We like the fact that our little town has a reputation for good dining and dedicated diners, because that reputation attracts still more promising restaurants. Whatever’s the opposite of a vicious cycle—a kindly cycle?—this is it. Case in point: Lemongrass, a Thai and Vietnamese place soon to open on the Corner, will be run by a couple of experienced restaurateurs who have come here to Charlottesville because, well, they heard we like to eat.
Hiep Pham and Hoang Mai, a husband-and-wife team, have owned restaurants in a couple of other college towns—Ithaca, New York, and Los Alamos, New Mexico—and they made the jump to Charlottesville partly because of the University population that they’re betting will support their efforts. (Plus, our weather beats the pants off Ithaca’s.) The two served Thai food in New York, then added Vietnamese to the mix in New Mexico; Restaurantarama’s vast network of national correspondents reports that both eateries have been much praised by their respective communities. So we’re betting that y’all will be pleased with what they feed you.
When we talked with Pham, he was in the midst of turning the former Buck’s Pizza space on 14th Street into a sit-down, full-service (though casual) restaurant. He’ll serve lunch and dinner, and the menu, he says, will focus on four areas: the Vietnamese noodle soup pho, the Thai “national noodle” pad thai, curries and seafood. You might get to have a Thai beer with your meal, too, though Pham’s still considering whether to get an ABC license and says that “Thai and Vietnamese food are not conducive to wine.”
We think, with its leather-chair decor, unfancy prices and quick lunch service, that this place—at least as Pham describes it—sounds like a good value. It may even be open, with a limited menu, by the time you read this. With any luck, the new place will merit praise from Charlottesvillians akin to this bubbly comment from a patron at Pham’s New Mexico business, Lemongrass & Lime: “I love it all! My family all loves it too! It’s my favorite place in town to eat!”
More of a ground thing
They say location is everything in business, and Irvin Santiago says that’s especially true when it comes to the powerful drug called coffee. He’s about to open a Downtown branch of Java Java, the café whose original location is on Ivy Road. Yes, that’s right: within blocks of coffee hangouts Mudhouse and Café Cubano, not to mention the generous handful of other places where you can already get a decent joe-to-go, this guy is opening a coffeeshop. We have to admire his chutzpah. But he says the market’s there, because people in need of caffeine are naturally impatient: “You go to the nearest place,” he says. For jonesing coffee drinkers, “there’s nothing on that end” (the east, that is) of the Mall.
Other than bleary City Hall workers, the key to Santiago’s success will probably be Java Java’s environmentally and socially responsible practices. (John Leschke, Santiago’s partner, opened the first branch just over three years ago and billed it as a fair-trade organic coffeeshop that recycles as much as possible, and generally tries to do right by the community.)
Beyond that, he says, he’ll try to strike “a delicate balance between being a place where you hang out, and being high-functioning” with the help of the generous 1,800 square feet the former Glaze ’n’ Blaze space affords. So those of you drinking your coffee on-site will not be in the way of those who prefer to zip in and out with your little cardboard cups—which you will, of course, recycle. Look for the spot to open in about two weeks.
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