed. Meanwhile, the new Hinton Avenue barbecue joint we wrote about a few weeks ago, Belmont Bar-B-Que, is open for business. Do these events confirm the theory that people are rejecting car-centric suburbia and returning to a more pedestrian, urban lifestyle? That would be nice.
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