Restaurant Gossip

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Glass art

       Lately, Second Street Gallery has been running a rather complicated fundraiser for which 12 local restaurants have developed “Artinis”— variations on the classic martini that have some art-related twist. The 12 are to be judged by six local celebrity judges, who are out there pounding the pavement (and the booze) as we speak, in preparation for final judging at a big Ix Building dance party on June 23.
       Kristina Cruise, NBC29 news anchor, is an Artini judge and, she was eager to have us report, not a big drinker. We know some of you are, though, so frequent imbibers take note: Rapture’s “This is not a martini” (based on Rene Magritte’s oft-reproduced painting of a pipe entitled “This is not a pipe”) contains, Cruise says, a positively embarrassing amount of alcohol—Absolut vodka, that is, with merely “a drop” of vermouth. “I couldn’t have finished the whole thing,” she says. “This thing was huge.”
       There was also some historically appropriate confusion when the server at Rapture delivered the beverage to Cruise’s table, deadpanning, “This is not a martini.” Of course, it is a martini;  it’s a vodka purist’s martini, as martini as a martini can be.  Befuddled, Cruise inquired as to the drink’s contents, and then insisted that it was a martini, apparently not immediately grasping the irony of the concept. Well, Cruise may not be freelancing for Artforum anytime soon, but she does offer this critique: “That drink was strong, and very reasonably priced. Eight dollars for that much good alcohol is well worth it.”
       Blue Light Grill’s creation, which contains Champagne, seems to have been more on Cruise’s wavelength—”fun and fruity,” as she puts it. Live Arts box office manager Darryl Smith, another judge, has also sampled Blue Light’s entry, and reports that it was, along with the Artinis at Escafé and Bang, “very sweet.” He adds, “They’re more like daiquiris than martinis.” Ouch! Well, no one ever truly understands great artists—or bartenders—during their own lifetimes. Smith did praise the presentation of Bang’s Monet-themed creation: “It looked like Monet’s painting with the floating lime in it—like a lily pad.”
       Neither judge plans to sample all 12 Artinis in the field (Smith says simply, “I don’t have the money to do all 12”) but Second Street would like it if you tried at least a few of them (other restaurants with Artinis include the Boar’s Head Inn, Cassis, Fellini’s #9, Michael’s Bistro, Mono Loco, OXO, Starr Hill and Zocalo). And they’d like it even more if you came to their party. Bottoms up, art lushes!

Buck’s goes bunk

You’d think the Corner would be the perfect place to run a pizzeria, but Buck’s Pizza on 14th Street closed its doors as of June 5. What gives? Franchisee Suketu Tripathi wouldn’t comment, so we called Buck’s corporate headquarters up in Pennsylvania. Company president Lance Benton would only say there were “personal issues with the owner,” leaving us to speculate about some fierce, behind-the-scenes battle over the relative merits of anchovies and artichokes. Well, you can still get a pie at Mellow Mushroom or a slice at Bambina’s— and we promise to keep an eye on that now-vacant Buck’s space. (Samosa shop, anyone? Or maybe an all-dessert place. Oooh—how about a non-corporate coffee hangout? Or maybe…)

Frosted Cakes

Cupcakes, like many other vaguely retro items, are currently in vogue. So it’s fitting that über-hip Downtown paper vendor Rock Paper Scissors is now hawking cupcakes. (Also fitting because, well, cupcakes are baked in paper.) They’re made by former Clifton Inn pastry chef Jason McKown, under the name Sugar Daddy. Stop by for a sugar buzz, in rotating flavors like chocolate peanut butter and carrot cake.

Got some restaurant scoop? Send your tips to restaurantarama@c-ville.com or call 817-2749, Ext. 48.

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First things first: Bodo’s founder Brian Fox has sold the venerable 20-year-old bagel business to his three general managers, Connie Jenson, John Kokola and Scott Smith. Fox lays out the whole story himself on page 42—but definitely stay tuned to this space in coming weeks for more behind-the-bagel coverage.

It’s just a little pot

Restaurantarama believes in democracy. After all, we vote with our dollars every time we choose one eatery’s pig feet over another’s paella. And, being hedonistic types, we like democracy best when it’s entertaining, as it was during City Council’s comedic June 5 debate
about some pot. Er, the Melting Pot. (Which, as previously reported, is a franchise fondue restaurant coming soon to the Holsinger Building on Water Street.) Fortunately for you, our dear cheese-addled readers, we were there to observe the scene as the democratic process melted down.
       See, the Melting Pot wants to put up a wall sign with a logo representing a fondue pot. But the Board of Architectural Review nixed the sign in April. Says BAR member and Downtown businesswoman Amy Gardner, who represented the board to Council, “We find the image of the logo to be decorative, embellished and effusive,” meaning it doesn’t match the clean, modern building. Thus, says Gardner, the sign doesn’t meet the zoning guidelines BAR enforces, nor does it fit in with its neighbors on Water and Fifth streets. And it’s too damn big.
       The Melting Pot appealed to Council, and here’s where the circus began. Council discussed this issue for no less than 53 minutes.  During that time, the following events occurred: 1) Out of turn, Councilor Rob Schilling tried (over the pointed objections of Mayor
David Brown) to introduce a motion to approve the sign as submitted.  He failed, but did manage to get this very odd sentence entered into the public record: “I’d be happy to entertain your ignoring it.” Um, thanks, Rob. We’re feeling happy, too. 2) Council proved its
leadership on font-size issues. 3) Famously verbose Councilor Blake Caravati slipped in a pun on “gaudy” (as in the Melting Pot sign) and “Gaudi” (as in Antoni, the Spanish architect).
       Gardner says that the fact that Melting Pot is a chain was not part of the BAR’s discussion, but she does believe that, like any locally owned business, “They need to contribute if they’re going to take advantage of what the Downtown Mall has to offer.” Melting Pot franchisee Chad Hornik, who’s currently based in Richmond, professes great respect for Charlottesville’s jealously guarded charm. “I love the way Downtown looks,” he says, sounding hurt that anyone would suggest otherwise (and annoyed that the Melting Pot’s opening will be, if not delayed, more complicated).
       In the end, the discussion was tabled until Council’s next meeting on June 19, giving Councilors another chance to showcase their cheesy opinions. As long as there’s nothing good on TV that night, Restaurantarama will be there. Look for our totally nonpartisan picket sign: “Logo or not, we want the pot!”

Smoking

Until very recently, hookah aficionados have mostly congregated at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. Now they have another option: Basil, the Mediterranean place on 14th Street. Owner Raif Antar is offering hookahs between 2 and 6pm, when—let’s face it—there’s really nothing better to do than smoke mango-flavored tobacco, eat mezzes and jabber on with your friends. Antar hopes to attract a diverse crowd: “students, people from the [UVA] hospital, professionals who want to run away from the office, wives running away from their husbands.” Physicians and harried spouses, take note.

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Restaurant gossip

Eatin’ almighty: Steve Carell is reportedly a big fan of Crozet Pizza’s half-pepperoni pie.

Almighty appetites
He’s a fantastically wonderful guy.” That’s the report on Steve Carell, star of the big-budget cinematic extravaganza Evan Almighty, from Uncle Charlie’s manager Deke Shipp. This week, Restaurantarama has stars in our eyes, as we go hunting for Hollywood in, of all places, Crozet. And boy do we find it! Word is, with the filming of Evan in full swing, movie types are crawling all over that town’s eateries.    Make that “digging in on a semi-permanent basis.” Shipp says that, almost immediately after Uncle Charlie’s opened its doors on The Square in February, it began hosting a group of crew members who drop by almost daily for dinner and beers after long hours of set-building. When the now-famous ark (which, per the film’s plot, God orders Carell to build) was completed two weeks ago, Shipp says many of the crew came to Charlie’s for a wrap party. “The entire place was full and nobody was from Charlottesville,” he says. “We have pictures of 40 or 50 guys with Uncle Charlie’s T-shirts.”    Yeah, but what about the star wattage? Charlie’s, Crozet Pizza and the Three Notch’d Grill all report Carell sightings. “Steve Carell was here last Friday,” says Jon Bray of Crozet Pizza. Steve apparently likes his pizza half plain, half with pepperoni! (Don’t ever let us hear you say you can’t get useful news from this column.) And Cathy Berry, from Three Notch’d Grill, says Carell once got take-out—“enough for four people.” Nobody’s seen God, though. (By which we mean Morgan Freeman, of course.)    Various crew members seem to have chosen a restaurant to attach themselves to, though they’re not exactly stating their titles clearly: Berry says she’s friendly with the guy who “organizes all the vehicles,” while Shipp has gotten to know “Dave, the special-effects-makeup guy.” Shipp also told us a little yarn about being invited onto the Evan set. “We got to come up in the ark and go right behind the camera banks,” he says. “[Carell] walked up in full Moses garb and said ‘Hey, good to see you.’”     It’s good to see all that extra business, too, say the restaurateurs. “The working crew, they’ll come here on Thursday or Friday to order 20 or 30 pizzas, so they can feed the whole crew,” says Bray. “It’s really odd for us to accommodate that in terms of ordering produce. But we won’t say no to the business.” Shipp is more succinct: “It’s going to be a real bummer to see them go.”

What’s brewing in ConAgra

In other Crozet news, Starr Hill Brewery is now fully up and running in the ConAgra building. Owner and master brewer Mark Thompson says that, after a year of rejiggering part of the gargantuan space, he’s ready to produce about 5,000 barrels of beer this year, up from 3,500 last year in the old W. Main Street location (where Starr Hill Restaurant still sits). That’s a big jump, but it’s nothing compared to the 30,000-barrel capacity Thompson says the new facility could potentially handle. “We are going to be the next national beer brand,” he declares. The 20-year plan is for Starr Hill to be distributed internationally. (Restaurantarama loves the smell of frothy-headed world domination in the morning!)    Meanwhile, you’ll begin seeing more Starr Hill brews in stores around town, starting with Jomo Lager (which, as local beer lovers well know, used to be called Mojo—the moniker had to be scrambled due to a naming conflict with a Colorado-based brewery). The restaurant has gained a private-party room where the brewery used to be. And in three years or so, you can drop into the Starr Hill tasting room in Crozet and sample some suds on the giant building’s rooftop patio. “You can only imagine what it looks like out here as the sun sets over Jarman’s Gap,” says Thompson. Pretty nice, we bet—and even better with a beer.

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Restaurant gossip

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Restaurant gossip

Apparently, there’s some major university or something over near the Corner. Proprietors of that neighborhood’s dining scene are currently gnashing their teeth over the ebb of the great student tide, which declines mightily after graduation comes and sweeps the little darlings off to partake of summer adventures. This means they’re no longer partaking of food and drink (well, these are UVA students, so we should make that drink and food) here in their adopted hometown, and businesses must adjust accordingly.
    “The drop is significant,” says Jabberwocky owner Jim Galloway. “We’re probably down 45 to 50 percent” between May and June, with a slight recovery in July when UVA’s summer activities pick up. Beer and liquor sales take the biggest hit, Galloway says, since students are normally “the only ones here during the evenings.” To even things out, he tries to play up the food side of his business, offering summer specials and discounts on catering; still, his kitchen staff (mostly non-students) has to make do with reduced hours.
    Other restaurateurs claim they’re not hit so hard. Ron Morse, owner of Baja Bean, says that, while his lunch trade slumps somewhat in the summer, tourists keep dinners selling briskly. “When [students are] gone, it’s easier to deal with, if that makes sense,” Morse says. Yes, it makes perfect sense if you’re a local who can finally park a car within crawling distance of a Corner eatery. And if for some reason you require a sandwich during the wee hours, you’ll probably get lightning-quick service at Littlejohn’s; operator Chris Strong says his late night shift is the one most affected by the departure of student wallets. Apparently, students of major universities would rather eat pastrami at 3am than get a good night’s sleep.

Smoked out
Every once in a while you’ll hear about a couple of businesses duking it out over a name they both want to use. (It’s all so postmodern—who owns the language? And more importantly, who has more money for lawyers?) One such scrap is playing out right now over the rights to the name “Dickie’s.” Back in late March, Restaurantarama brought you the news that owner Christian Trendel was planning to reinvent the Rivanna Grill on 29N as Dickie’s Smokehouse and Barbecue. A projected May opening date didn’t materialize; Trendel spent a month in New Orleans working for the Jazz and Heritage Festival, and the tussle over the name is holding things up too. (A texas franchise called Dickey’s Barbecue Pit has moved to stop Trendel from using the name. He’s on the hunt for a new one.)
    Trendel’s new plan calls for opening in late June, and he’s been doing his homework: On the way to New Orleans and back, he says, “I stopped at every BBQ shack, joint or roadhouse and ate more slow-cooked meats than I care to admit to.” For all you pork noshers, this should translate into some well-researched ’cue, under whatever name it’s served.

La Taza Nueva
More evidence of Belmont’s upward trend: La Taza, the Latin-flavored coffee shop that Melissa Easter opened last July on
Hinton Avenue, now has an honest-to-goodness kitchen. Easter recently put in a grill, stove and ovens, so now she can serve real sit-down dinners, including Cuban steak, mahi mahi with pico de gallo, and chicken enchiladas, plus French fries made from the yucca plant.
    Easter’s also applying for the proper ABC license to serve mixed drinks, such as mojitos and Cuba Libres, in addition to the beer and wine she already serves. And her patio’s bigger now, as well. More margaritas for all!

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