Dr. Ho’s is its own little universe down there in North Garden. It’s packed, for example, on Tuesday nights, and one gets a sense of a close-knit world that embraces both sides of the counter. We stopped in after work for takeout—nothing fancy, just a large pizza with garlic, tomato and beef—and were comforted not only by the feeling of warm-pie-on-lap as we drove home, but by the genuine and cheerful atmosphere that seemed to prevail inside the shop.
The other night, we learned from our friends, Continental regulars, that saying “one with” will get you “one house margarita with salt.” We then deployed this new knowledge repeatedly. Somewhere amid the ensuing mayhem, we also ate about half of a spinach and mushroom enchilada—the other half made for delicious leftovers for next day’s lunch—and half the beans and rice that came with. The regulars’ pumpkin muffins came home for breakfast. Everybody felt bueno.
Poking around the elegant new foyer of TJ’s house—the visitor center, that is, which recently opened—we got some education, browsed some souvenirs, and topped off the afternoon with a hot coffee and a chocolate chip peanut butter bar from the cafe, which is run by your buddies at Brix. They’re still doing their gourmet thing at the foot of the little mountain, and the new setting is just as appealing as the old funky one on the bend of Rt. 53—a fine place for lunch, even if you don’t knock on the president’s door.
In a hurry at breakfast, and not wanting to spend a fortune, we finally clued in to the fact that every Downtown worker and her mother lines up to buy $1 pastries from Blue Ridge Country Store. Hello! At that price, our apple scone suddenly seemed to need an accompaniment, and we found a worthy one in a container of yogurt and granola from the back fridge case. It’s not the fanciest breakfast we’ve ever had, but it’s tasty and affordable.
For a solitary dinner at dusk, Basil turned out to be a nice choice: solicitous waitstaff and a menu big enough to make the meal feel like an occasion, even sans company. It wasn’t easy to choose, but we were happy with our belly dancer salad, a typically Greek combination of tomatoes, red onions, and feta, pushed over the top by the addition of two fluffy falafel balls. (Why did we never think of this before?) A cup of tea finished off the meal with a flourish.
Some like it hot, but we think that even spice-conservatives will find Mas’ sautéed Padron peppers just right for one-bite popping. Charred and sprinkled with a hint of grey sea salt for that savory kick, the peppers had just enough heat to keep us on our toes. Meanwhile, the jumbo Catalan shrimp, grilled in-shell and dipped in aioli, were good enough to make us lick our fingers. Oh, and the chorizo on brick oven bread? A carnivore’s dream.
Call us saps for dubbing this the star of an already star-studded meal, but the shrimp and mussels Romesco appetizer blew us away. Spicy, tomato-y, and absolutely divine, the Romesco sauce, drizzled with garlicky aioli, found itself dipped, spooned and scraped into non-existence within seconds. Bites of grilled chorizo were delicious but all too scarce; next time we’ll order double, with extra orders of bread for better dipping.
Not your ordinary hoagie, Cubano’s Cuban sandwich, from the specials menu, is a winning combination: thin-sliced ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard are piled between slices of soft Cuban bread and pressed until they all become one. Another case of the whole being much more than the sum of its parts. Served with tortilla chips and salsa, it made for a two-meal deal that kept our lips smacking.
A Corner newcomer but by no means new to the game, Rita’s dishes up a delicious version of gelato with layers of thick, luscious custard and a variety of Italian ice flavor options. Whether for top-to-bottom tunneling or layer-by-layer excavation, we found this a tasty alternative to the standard ice cream cone. Some of our favorites: mango, lemonade, and a limited edition Pumpkin Pie.
We feel like we ate our way through Europe in sandwich form. Layered generously with fresh avocado, Cafe Europa’s Black Sea felt decadent, but avoided over-richness with the bite of black olives, thin slices of red onion, tomato, sprouts, and a bright lemon dressing. Everything was both fresh and refreshing at this Corner hideaway, including our Greek side salad and the quick service.
You know, some dishes come and go and others really earn their stripes. Such is the bazaar salad served at the more-than-half-a-decade-old-by-now teahouse. This thing has been one of the most reliable healthy meals Downtown for quite a while, and so we salute it: From the sheer volume of its greenery and the distinctive notes of its dressing, to the fact that some toppings are pure Americana (tomato, cucumber) while others hint at the exotic (feta, candied walnuts), this is a salad to come back to. And believe us, we do.
Well, my goodness—a little takeout lunch from Downtown Thai turns out to be a feast and a half! A basic red curry, sure—long julienned strips of something crunchy, maybe bok choy, with carrots, green beans and tofu, and enough steamed rice to soak up a copious portion of light but fiery sauce. Maybe it was the two delicious chunks of deep-fried plantain on the side that kicked the whole plate up a notch. This is a lot of food, and elegantly prepared.
Poking into a familiar espresso bar with a new location—Milano, of course—we considered getting something all European and sophisticated to go with our tall Americano. But in the end it was something very homegrown that earned its place as our afternoon pick-me-up: a “chewy chunky blondie,” reminiscent of a seven-layer cookie with its coconut/chocolate chip/walnut/toffee flavors, and substantial as a brownie. In other words, an all-American sugar fest. Bellissimo!
Rabies shot in hand, we ventured into a restaurant everyone passes by on their way to the library, or court. But Il Cane Pazzo restaurant was nothing to be scared about. Quite the contrary. After the idylliac homemade bread with olive oil (a la pinzimonio) we decided to go for something traditional. The homemade pappardelle with Bolognese sauce and Bechamel arrived fast and steamy and utterly satisfied our experienced palates. So we say run, Il Cane Pazzo, run!
Inspired by a comment in this year’s Best Of writeups (see “Best Frozen Treat”), we marched into time-honored Timberlake’s to partake of a pleasure so classic there’s practically a glow around it. We speak, friends, of the chocolate milkshake. Served in a heavy glass by been-there-forever waitresses, the shake is thick enough to stand up a straw and, speaking frankly, to resist our efforts at sucking it down. But we persisted. The chocolate payoff was well worth it—all the way down.
Patrick Critzer’s Hamdingers cart is a seasonal pleasure, so we bellied up to make the most of it. Almost as good as the roast vegetable sandwich was the pleasure of watching Critzer put it together, armed with the tools and ingredients of his tidily arranged cart. The meal itself was savory and warm, a sub bun filled with tofu and veggies and topped with avocado and cheddar. Like summer, it didn’t last long.
We considered a mere take-out pastry to fuel up on a recent Wednesday morning, but instead went for the gold: a real sit-down breakfast in which we stuffed ourselves to the gills with Bluegrass’ Number 5. It’s a groaning plate of scrambled eggs generously stuffed with spinach, tomatoes, green peppers and cheese, accompanied by good coffee and potatoes with the skins still on. The real star here, though, are the biscuits. We’ll mention the cakey texture and earthy whole-wheat taste, but we can’t truly explain how good, good, good those biscuits are.
We hesitate to call the fare at The Flat slow food (as opposed to fast food), but we don’t mind a bit waiting on one of the benches outside the diminutive crêperie, sucking in the exhaust fumes from Water Street, because we know that whatever we’ve ordered is lovingly prepared and fresh. Take the spinach, mushroom, tomato and feta crêpe. With its bursts of ’shroom flavor and overall essence of perfectly tasty pancake, it’s like a Greek salad on steroids—a sure winner.
We’ve become pretty big fans of Sublime since it opened: Anytime we’re on the Corner, we find ourselves tempted by the abundance of fresh produce that packs the menu. The salads treat veggies like central players, not afterthoughts, and the rainforest redemption shake we had last time we stopped in was the most complex concoction we’ve ever known to carry that moniker: sweet, chilly, nutty and earthy all at once. What a perfect and sophisticated treat on a heavy summer day.
We’d picked up a raisin pastry at Cannelle Café at an odd time in the afternoon, and now it was 6pm. We were wary about the inappropriateness of this pinwheel creation as an after-work snack—wouldn’t it just be a big shot of sugar?—but our fears were unnecessary. There was depth here, in the dark color of the glaze, the fleshy raisins nestled among folds of buttery dough, and the breadlike structure of the pastry. Evening or no, a pastry can be perfect.
So what to eat at Bizou? There are the salmon cakes, which indeed was the choice of our companion, and there is a burrito and there is, of course, the meatloaf. But we were quite happy with our beet salad—it was a hearty (yes, hearty!) mix of beets, walnuts and various shredded veggies with succulent goat cheese and something—what was it?—distinctly hot lurking here and there. It’s a beautiful thing when a restaurant offers a salad that can stand up to the rest of the menu. Especially when said menu includes meatloaf.
This week’s treat: a meal prepared by Toliver House chef Jonathan Hayward and entirely built around local meats, produce, cheeses and wines—and whiskey! Yes, local single-malt whiskey, produced by the Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville. Owner Rick Wasmund muddled mint (which grows behind the distillery) for summery cocktails and talked about how he gets all his barley from a single, nearby grower. We savored its forward flavor, an excellent lead-in to an all-local feast.
Decadence, thy name is pâté. Such melt-in-your-mouth paste of animal parts can only be extravagant at best and overindulgent at worst, no? Well, not so when it’s made of sustainably-raised local rabbit at the hands of Keswick Hall’s executive chef and locavore Craig Hartman. We guiltlessly devoured Hartman’s luscious rabbit mold at a recent stop at Keswick’s daily lunch buffet. It was a savory puree of heaven with just a hint of gamey sweetness, and we had not a tad of remorse relishing it.
A $13 hamburger would normally stretch our bank accounts too thin (we are writers, after all), but Hamiltons’ has one topped with cheese, bacon and fresh greens that proved irresistible. To start with, the ground beef was from Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm and was so tender when we bit down that it was like sinking our teeth into a feathery pillow. Our taste buds awoke as we bit down on a few thinly sliced sweet potato crisps and they slowly melted over our tongue. Still, they were a mere garnish to the velvety burger that stoked the fire of our inner carnivore. Gr-r-r-r.
“Delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” That’s how Mark Twain described a piece of fish he once ate while overlooking Lake Pontchartrain, near New Orleans. And it’s not a bad turn of phrase to apply to the beer called Mandolin out at Blue Mountain Brewery—a golden-colored brew with a pleasing enough taste to inspire some animal-type noises from us on first sip. Just as at Twain’s meal, the view sure didn’t hurt either.
Mmm, quesadillas. They’re pretty much always good, but the veggie quesadillas from La Taza are really, really delicious. The cheddar is sharp and studded with black beans and corn and tomatoes, and the tortillas are top-notch, but the real charm is this: You can add pineapple—sweet, surprising pineapple—for free. Friends, there is no reason to hold back. Get the pineapple. Groan with pleasure.
The teahouse has long outlived the coolest-new-thing luster it wore when it opened—what, a half decade ago?—and long since settled into the comfy, self-assured position of an established scene. Fortunately, the food is still just as good. Along with a pot of tippy south cloud (served with an encouraging “This is a really good steeping”), we ordered up the hummus platter: a generous dollop of super-garlicky hummus drizzled with oil, warm pita slices and chunks of carrot and cucumber arranged with simple care—as comforting as the broken-in chairs we occupied.
We spotted the new Just Curry sign outside the Downtown Transit Center and just couldn’t resist the delicious (and inexpensive) meal that waited within. Fans of Just Curry’s Corner location from the day it opened, we knew just what we wanted: the vegan vegetable curry. With its juicy tofu, balanced mix of vegetables and spices and satisfying base of basmati rice, the dish was perfect for a quick but filling lunchtime bite. We also imagine that, with Fridays After 5 and Pavilion shows starting up, Just Curry will be a popular spot for pre-concert meals.
We ordered the satay noodles at South Street Brewery with no hesitation, but getting the rare seared tuna as an add-on felt like an act of some bravery, as we are not terribly hardy about raw fish. Confusion ensued when the waitress asked, “Super rare O.K.?” “Do we have a choice?” we asked. “No,” she answered. On we pressed with our derring-do. But when the plate arrived, it was not only delicious (savory sauce, plentiful red cabbage) but the tuna was done at least to medium-rare. Perhaps she’d taken the hint. We were happy to have it that way—all the bravery, none of the danger.
Half an hour after the Charlottesville Ten Miler, the Italian Villa was stuffed with medal-draped runners and their indulgent friends and family (let’s face it: Sitting in a booth next to an unshowered competitor can be a little…odorous). The pigs-in-blankets and egg-and-bacon combos were flying from the kitchen. Though we understand the appeal of a post-race protein gorge, we wanted something lighter, and the pecan pancakes fit the bill—substantial but not ponderous, with a nod to healthy living in the form of chopped nuts. As far as polishing off breakfast, we made record time.
Was it deja vu? We were in the former Atomic Burrito space, and we were ordering from a build-your-own style menu like that south-of-the-border joint used to serve. But rather than varieties of salsa, we were pondering a set of distinctly Eastern elements, eventually settling on green tea soba noodles, Panang curry, marinated tofu, and sliced avocado, delivered to us in a neatly folded little box. The curry was bracing and nutty, the tofu tender and appealing, and the whole package surprisingly filling. Within a week we found ourselves going back for more, no longer thinking about salsa at all.
We felt kinda odd ordering a grilled cheese sandwich with turkey, and even odder choosing the focaccia bread over wheat or rye. But in the offbeat menu at Feast! we trusted. Sure enough, this is the kind of grilled cheese sandwich that our grandmother should have offered us—or that Martha Stewart hungered to teach the prison cooks how to make. There’s no overwhelming butter taste. The way the thin slices of turkey mingle with the other main ingredient make you want to say “cheese” with an even broader smile. And the gourmet bread is more like an extra bonus than a gummy part of the whole. Why the exclamation point? Now we know.
A rainy winter’s day: perfect for lunch at The Nook. We felt a little sheepish ordering the quiche of the day, what with the burgers being served up all around us, but oh well—we’re snooty like that. The quiche had a great homemade crust. And there was goat cheese in there, and real fresh mushrooms, and it came with a salad, and along with a bottomless cup of coffee, it made us feel slightly European, as did the big-city newspaper we spread over the table as we ate. All very satisfying. We didn’t half-mind the smell of burger, either.
“Local” is the name of the game at this darling new brew pub, which was packed, PACKED, we tell you, on a recent Saturday afternoon: locals and their kids, beer hounds sampling the tasting menu, couples getting an early bite and drinking in the scenic views. The beer is made on premises under Taylor Smack’s able touch; the food features delicious stuff from right around these parts, too. Example: the Kite’s Country Ham Sandwich featuring Wolftown, Virginia, meat served with oven-roasted tomatoes, cheddar cheese and Blue Mountain’s own ale mustard on a hearty portion of ciabatta made at nearby Goodwin Creek Farm. Filling, tasty and home-grown? We’ll drink to that.
With the Middle East being high on the list of dangerous places to travel these days, we have to rely on imports. When it comes to the cuisine of that sandy land, we have found a reliable stand-in with chef Haim Ohayon’s lunchtime falafel sandwich at Kiki’s. Light, and tenderly deep fried, these garbanzo bean patties are tangy and rich all at once. The sharp cumin pings against the crisp clean flavor of cukes in the Israeli salad also packed into the overpacked pita; the tahini tastes just-made. It might be a while before we can dust off our passports, but it won’t be long before we enjoy another taste of Sinai.
Wednesday is our new favorite day of the week at Eppie’s—a doughy, meaty thrill of a day that falls directly between turkey chili Tuesday and turkey meatloaf Thursday. The special? Not turkey, but chicken tamales, served in a traditional corn husk with a darkly spicy meat filling, along with a side of brown rice bathed in black beans and homemade pico de gallo (with cucumbers for a light zing). You can nab a single “tamal” for $6, or double up for about $8. One is big enough to choke a burro, so proceed with caution.
Taking its name from a term for North Irish railway workers who helped build Claudius Crozet’s Blue Ridge Tunnel in the 19th century, Crozet’s Fardowners Restaurant combines a classy bistro feel with cozy small town charm. Our bistro fillet, stuffed with roasted garlic and served over mashed potatoes and asparagus, couldn’t have been better, and a Full Nelson IPA from Afton’s Blue Mountain Brewery complemented both the dish and the local feel. After wrapping things up with a dessert of caramel and ice cream, we weren’t sure whether we were in Crozet or heaven.
Mas’ spicy baba ghanoush seared our tongues enough to prepare us for a greasy chorizo that slid down our throats. Relief came in the form of a golden Hoegaarden draft, followed by an extra rare tenderloin soaked in a delectable orange sauce. A delicate crabcake dipped in fresh creme finished us off. No mas.
Could it be that we were heavily inclined to like the pan-roasted breast of Polyface Farms naturally raised chicken served with sweet potato risotto and kale because we are so enamored of Joel Salatin’s approach to sustainable, happy farming over in the Valley? Maybe. After all, he’s the outspoken, charismatic hero of Michael Pollan’s “natural history” of food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and we’re loving that book right now. Well, prejudices aside, the chicken was indeed more chicken-y than what passes for poultry at many tables and the risotto, though a little heavier than we prefer, was a perfectly plump back-up to the juicy meat.
Little-known fact: Splendora’s is open for breakfast, and if you hustle you’ll get there even before the vats of gelato are set out in the big glass cases. (Why you’d want to? Just ‘cause.) We let our eyes roam over the pastries until they settled on a humble-looking currant scone. It was the round type, buttery and begging for a spot of Darjeeling with which to partner. But given the hour—pre-gelato, that is—we just swilled black coffee between bites of the sweet, rich pastry.
Beer and salmon? Sure, it wasn’t quite as manly a match as the Memphis ribs our companions were gnawing, but we were just as happy with our pairing of Satan’s Pony and a slab of flaky salmon. Tangy greens made dense piles on either side of the fillet, and crescents of baked squash hid, a trifle bitter, below it. Our favorite part, though, was the pecan crust over the top of the fish; it added a sweet note to every bite. And frankly, looking at our friends’ slimy barbecue hands, we felt positively classy by comparison.
You can’t argue with certain foods; they just have charisma. Porterhouse steaks have it; house salads don’t. We went into Casella’s thinking we’d get a slice of pizza, but the charisma of the eggplant parmigiana sub drew us in like a magnet, then justified a spartan presentation. Why would you need a sprig of parsley or a fancy plate for something as assertive as breaded eggplant with a generous smear of tangy tomato sauce and a portion of melted mozzarella that can only be described as ample? Not at all put off by the well-worn dinnerware or the little bag of chips, we submitted gladly to its agenda, then groaned with satisfaction.
They do things a certain way at D’Ambola’s—and that’s the charm. Take, for instance, the outstanding Steak Pizzaiola. Served on penne with diavolo sauce, the dish features beef fillet tossed with peppers, onions and mushrooms. At the same time gigantic and delicate, this classic cannot be argued with, especially when it comes to the meat, which, the menu instructs you, is prepared medium/rare to medium. "Cooking the beef fillet beyond medium…" the chefs assert with complete authority, "may we suggest you try our grilled chicken puttanesca?"
"Fried tofu with salt & pepper" might sound like the kind of dish you scrape together at home at the end of the shopping week. Trust us, Café 88′s Crispy Tofu bento box is not available in your larder. Served with two vegetable side dishes (we had delicate broccoli and potatoes that had been scrumptiously repurposed with curry) and rice, the bento boxes are generous, unusual and refreshingly inexpensive. To top it all off, there’s none of that "this all tastes the same" sauce that mars many an Asian take-out meal.
We walked into Baggby’s at high noon on a Wednesday—the exact middle of the week—and were reminded in a pleasant way of elementary school. It’s hard to explain, but something about this experience just took us back. Maybe it was having our name written on a brown bag that would later hold our lunch (the restaurant equivalent of holding another kid’s hand during a field trip); maybe it was the completely unpretentious sliced bread holding our California sandwich together; maybe it was the fact that the place was crawling with little kids. Most likely, though, it was the very tiny chocolate chip cookie that came inside our bag. Our only complaint: Recess wasn’t part of the deal.
If, like us, you’ve spent any years of your life in northern climes, you will appreciate this privilege of Virginia residence: eating lunch outside at Bizou in November. Not that it was warm (it wasn’t), but it was still eminently possible to enjoy an al fresco meal. What we ate—a hunk of pan-seared salmon over polenta and a vegetable ragout—was less important than the meal’s, shall we say, gestalt. We hunkered inside the fortresses of our coats, squinted at the pale gray light, and savored the way the spicy tomato ragout and full-flavored salmon became a kind of colorful defense against late-autumn chill. A heavy white mug of strong coffee didn’t hurt, either.
Lately, we’ve been shunning dozens of other lunch options around town in favor of repeated visits to the lunch buffet at Indian standby Milan. Anyone with a taste for palak paneer and allo gobhi and the rest of the gang would go once; what keeps us coming back is the sheer convenience of it all. Within seconds of walking in the front door, we’re loading our plates and digging in: tart carrot achar, warm, fluffy naan, basmati and rice pudding to wrap it up. Minutes later, we’re absolutely stuffed and a crisply uniformed waiter is delivering our bill. It’s warp-speed delicious.
Maybe it’s because The Baker’s Palette is often nearly deserted when we visit that we feel like the portobello panini sandwich is a kind of hidden treasure. Or maybe it’s the luscious, plump roasted red peppers, warm cheese and generous smear of pesto, all backup singers to the deep-toned melody of the mushrooms. No wait: Maybe it’s the bread, yeasty-smelling and with a character that speaks well of its bakery origins. Tough to say: This sandwich is somehow more than the sum of its parts, the kind of meal that makes you groan a little at the first bite.
At Crozet Pizza, the choice of toppings is vast and includes squash, three types of olives, Portobello and Shiitake mushrooms, eggplant and peanuts. I opt for plain cheese with fresh garlic and a Starr Hill Amber Ale, because the soul of a pizza joint is its crust, cheese and garlic. It’s hot and overwhelmingly fragrant—a bouquet of garlic and oregano. The color of the cheese is a kind of neon rust where it has bubbled up, and elsewhere a deep white flecked with green. Everything is chopped right now—homemade not in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that everything was made in the place where it lives.
We were happy to take a recommendation from the good people who serve the restaurant at the Clifton Inn—its menu, after all, is almost overwhelming in its wonderfulness. This is how we came to a single order of foie gras and duck confit agnolotti served in brown butter jus and dusted with cracklins. A lovely Sauternes (Chateau D’Arche ’03) was also recommended, a pairing that, it will later be said, defines perfection. Rich, glazed, dressed but not "saucy," the two inspired crowns of al dente pasta (agnolotti we are told, means "priest’s hat," which accounts for the folded shape of the pasta) balanced the soft, slightly piecey filling. If foie gras could be said to be swaddled, it would be in this dish. A waiter brought bread to the table and suggested that we don’t want to bypass the jus. And indeed, the final expression of the fowls’ forward flavors (woodland in tone), the jus rewarded some sopping up.
Unless you are completely Spanish-illiterate, you already know that Aqui es Mexico means "Here is Mexico." Or maybe that should be Mexico is here, since we finally have real south-of-border food in Charlottesville. Our meal began with homemade chips and two types of salsa, one red hot, the other sublimely green. We followed that with a combination meal. Our eyes danced at the crispy chicken taco, covered in a white cream sauce, vegetables, and crumbled cheese. An oozing cheese pupusa was just as delightful. Finally, we bit down into our beef sope, a thick tortilla covered with beans, chunks of beef, lettuce and cheese. Mexico, welcome to Charlottesville.
The tricky thing about Hamdingers is that its venue often changes more than its menu—the gourmet food cart typically parks its organic chicken skewers and hot dogs in front of Central Place on the Downtown Mall, but has been known to head west towards the Mudhouse. Fortunately, it isn’t too hard to track the scent of the organic lamb and beef sausages to their base. One Ham-slinger told us that his spicy dijon mustard didn’t carry quite enough kick, and he recommended adding some tabasco sauce, but the sausage carries enough of a peppery burn for our eyes to pleasantly water as much as our mouths. Capped with onions and grilled red peppers, this uber-quick bite has a darkly spiced taste that lingers long after you’ve licked the mustard from your upper lip.
Tastings is one of those Downtown lunch spots we can all too easily overlook. Apparently other people do too, because when we ducked up a side street at the east end of the Mall and took a seat outside, we were nearly alone. But we didn’t mind. It’s fun knowing a secret. The menu was full of scallops, crab and cornichons, but we stuck to basics: the Tuscan sandwich, warm and savory with portobello and olives on crusty country bread, packed onto a plate with irregular fries and a tasty medley of green beans, squash and red onion. Were we meant to dip the sandwich into the little dish of marinara sauce? That, apparently, is still a secret.
Curious to see just what has replaced “jabercrusties” after the lightning-quick renovation of the old Jabberwocky space on the Corner, we trooped down to three for dinner. The open floor plan and modern, stainless steel design of the bar is warmed up by lots of light wooden panels and cozy booths. On the menu, the crunchy chicken salad is just filling enough with fresh flavors and, well, a crunch. Other fare is a standard selection of burgers, sandwiches, steaks and salads, but we especially approved of the list of nightly drink specials and the fairly expansive beer selection. For a burger and beer with a little more panache than can be found elsewhere on the Corner, three works just fine.
“Cobblestone?” we thought, staring at the menu at Chaps. What on earth could that mean? Will there be actual stones in the cone? Just as important, will they be organically grown—er, quarried? Turns out, cobblestone is a lovely, simple chocolate ice cream with ribbons of peanut butter. Puzzling moniker aside, we loved it.
For some reason, it’s been forever since we indulged in the ritual of Chinese takeout. Where better to revive the habit than the place C-VILLE readers voted Best Takeout—namely, Asian Express on W. Main? The cheery counter service must be one reason it’s so popular. Another must be the clean, honest tastes. Take, say, the tofu and veggie lunch special we ordered: a simple garlic sauce coated bok choy that wasn’t bland at all, zucchini and broccoli, and firm tofu with plenty of character. Ah, the sound of the Coke can popping open; ah, the egg roll in its little envelope. Our one complaint was the copious paper and plastic packaging around the meal. But hey, it’s all part of the fun.
Being in a phase of life that has us looking for a high concentration of protein in a convenient form, we are drawn, naturally, to Mellow Mushroom’s Mighty Meaty Pizza. This superheroically named pie, which we order for delivery, packs everything we want: pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, ham and bacon. Yup, as far as the pork products go, this selection goes, er, whole hog! But it fills you up fast, keeps you fueled all evening, and, depending on your table manners, leaves you with no clean-up.
Chef Jesse Wykle at the Inn at Court Square takes Southern cuisine to a whole new level, and rather than one dish we made a feast of samples: crispy, golden grit cakes beneath melted Stilton, roasted asparagus, Portobello mushrooms and a sprinkling of pink peppercorns—delicately balanced flavors and alluring presentation, done and done. It goes on: The shrimp and grits come with goat cheese and chipotle peppers, and the bacon Wykle uses is local and organic. As fans of true Dixie dining, we’re going back.
More out of curiosity about atmosphere than a specific craving, we decided to lunch at The Pointe, which is the Omni Hotel’s oft-overlooked—and very acute—eatery. From inside the angular, formal dining area, through acres of shaded glass that define the seven-story atrium, the Downtown Mall was visible but seemed a world away. And the meal—a baby spinach salad with crab meat, mandarin oranges, red peppers and Virginia peanuts—was hotel-fancy too: heavy silverware, butter served in balls and a very attentive waiter. It all seemed like a visit to an alternate, but nearby, universe.
Enjoying a beautiful late August day on the Downtown Mall, we snatched the only open table at The Nook’s outdoor café and perused the place’s updated menu for something with a summery, outdoor flair. Not to disappoint our taste buds, we munched on the delectable lump crab cake sandwich. Presented open-faced on a kaiser roll with roasted pepper mayonnaise and spices, the sandwich came alongside a pile of ridge-cut French fries. Just right for a sunny day in a bustling place. Needless to say, we cleaned our plate.
We’d polished off our first delicious cup of local coffee at Bluegrass Grill and Bakery (a Best Of winner!) and had our imperfect ceramic mugs topped off before placing our order. Seated beneath a quilted wall-hanging and soothed by the sounds of a Carter Family CD, we debated between the cilantro lime tofu hash—such lightness and zest to a hearty meal!—and the pesto omelet. Suckers for the slightly sweet combination of mozzarella and green pesto, we opted for the latter and received a neatly sunny fold of eggs, tomato and melted succulence, not to mention of mess of fried taters and a biscuit with just a hint of cinnamon in the batter. Though a popular lunch spot, the brunch crowd can be ruthless—call ahead, or fight us for a table at the door.
The patio view at Crozet hotspot La Cocina del Sol is breathtaking. We kicked back and took in the grandeur of the Blue Ridge…and the post office…and the bank. But still, it’s a snazzy Southwestern experience with a cozy small- town feel. Entrée-wise, we played it simple with the spicy chicken tacos, which hit the spot and left just enough room for some delicious chocolate-covered strawberries (from the fondue fountain that runs on weekends). If you’re hitting the place on Friday or Saturday night (or Sunday brunch), get there early, because the place fills up quicker than you can say quesadilla.
We love The Flat. How could we not? It’s just so cute, and the spot—a diminutive brick box tacked on the back of the Jefferson Theater—seems so perfectly suited to what’s served: a simple menu of fluffy warm crêpes folded into fan shapes and served in no-frills napkins. We had ours with tomato, feta and avocado, which was basic and savory and way more filling than its slim profile would suggest. We ended up needing a fork to finish it, indicating a lack of crêpe-noshing skills that shamed us. Perhaps we’re just not French enough?
Ensconced in a wood-backed booth in The Virginian, we considered lighter fare—a crisp, creamy crabcake sandwich, maybe—but decided that big appetites are the sustaining force behind this social hub. We opted for pure Southern indulgence in the form of a full rack of sweetly smoky ribs in a dollop of homemade barbecue sauce. This is an update on typical fare: a bit hotter, a big smokier.
Why has the Blue Moon Diner been beloved for so long? The Huevos Bluemooños must be part of the reason. Order these, any time of day or night, and behold a mountain of potatoes, eggs, cheese and salsa: a glorious mess of flavor and calories. When they ask you what kind of toast you want, go for the biscuits. Coffee goes without saying. Look out the big windows onto W. Main Street; tap your toe to the Hackensaw Boys. Say “yes” to the refills on coffee.
When it rains, which it’s been doing lately, we need sandwiches—basic, comforting, well-made sandwiches. This is why we went to the New Deli, shaking off our umbrellas and shutting the door quickly to keep out the dampness. Behold the veggie wrap! Stuffed with all manner of crispy produce, layered with provolone and expertly constructed inside its soft tortilla, the wrap satisfied every one of our weather-related cravings. And the chips and pickle on the side—lovable and homey as they were—sure didn’t hurt.
The New Deli 1640 Seminole Trail 978-4757
Is there any restaurant in Charlottesville or Albemarle—or the entire Commonwealth, for that matter—with a weirder location than Aroma’s? At the end of a lonely road in Fontaine Research Park, in a space that’s more cafeteria than café, Aroma’s somehow manages to feel homey. We ordered the El Morocco sandwich, which layers eggplant, cilantro and tomato on whole wheat toast, and some dolmades on the side. And though all of this food was perfectly savory and wonderful, it was the extraordinarily personable service that really made this institutional spot so inviting. No scowling lunch ladies here!
Aroma’s Café 900 Natural Resources Dr. 244-2486
Here at C-VILLE, we know how to party—which we did with gusto when we handed out our 2006 Best Of awards at the X Lounge one sultry Thursday night. Beautiful people in a beautiful space is always a recipe for fun, or at least intrigue, and the X provided some eye-popping hors d’oeuvres to round out the pretty scene. We had a steamy-hot leek and cheese puff, and we had shrimp skewered on a small plastic tube full of lobster-prawn reduction (to be squirted into the mouth upon consumption of said shrimp). And we had a most inventive beet salad: Served on a spoon, it consisted of a thin slice of Granny Smith apple with minced beet and bleu cheese atop. High points for presentation—and we don’t just mean the food.
The X Lounge • 313 Second St. SE. • 244-THEX
We stopped by Ming Dynasty and ordered up the “Vege” lo mein lunch special, at least partly because we always get a kick out of that variation on the spelling of “veggie.” When it came out (in approximately four and a half seconds), we spirited it off to our secret hideaway and tucked into the salty, noodley dish laced with sprouts, carrots, scallions and zucchini. It was all very satisfying, as was the crunchy egg roll that required us to wipe our fingers after every bite. Our only complaint? That plastic fork just wasn’t up to the task.
Nothing makes a rainy morning feel cozier than running through the drizzle toward the warm light of a bakery, knowing that a beautiful selection of pastries awaits within. We thought hard and chose a blueberry cream-cheese Danish—it just looked so appealing inside the glass case, like a little boat full of berries. The crust was buttery and flaky and dusted with powdered sugar; the cheese was just a little tangy; the not-too-sweet berries were dotted with a crunchy crumb topping. Who says rain is bad weather?
Albemarle Baking Company 418 W. Main St. 293-6456
The only thing better than the verdant, mountainous setting around Nellysford is the fact that it’s home to some pretty outstanding Italian food. We sat on the deck at D’Ambola’s on a perfect June evening, when all we needed was a little appetizer to tide us over. The fried zucchini, despite its unassuming name, was an airy mound of zucchini strips—not those greasy rounds you get so often—that was incredibly light and tasty. And the asparagus with parmigiano-reggiano was a perfectly done raft of spring’s best veggie.
D’Ambola’s n 9278 Rockfish Valley Hwy. n 540-456-4556.