When rumor had it that Il Cane Pazzo was for sale, Restaurantarama worried that it was another case of the Great Global Depression of 2008 hitting the shores of Charlottesville again. Turns out it’s not nearly that terrible or that scandalous. We checked in with owner Brian Helleberg for the scoop.
“Yes, I’ve listed it for sale,” says Helleberg. “I’m investigating whether someone might want to buy it, but so far there hasn’t been the right fit. I may hold onto it and make some changes myself.”
Helleberg, who also owns French eateries Fleurie and Petit Pois, purchased the restaurant in 2006 when it was a homey, rustic Italian spot called L’Avventura. While Helleberg clearly knows how to make good food and run great restaurants, several
Always something: Il Cane Pazzo owner Brian Helleberg says that if he doesn’t find the right owners soon, he’ll do some revamping.
different circumstances seem to have conspired to give Il Cane Pazzo a bit of trouble truly taking off despite Helleberg’s capable hands. First, partly because of the chef at the helm—Sebastian Jack, who helped Helleberg launch Fleurie—is interested in more classic French cuisine, the food has gotten away from that kind of simple, just-put-the-pasta-on-the-plate (read: inexpensive) Italian cuisine that L’Avventura served, so folks thinking they’d be getting the same kind of menu might have been a bit disappointed. Then, of course, the attached Vinegar Hill Theatre started languishing and closure was imminent until Adam Greenbaum, owner of Staunton’s Visulite Cinemas, rescued the venue in November and infused it with a new dose of cinematic energy.
“Traffic on that part of town has definitely increased since Greenbaum has been running the theater a bit more aggressively,” says Helleberg.
Oh, but then somewhat ridiculously, there is also the issue of the name (which means “the crazy dog,” by the way).
“People are always complaining about the name. That they can’t pronounce it or it doesn’t make sense,” says Helleberg.
If he doesn’t find the right buyers soon, Helleberg says that he’ll do his own revamping, perhaps going back to more a simple Italian focus, doing a bit of renovations and also changing the name.
Incidentally, Helleberg says that he also often hears complaints about the names of Fleurie and Petit Pois. Some people claim they’re too hard to remember or pronounce, which ruffles Restaurantarama’s feathers a bit. What is the deal with you people? If it doesn’t have a “Mc” in the front or “Grille” at the end, you can’t say it or can’t possibly understand what you’re going to be eating?
Thankfully, Helleberg says he isn’t bowing to any kind of pressure on the monikers of those popular places.
As for other Cane Pazzo changes, Helleberg has already instituted a $20 three course prix fixe menu to get a few more bodies in the seats. Look for additional menu changes if not (and we hope not) completely new owners in the coming months.
Asia Speciality has opened in the old Boheme space and owner Zhiwei Wang Estes says that on Christmas day within only days of opening, she was packed. We unfortunately forgot to ask if the staff busted out a rendition of “Deck the Halls” for the diners, but we did stop in last week for a hearty $7.50 “Lunch Express” meal, which came with two entrees from a choice of about six (we chose the tofu and vegetables and the Kung Pao Chicken), fried rice, salad and a drink. We also tried the homemade chicken dumplings and found them to be delectably warm, salty and indeed homemade.
Finally, Walter Slawski, co-owner of ZydeCo Bourbon St. Barbeque on Elliewood Avenue and The Shebeen, tells us that ZydeCo will not reopen after its usual holiday break. Slawski says the concept just didn’t work well over there and that he’s investigating a concept change or sale of the restaurant. We will keep you posted!