Eats on High

Eats on High

Out on E. High Street is a bit of a haven for the home-cooking aficionado. You’ve got Jak’n’Jil, Riverside Lunch and, just across Route 250, the old-fashioned ice-cream stand Chandler’s. Dining-wise, the neighborhood stands in sharp contrast to the more uppity mores of Downtown, as well as the Corner’s frothy scene. Until the beginning of September, the diner fare at Donnie Mc’s LLC was also part of this little traditionalist pocket. And though Alan Brown and his fiancée Sandy Morris, who bought the place at that time, have done a lot to spruce it up (and changed the name to Big Al’s Restaurant and Saloon), they intend to keep offering the kind of food that, in style and price, makes no pretensions.
“I used to be in the corporate world for years and years,” explains Brown. In his business travels, he says, he’d check into hotels and ask, “Where do the locals eat?” The kinds of places he’d be sent in answer to this question are models for Big Al’s. “It caters to the working guy, the blue-collar crowd,” he says. “We emphasize true home-Southern cooking”—pork chop specials, biscuits made from scratch, breakfast, burgers—almost all under $10.
Cooking all this time-honored stuff is Tony Harvey, who, at age 74, boasts a six-decade history in Charlottesville kitchens. According to Brown, Harvey has cooked all over town, including at The Tavern (this was the late ’60s, mind you!), the now-defunct Chuck Wagon, and Moore’s Creek. Brown says that putting Harvey’s name on his restaurant’s sign has helped draw some business already.
You can do karaoke at Big Al’s, too—as well as see bands or just have a drink. The place seats about 70 now, and Brown says next spring he may enclose the patio to create a bigger bar with its own entrance. “We’re seeing people from 21 to 81,” Brown says. “Everybody gets along.”
Promotional zeal
Here are a couple of entries for your master list of “ways to sell people dinner.” (Apparently, in a nearly saturated dining market like this one, restaurants have to do more than just be there if they hope to be relevant. Not so in some of your more isolated burgs, where one or two diners can serve whatever they want, and as badly as they want, and still attract—well, everybody.) One trick is to link your menu to some other local happening, and that’s exactly the card Reed Anderson, executive chef at Blue Light Grill, is playing with his pre-theater menu.
For $30, Anderson explained, you can choose three courses from a pared-down version of his regular menu, and he guarantees that you will be done with your meal in time to see a show at the Paramount or Live Arts. You just have to sit down at Blue Light at least an hour before showtime. How does Anderson pull this off? “Very carefully. And quickly,” he says. Indeed, gobbling three courses in one hour might rival theatrical performances in terms of sheer spectacle. But you can, of course, arrive earlier if you prefer. Reservations are recommended.
Another promotional event, and possibly an even more jaw-droppingly speedy one, is the free burrito day that Chipotle Mexican Grill will hold on October 19 at its new Barracks Road store, in order to introduce all of you happy burrito lovers to its products. That’s a free burrito and drink, people, between 11am and 8pm. But don’t go for the food; go for the entertainment. We’re told that during free burrito days at other Chipotle branches (there are 500 nationally), workers have rolled up to 400 burritos per hour—and they do it while you watch.

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