Slowly but surely, the separate universe that is Belmont is earning its stripes as a dining destination. It’s worth a trip across the bridge to the town-within-a-town for brunch at Mas or lunch at La Taza, and soon you’ll have another reason to make the journey (or, if you live in Belmont, to cheer): a fancy barbecue joint, run by a guy who honed his skill with a smoker on the competitive barbecue circuit.
Wes Wright has given this little building on Hinton Avenue a makeover. Though he’ll serve barbecue, it’s no shack.
We speak of Wes Wright, who boldly predicts that his soon-to-open Belmont Bar-B-Q will become a “Charlottesville institution.” It’s in a cute little building right across Hinton Avenue from La Taza, which not coincidentally is run by Wright’s sister, Melissa Easter. Wright’s been busy remodeling the building and putting in classy touches: nice ceramic tiles on the floor, corrugated metal on the front of the counter, pendant lights. Oh yeah—and a smoker capable of handling 700 pounds of meat at a time. (Any pigs reading this should leave town immediately.)
“Ribs are what it’s all about,” says Wright, waxing nostalgic about his years of reconnaissance in barbecue joints in Memphis, Oklahoma, Kansas City and Texas. Ribs, yes—and brisket, pulled pork, chicken and turkey: a regular carnivore’s nirvana. “I can only live so long without eating barbecue,” he declares.
Though he claims inspiration from those down-and-dirty barbecue pits of the Lower Midwest, Wright promises a sparkly-clean establishment meant mostly for takeout. He also says you’ll be able to order online, then skip the lines and pick up your dinner at a walk-up window. (No immediate plans for an ABC license, says Wright, who intends to open around the end of January. Maybe you’ll carry your takeout across the street and buy a beer from his sister.)
His sister, in turn, might be found at still another establishment on this block—Saxx Jazz and Blues Club—where, starting in February, she’ll be providing food cooked up in her kitchen next door at La Taza. The nosh? “A sophisticated jazz menu,” says Easter: jambalaya, cheese trays, soul food on Sundays, and prime rib smoked at—you guessed it—Wright’s place. If interconnectedness is a recipe for success, this block of Hinton is well on its way to greatness.
Times seem tougher on W. Main Street, where Northern Exposure has become the second standby, after the Blue Bird Café, to exit the stage in recent weeks. Though 13-year-old Northern stopped serving regular meals January 15, manager Jeff Hale is careful to paint the change as an “evolution:” He’s joined forces with Applause Catering and will keep Northern alive as an event venue.
“Over the past year [we’ve had] more and more people looking for places to have private parties, meetings, and lunches,” he says. “It makes sense to move that way.” He hopes to host everything from Christmas parties to sorority dinners.
It was only a year ago that Northern rolled out a new menu in a bid for more traffic, with Hale quoted in this space saying he hoped Northern would be “a major force in the Charlottesville restaurant scene.” (That Coran Capshaw had bought the place seemed like a point in its favor; none of Capshaw’s other seven restaurants have gone this direction.) Now, he says a number of factors—not the least of which is the free trolley that spirits once-reliable student business away to the Downtown Mall—has caused Northern to go slowly south. “Of course it’s really sad” to see the change, says Hale. “I’ve been here 12 years.”
So, if you long for Exposure, throw a party. Or wait for a holiday—they’ll open for special occasions like Valentine’s Day, says Hale.
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