Best of C-VILLE 2016: Food & Drink

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Time to make the biscuits! Owner Brian Ashworth and his staff show up at 6am to start folding the dough. (See Best Breakfast Sandwich.) Photo: Amanda Maglione Time to make the biscuits! Owner Brian Ashworth and his staff show up at 6am to start folding the dough. (See Best Breakfast Sandwich.) Photo: Amanda Maglione

If you are what you eat (and drink), then you’re tacos, dumplings, wings and wine. You’re pizza, you’re burgers. You’re beer and croissants. And, amazingly, you’re still hungry for more. Here are your picks for the best edibles.

 

RESTAURANT

C&O Restaurant

Runner-up: Lampo

Honorable mention: Tavola

As a founder of Charlottesville’s fine dining scene, the C&O Restaurant is a legend that’s been nurtured over decades. In the talented hands of current chef/owner Dean Maupin, the vegetable soup and steak Chinoise remain on a menu that’s been elevated beyond country French to include satisfying fresh pasta dishes and creative Southern comforts. And after grooming their kitchen skills at Mas and Tavola, the four owners at runner-up Lampo united to capitalize on the piping hot (read: 900-degree) Neapolitan pizza trend, creating a menu that so frequently sells out, it seems we can’t put enough dough in our collective pie hole.

NEW RESTAURANT

Brazos Tacos

Runner-up: Kardinal Hall

Honorable mention: Timbercreek Market

The popularity of Peter Griesar’s pop-up taco shop in the former Ristorante Al Dente space last summer made it clear: Charlottesville wants, nay, needs tacos. Specifically, Texas-style tacos with a sense of humor—from the Meatwad to the Pork Star. Open since June 2015, readers say Brazos is their handheld meal of choice for breakfast, lunch and supper. And over on Preston Avenue, bocce, beers, brats and a stack of games combine to make Kardinal Hall the perfect place to quaff, chow and play through the dinner hour.

COFFEEHOUSE

Mudhouse

Runner-up: Shenandoah Joe

Honorable mention: MarieBette Café & Bakery

Having it your way has always been important to coffee drinkers, and the Mudhouse fulfills and refills caffeine dreams, while pledging to source and roast its beans carefully. Second place-getter Shenandoah Joe’s Brain Freeze on Nitro, iced coffee growlers or stout beer collabs keep you abuzz at its vibrant-yet-chill coffee spots.

MarieBette is named after Jason (left) and Patrick's daughters, Marian and Betty. Photo: Keith Alan Sprouse
MarieBette is named after Jason (left) and Patrick’s daughters, Marian and Betty. Photo: Keith Alan Sprouse

BAKERY MarieBette Café & Bakery

How we knew:

We’re gonna open a bakery!

“When Patrick [Evans] and I met, we both were changing careers into culinary—a field that we were passionate about. One thing we discussed early on was our desire to work for ourselves one day and have a business together. What that would look like was an open question at the beginning. We each did our time working in the New York food world—from bar food to baking to fine dining. It’s hard work with little reward but you learn a helluva lot.

One thing we learned is what we were good at and where our interests lay. Mine was line work and Patrick’s was baking. When we thought about what our business would look like we had three requirements: We could do what we were passionate about, not be in each other’s way and be home for supper with our daughters. Because Patrick is from North Garden and we own some land there, Charlottesville became the spot to plant our roots. We couldn’t be happier. We do what we love and love what we do.”—Jason Becton, co-owner of MarieBette Café & Bakery

Runner-up: Albemarle Baking Co.

Honorable mention: Sweethaus

 

BRUNCH

Beer Run

Runner-up: MarieBette Café & Bakery

Honorable mention: Bluegrass Grill & Bakery

The antidote to a few pints among friends on a Saturday night has always been the Sunday brunch. The much-loved Beer Run cures the hangover it gave you with a funky, tantalizing menu that includes butternut squash and egg casserole with bacon cream, choco loco chocolate banana coconut strata and a classic Southern biscuits-and-gravy platter. Over on Rose Hill Drive, MarieBette’s expert pastries serve as the foundation for its classically constructed brunch with a Euro flair.

DRAFT BEER SELECTION

Beer Run

Runner-up: Kardinal Hall

Honorable mention: Sedona Taphouse

You can’t swing a stein in this city without bumping into a beer tap. The family-owned, family-friendly Beer Run has an average of 17 taps flowing at all times and up to 125 bottles of Virginia beer, cider and mead available for retail or to enjoy on-site. This might seem like enough beer to quench a city, but in 2015, Beer Run founders tricked out the old Coca-Cola building on Preston Avenue, converting it to the boisterous 27-tap runner-up Kardinal Hall—and our pints runneth over.

RESTAURANT WINE LIST

C&O Restaurant

Runner-up: Tavola

Honorable mention: The Alley Light

If you’ve ever searched for the perfect glass of wine in this town, or picked up a copy of Best of C-VILLE, it should be no surprise that C&O takes the cup for the best restaurant wine list again this year. The list is less intimidating to the untrained eye than it once was—the high-quality reds and whites are sophisticated yet approachable, and the kitchen staff works closely with local winemakers to make sure they’re serving you the area’s best. Belmont darling Tavola, another best wine list frequenter and this year’s runner-up, counts a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence among its recent wins, joining only a few thousand restaurants worldwide.

Trying to win your date's heart and mind? Go with a classic Sazerac. Photo: Tom McGovern
Negroni, a bittersweet symphony. Photo: Tom McGovern

COCKTAILS The Alley Light

For richer pours

We drink when we’re happy, we drink when we’re sad and, sure, a martini is a great catch-all when you’re just in a drinking mood and don’t know why. But we asked this year’s best bartender, The Alley Light’s Micah LeMon, to recommend five cocktails that might satisfy those more complex feelings.

…like I want to impress my date without seeming pretentious.

Sazerac

“The Sazerac is a cocktail that’s at least 200 years old—and for good reason: It is perfect and it is delicious. It’s a regional New Orleans riff on the Old Fashioned, another classic and classy cocktail, with Cognac or rye, sugar, bitters, absinthe and a lemon twist. You might be lured into a counterproductive soliloquy about how Cognac is the base for the ‘true’ Sazerac, and how rye only came into popularity in New Orleans after a global brandy shortage due to the phylloxera epidemic in Europe in the late 19th century. But let’s focus on impressing your date with less, rather than more.”

…burdened by the passage of time.

Negroni

“Life is full of sweet moments, and full of bitter ones. This cocktail reminds you that bitter moments are preceded by sweet ones, and around we go. Dulcius ex asperis. The dance of bitter Campari, rich-sweet vermouth and gin signals to us that balance is a part of life, and when you embrace it, it can be savored as much at the perfect bittersweetness of the Negroni.”

…decadent.

Chocolate Choke

“Americans created the cocktail culture of the 1800s that survives today, and egg white cocktails were the original two-in-one drinks of the day: a little sustenance, a little booze and a lot of flavor. The Chocolate Choke follows in that tradition: bourbon, chocolate, Cynar and egg white, twice shaken and topped with Russian Imperial Stout. Having this cocktail as dessert or meal-substitute is a perfectly rational and historically appropriate decision.”

…amorous.

Ramos Gin Fizz

“Gin, citrus, cream, egg white, orange essence and soda. That sounds gross until you see the cocktail built. After laborious assembly*, your barman pours a white ribbon that forms a pillow of perfectly meringued, gin-citrus cream that slowly rises in a collins glass. In a tight column, it lifts above the mouth of the glass and, with perfect, unblemished turgor and tumescence, hints of the youth and fecundity latent in a hot summer night.”

*Don’t order this drink when the bar is three-deep.

…stupid happy.

19 Feet of Sexy

“Some things do not require a magnifying glass, a Ph.D. or any shred of contemplation to be appreciated. Reflex is an exceedingly valid way to accept or reject something. Nineteen Feet of Sexy was conceived in this notion: perfectly ripe local peaches, placed smartly in a gin sour with lemon verbena, lemon, egg white and house-made local sassafras sweet vermouth. Do not think while you are drinking this. Recoil with joy, be giggly and be happy.”

Runner-up: Bang!

Honorable mention: Oakhart Social

 

OUTDOOR DINING

Blue Mountain Brewery

Runner-up: Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards

Honorable mention: Kardinal Hall

Why should a friendly game of cornhole be reserved strictly for tailgating? At Blue Mountain, you can pitch a few bean bags while waiting for your plate or sit under the twinkling white lights strung above the patio. Outdoor seating is year-round at this Afton spot, so when it cools off come fall, you can still get your fill of the Blue Ridge backdrop while sipping your sampler. At runner-up Pippin Hill, sitting on the patio of the rustic barn with your loved ones is sweeter than a glass of Viognier.

BARTENDER

Micah LeMon (The Alley Light)

Runner-up: Albee Padone (Oakhart Social)

Honorable mention: Alec Spidalieri (The Local)

If you’ve heard of one mixologist in town, it’s Micah LeMon—though he says becoming a bartender was purely an accident. We say it was a happy one: From Blue Light Grill to The Alley Light, LeMon has been widely recognized for his knowledge and expertise in making inventive cocktails (see a few on page 93). Speaking of being inventive, runner-up Albee Padone uses a slushie machine for some of his lavish libations at Oakhart Social.

LOCAL BREWERY

Devils Backbone Brewing Company

Runner-up: Champion Brewing Company

Honorable mention: Three Notch’d Brewing Company

Whether you’re at its basecamp brewery off Nelson 151 or the outpost brewery and taproom in Lexington, Devils Backbone—acquired by Anheuser-Busch last spring—is a Virginia fan favorite, serving beloved brews such as Vienna Lager and Eight Point IPA. Indulge in the brewery’s full menu while listening to live music at its outdoor amphitheater. And readers can’t turn down a Missile IPA at Champion, whether you’re dropping by for a concert, movie night or even a book club meeting.

LOCAL CIDERY

Bold Rock Cidery

Runner-up: Potter’s Craft Cider

Honorable mention: Albemarle CiderWorks

If there’s someone on this planet that a honeydew cider can’t impress, we haven’t found him. When guests are visiting from out of town, readers say it isn’t Monticello or even UVA Grounds that top their list of must-see destinations. It’s the timber frame cidery overlooking the Rockfish River in Nelson County. Some might even tell you that tossing back a few of Bold Rock’s best while slinging a Frisbee out by the creek is the only way to spend a Saturday. At Potter’s Craft, there’s no tasting room (yet?), but owners Tim Edmond and Dan Potter regularly take their Airstream trailer to events and local retailers.

BREAKFAST SANDWICH Ace Biscuit & Barbecue

Barbecue for breakfast

Ace Biscuit & Barbecue rolls to victory on its homemade biscuits

What does it take to deliver Charlottesville’s best breakfast sandwiches every morning at 8am? Two hours before he opens his doors, Ace Biscuit & Barbecue owner Brian Ashworth and his line cooks are in the kitchen, putting butts and briskets on the smoker, “picking up” already smoked meats, preparing side dishes, mixing waffle and pancake batter and, perhaps most importantly, fixin’ biscuits.

“The biscuits are one of the main reasons I would guess we won best breakfast sandwich,” Ashworth says.

By 8am, the customers start rolling in, sometimes without breaks in between. “Some mornings we get absolutely demolished for breakfast, and it can be three of us just keeping up with tickets,” Ashworth says. “Once 8 rolls around, we just basically keep on prepping as needed for the day and week.”

Runner-up: MarieBette Café & Bakery

Honorable mention: Ivy Provisions

 

FARM

Timbercreek Farm

Runner-up: Caromont Farm

Honorable mention: Bellair Farm

Maybe you’ve never toured Timbercreek Farm, but we bet you’ve tried more of the owners’ meat and produce than you know. Sold at local restaurants like Revolutionary Soup, Citizen Burger Bar, The Local and The Whiskey Jar (not to mention the farm’s café and grocery on Preston Avenue), the farm-to-fork offerings are pesticide-, herbicide-, fertilizer-, antibiotic- and hormone-free, which means nothing stands between you and a delicious (and healthy) meal. At cheesery Caromont Farm, be sure to snuggle the baby goats before taking home your block of Esmontonian—a goat cheese named after the town where the farm is located.

SCENE AFTER 10PM

The Whiskey Jar

Runner-up: The Alley Light

Honorable mention: C&O Restaurant

The lights will be low and the bar will be busy, so shell out some cash for your screwdriver (made with freshly squeezed orange juice, of course) and make your way to a barrel-top table outside, where you can keep an eye on all the happenings on the Downtown Mall. A collection of live bands frequent this whiskey-centric spot, so you never know what tune you’ll leave whistling. For an upscale after-hours experience, readers recommend The Alley Light (if you can find its hidden entrance) and indulging in a creative cocktail made by Charlottesville’s best bartender, Micah LeMon.

Slick bathroom, bro! Owner Andy McClure uses one of the extra-reflective mirrors for touch-ups in Citizen's bathroom. Photo: Keith Alan Sprouse
Slick bathroom, bro! Owner Andy McClure uses one of the extra-reflective mirrors for touch-ups in Citizen’s bathroom. Photo: Keith Alan Sprouse

RESTAURANT BATHROOM Citizen Burger Bar

King of the throne

Before Citizen Burger Bar opened in 2012, its Downtown Mall building underwent a hefty renovation at the hand of Stoneking von Storch Architects—including the addition of a unisex third bathroom (the first one guests encounter at the back of the restaurant). Now, as far as top honors go, this one is a bit mucky. Butt, Citizen Burger Bar owner Andy McClure wanted to make sure readers knew he was grateful for the recognition. Here’s what he had to say about ensuring the new bathroom wasn’t a stinker.

“If there is one thing we humans know in this world, it has to be toilets. With the third bathroom, we thought about how we like to do our business, how we feel emotionally when using the restroom. What we came up with is pretty special. It has a toilet complete with paper; we have a sink with 100 percent local water; and we even have a drying station that uses high-powered Charlottesville air. I am humble about pretty much everything I do, but not when it comes to that bathroom. We had a goal and we achieved it. Thank you, Charlottesville!”

Runner-up: Zocalo

Honorable mention: The Bebedero

 

HAPPY HOUR

Citizen Burger Bar

Runner-up: Beer Run

Honorable mention: South Street Brewery

It’s been a long day at the office, so we’ll just get to the good stuff. Take $2 off drafts and wine by the glass, and $1 off wells from 4-6pm at Citizen, where you can people-watch from its Downtown Mall patio or belly up to the bar inside. And if you’ve never heard of a 5pm-midnight Saturday happy hour, drop by Beer Run for half-off Belgian beers. You deserve this.

Photo: Amy Jackson
Photo: Amy Jackson

SPECIALTY FOOD SHOP Feast!

Picnic perfect

Feast! does the work for you

Grab your picnic basket and your red-and-white checkered tablecloth, because Feast! store manager Kelsey Gillan has cultivated the perfect spread for your next excursion. Only local products, which can be found at the place you voted the best specialty food shop in town, make up the perfect picnic lunch, she says.

Grab-n-Go sandwiches

“Using the freshest ingredients, our grab-n-gos are healthy, convenient and delicious. Most popular are prosciutto and mozzarella, chicken cheddar and fig or caprese.

Forage pastured pâté

“Local pâté made from Free Union Grass Farm chicken liver. Spreadable, light and easily paired.”

Twenty Paces Cheese Noah’s Arcade #19

“Slightly twangy, gorgeously textured, mixed milk cheese from right here in Charlottesville.”

Feastables

“Ready-made snack packs. Quick, convenient and stackable. Choice of veggies and Greek Goddess dressing, ants on a log, fresh fruit and Greek yogurt, or salami, cheese and mixed nuts.”

Crostini

“Made in-house with Albemarle Baking Company baguettes. Salty, buttery, crunchy and oh so good.”

Potter’s Craft cider

“The perfect picnic beverage. Cool off with an ice-cold glass of dry and crisp cider that complements all your picnic fare.”

Marcona almonds and cherries

“Nutritionally packed and the ultimate sharing snack to complement cheese and charcuterie.”

Local deviled eggs

“Easily shared and delicious. Try with Prosciutto and Peppadews or Thai for a twist to this famous classic.”

The Bees Knees Kitchen shortbread

“The perfect salty-sweet treat that won’t melt in the summer heat.”

Runner-up: Timbercreek Market

Honorable mention: Foods of All Nations

 

DUMPLINGS

Marco & Luca

Runner-up: Got Dumplings

Honorable mention: Now & Zen

What do a student with the 2am munchies and a penny-saving professional with a short lunch break have in common? Maybe a lot, maybe a little, but definitely their allegiance to Marco & Luca. Readers delight in dropping by one of three locations for a box of fried dumplings, served with a special sauce you’ll undoubtedly want to dab your pork bun in. Got Dumplings, well known for its food truck at the UVA amphitheater, recently opened a location on the Corner, where you can order from a full menu of Chinese cuisine.

CURRY

Monsoon Siam

Runner-up: Thai 99

Honorable mention: Milan Indian Cuisine

While yes, we love our red, green and panang curries, you can’t truly say you’ve had the best curry dish in town until you’ve tried the chef’s special at Monsoon. The massaman curry—a Thai take on a Persian dish—features a generous portion of slow-cooked chicken thighs in a rich, warm, spiced sauce with potatoes, onions, cherry tomatoes and crunchy peanuts over rice. Get the classics at runner-up Thai 99, too, where you can choose from seven different types of the dish.

TACOS

Brazos Tacos

Runner-up: La Michoacana

Honorable mention: Continental Divide

Whether you’re more of a Triple Pickle or a This Is My Yam kind of taco connoisseur, Brazos Tacos delivers Austin-style flavors you can’t munch off any other taqueria’s menu. Grab a watermelon margarita and cheers to the mashed potatoes you never knew you needed in your tortilla. If you’re looking for classic, you can’t go wrong with the Mexican-style cabrito (habañero-spiced pork) taco at runner-up La Michoacana.

Photo: Tom McGovern
Photo: Tom McGovern

STEAK Timbercreek Market

Steak, simplified

Timbercreek Market serves its award winning cuts au naturel

Quality steak doesn’t need much to taste great. Salt, pepper and a really hot grill should do it. With its Steak on a Plate, Timbercreek Market proves that better than anyone in town, according to the specialty grocer’s already ravenous fan base (it opened a scant 14 months ago).

“You come in, you pick out any raw cut at the butcher counter and we grill it to order,” says Sara Miller, co-owner of the market and Timbercreek Farm.

All of Timbercreek’s grass-fed and/or dry-aged beef cuts (New York strip, ribeye, tenderloin, etc.), as well as pork chops, lamb and even sausages, are available “on a plate” and prepared under the watchful eye of chef Allie Redshaw.

Cooking that grass-fed beef does take some know-how, Miller says, but if you remember three things, you should be fine. One, “counter age” your meat by bringing it up to room temperature before cooking. Two, grass-fed beef cooks more quickly than corn-fed beef, so take it off the grill before you think it’s ready. (“You can always put it back on,” Miller says.) And three, let the meat rest before you cut into it.

“Grass-fed beef is so lean,” Miller says. “We cook everything here at the market on the grill, but it really just depends on your method at home. In the winter, I will pan sear it and stick it in the oven to finish.” As for the market’s dry-aged beef, Miller says you’d be best off using the grill.

Runner-up: Downtown Grille

Honorable mention: Aberdeen Barn

 

SUSHI

Now & Zen

Runner-up: Ten

Honorable mention: Mican

Blink and you’ll miss this tiny Japanese joint on Second Street across from McGuffey Art Center. And our sushi-loving readers won’t mind because that means one thing: more Now & Zen for them. Their enthusiasm for chef/owner Toshi Sato’s creations isn’t wasted on us: He “puts out huge and beautiful sushi rolls stuffed with dynamic flavor combinations and sided with hot and sweet and salty sauces,” C-VILLE said not long ago. Taking second place this year is the Downtown Mall’s Ten (come for the sushi, stay for more than 20 different kinds of sake).

TIRAMISU

Tavola

Runner-up: HotCakes

Honorable mention: Bella’s Restaurant

Translated from Italian, tiramisu means “lift me up,” and that’s exactly what Tavola’s terrific take on this espresso-infused dolce will do for you. Chef/owner Michael Keaveny has taught several cooks to prepare the popular Belmont eatery’s soft, creamy confection, but yum’s, er, mum’s the word when we ask him to tell us what’s in it. One thing we—and our readers—have figured out, though: After a single forkful, you’ll ask your waiter for a second piece to go. Barracks Road regulars also know a good tiramisu when they taste one, which is why HotCakes took this year’s red ribbon.

Okay, Chickapig isn't a "sport," per se, but professional sports are sorely lacking in pooping cows. Sue us for taking some creative liberties. Photo: Tom McGovern
Okay, Chickapig isn’t a “sport,” per se, but professional sports are sorely lacking in pooping cows. Sue us for taking some creative liberties. Photo: Tom McGovern

SPORTS BAR Kardinal Hall

Barnyard antics

Kardinal Hall’s own official pastime

Kardinal Hall ain’t your typical sports bar. The bierhaus from the owners of Beer Run is as likely to draw a crowd for a Manchester United tilt as it is for the Super Bowl. And, while the place is almost always packed for major UVA sports contests, Kardinal’s focus is as much on playing games as watching them. Right down to the tabletop genre.

“Tuesday night is Chickapig night,” owner Josh Hunt says. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Chickapig, a strategic board game for up to four players, was developed right here in Charlottesville by renowned guitar maker Brian Calhoun. The object is to “break your flock of chickapigs free while dodging opponents, hay bales and an unruly pooping cow,” according to the official description. Hunt says the game’s more complicated than checkers but maybe not quite as complicated as chess.

“Brian came up with this game years ago and has been developing it over a long period of time,” he says. “I have played probably three times and had fun every time.”

Chickapig is for sale at Kardinal Hall, and Hunt says Calhoun is working on making it more widely available.

If dodging cow dung isn’t your idea of a good time, no worries. Join the crowds in front of the beer garden’s six flat screen TVs for a Cavaliers basketball game or the day’s Barclay’s Premier League matchup.

Hunt says Kardinal Hall occasionally sets up a projector and big screen for major games after dark. “We’re hoping to do more of that with UVA football and other events like the Olympics,” he says. Game on.

Runner-up: Citizen Burger Bar

Honorable mention: Boylan Heights

 

FINE DINING

C&O Restaurant

Runner-up: Tavola

Honorable mention: Ivy Inn

What’s left to say about C&O Restaurant—a place the Washington Post once called “the least prepossessing fine restaurant in America”—that hasn’t already been said? Plenty, if these recent five-star TripAdvisor reviews are any indication: “Incredible food at historic location!” “Fine dining at its best,” “Professional service and excellent food,” “Dining delight in Charlottesville.” You’ll get no argument about any of that—from us or our readers. This year’s silver goes to Tavola—“Exceptional rustic Italian,” says one TripAdvisor review—the Hinton Avenue gem.

RevSoup

VEGETARIAN-FRIENDLY Revolutionary Soup

Vegging out

Why Rev Soup is the best place to eat meat-free

While beloved lunchery Revolutionary Soup is a hotspot for omnivores and herbivores alike, it’s its vegetarian (and, often, vegan) offerings that catch your eye.

Heather Phillips, the organizer of the Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival, calls Rev Soup “an amazing vegetarian option.”

“They serve a wide—and I mean wide—variety of meat-free soups, sandwiches and salads,” made with fresh and local produce, which uses fewer resources and makes the joint environmentally friendly, too.

Her recommendation? “My usual, and one of my favorites, is the black bean and spinach wrap,” Phillips says. “They make a tasty batch of black beans and that wrap, with a small bowl of the spicy Senegalese peanut tofu, is a vegan’s dream lunch.”

Runner-up: Roots Natural Kitchen

Honorable mention: Brazos Tacos

 

FRIED CHICKEN

Wayside Fried Chicken

Runner-up: Ace Biscuit & Barbecue

Honorable mention: The Whiskey Jar

Why did C-VILLE readers cross the road? To chow down on what they consider to be the crispiest, crunchiest, gosh-darn best fried chicken in town: Wayside’s “Ole Virginia.” For more than 50 years, this hole-in-the-wall off Jefferson Park Avenue has been frying up finger-licking good wings, breasts and thighs—at prices that are something to crow, ahem, cluck about: A recent monthly special featured eight pieces for nine bucks. Head over to Henry Avenue to sample runner-up Ace Biscuit & Barbecue’s buttermilk fried chicken breakfast biscuit.

BURGER

Citizen Burger Bar

Runner-up: Boylan Heights

Honorable mention: Riverside Lunch

The folks at Citizen Burger Bar declare that “a delicious burger is your right. …Perhaps even your responsibility,” and our readers, who once again voted it No. 1, couldn’t agree more. The Downtown Mall stalwart’s namesake sandwich is crafted with Timbercreek Farm beef, McClure Swiss, blackened onions, garlic aioli, iceberg and tomato, all piled high on a brioche bun. Over at runner-up Boylan Heights, you’ll wanna wrap your mitts around a Room 121.

BBQ

Barbeque Exchange

Runner-up: Ace Biscuit & Barbecue

Honorable mention: Smoked BBQ Co.

In 2015, Barbeque Exchange’s Craig Hartman told us that “Virginia was once the epicenter [of barbecue], and when people moved away, so did barbecue. …There’s no reason Virginia can’t re-establish itself.” If you ask our readers, it already has—and Hartman’s Gordonsville barbecue joint dishes up the area’s finest. His personal favorite? The pork belly is “one of the best cuts there is,” he says, and it comes off the smoker like über-bacon.

PIZZA

Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie

Runner-up: Lampo

Honorable mention: Christian’s Pizza

Our readers know there’s nothing humble about a slice of Dr. Ho’s Bellissima (a margherita ’zza topped with local shaved country ham, arugula, lemon vinaigrette and aged Parmesan), or the Ragin’ Cajun (Creole-spiced shrimp, local andouille sausage, green peppers, roasted red peppers and mozzarella cheese). And once again this year you say it’s worth the schlep to North Garden to sink your teeth into the hottest pies in—okay, south of—town. Popular Neapolitan pizzeria Lampo comes in second.

FISH AND CHIPS

Beer Run

Runner-up: Shebeen Pub & Braai

Honorable mention: Tin Whistle Irish Pub

One of the draws that keeps you running through the door at Beer Run and cooling your heels while you wait for a table is the baja fish and chips, made from farm-raised catfish fillets and topped with housemade pico de gallo and chipotle ranch. And don’t get us started on the organic, house-roasted frites, but, since you asked, they’re perfect. Shebeen Pub & Braai has its own fine kettle of fish (and chips) to fry.

Illustration: Jason Crosby
Illustration: Jason Crosby

WINGS Wild Wing Café

One shining sauce

Wild Wing Café has 34 sauces on its menu right now, but the changes since 2013 have been madness. Four years ago, the national chain introduced the Battle of the Bones, an NCAA-style bracket competition to select new sauces. Eight customer recipes are selected to compete annually, and patrons vote for their favorites each week until one winner remains. This year’s victor? Felice Bogus with 7 Pepper Sticky. Chad Ragland, owner of Wild Wing, called it “more of an Asian-inspired sauce.”

“Those last two battled it out, and that was the winner,” Ragland says. “Customers can vote online or right here in the restaurant.” The winner typically replaces one of the lowest-selling sauces on the Wild Wing Café menu.

Runner-up: Oakhart Social

Honorable mention: Wings Over Charlottesville

 

FROZEN TREAT

Splendora’s Gelato

Runner-up: Chaps Ice Cream

Honorable mention: SweetFrog

We’ve got more than our fair share of frozen treats in this town, but any place with flavors such as amarena, fior di latte, gianduia and zabaione is in a class by itself. And readers have once again assured us that’s how they too feel about Splendora’s. With anywhere between 24 and 36 different handmade flavors to pick from (good luck with that!), the Downtown Mall sweet treatery has something for everyone. Speaking of mixing things up, it’s hard to beat a scoop of runner-up Chaps’ chocolate ice cream atop a scoop of strawberry served in a homemade cone.

PASTRY

MarieBette Café & Bakery

Runner-up: Albemarle Baking Co.

Honorable mention: Paradox Pastry

Caneles and financiers and petit kouign-amann, oh my! And of course there’s also the chocolate-almond croissants, sticky buns and pain au chocolat. But MarieBette really had us—and you!—at the chocolate chunk cookies. Each one is big enough to serve a family of four, and these bad boys are wide, thin and asymmetrical—it’s as if they were fighting for space on the baking sheet. Second place goes to the home of the Princess Cake, aka Albemarle Baking Co.

FOOD TRUCK

South Fork Food Truck

Runner-up: Carpe Donut

Honorable mention: Côte-Rôtie

Phillip Gerringer told us he started South Fork in 2013 to fulfill a dream of running his own food business. In 2016, our readers let him know that not only has his dream come true, but it’s the best on the scene. With a focus on Southern cuisine, South Fork’s offerings—served on Thursdays at Champion Brewing Company and at Fridays After Five and other area events—include a Cheerwine-braised pork sandwich or a smoked jalapeño meatloaf sandwich topped with garlic mashed potatoes, green tomato salsa and bacon. Gerringer, however, says he’s partial to the grilled pimento cheese sandwich with arugula and a fried green tomato. Sounds good to us! Longtime fave Carpe Donut takes the red ribbon this year.

King Family winemaker Matthieu Finot makes the Crosé from Merlot grapes that are picked slightly underripe, for acidity and freshness. Photo: Ryan Jones
King Family winemaker Matthieu Finot makes the Crosé from Merlot grapes that are picked slightly underripe, for acidity and freshness. Photo: Ryan Jones

VIRGINIA WINE Crosé (King Family Vineyards)

Virginia’s cult rosé

The people have spoken! Rather than voting for a Viognier, Cabernet Franc or Meritage blend—or any other wine that could be considered “typical” for the Monticello region—Charlottesvillians want rosé. More specifically, they want Crosé.

But just how is it that King Family’s rosé came to be such a fiercely loved symbol of the local wine scene? It could be that it’s the perfect counterpoint to the humid Charlottesville summers. More likely, though, it’s winemaker Matthieu Finot’s classic approach.

When Finot first moved to Charlottesville in 2003, he was discouraged from making a dry rosé.

“At the time, rosé was supposed to be blush,” Finot says, “and blush was supposed to be sweet.” But he had a different vision for Virginia rosé. Instead, he created a new style modeled after his favorite French versions, many produced near his hometown of Hermitage, along the Rhône River.

At King Family, he has a special block of Merlot dedicated to his rosé. “The grapes were not harvested with the ripeness to do a red,” he says. He picks them “slightly underripe, to make a rosé wine with good acidity and freshness.”

This past harvest, rosé production increased around the world, Finot notes, and Virginia was no different. The shift in popularity from sweet rosé to high-quality dry rosé over the last decade pleases him.

“Winning [this category] with the Crosé is a sign, for me, of just how far Virginia wine has come,” says Finot. “It’s very satisfying to see the overall quality of world-class wines in the Monticello AVA.”

Runner-up: Octagon (Barboursville Vineyards)

Honorable mention: Viognier (Veritas Vineyard & Winery)

 

SPOT WHEN THE BOSS IS BUYING

C&O Restaurant

Runner-up: The Alley Light

Honorable mention: Hamiltons’ at First & Main

Eating on the company dime means two things: You want to splurge, and you want to feel like a big shot doing it. C&O offers diners both in spades. Not only can you treat yourself to duck confit and the steak Chinoise, you’ll find yourself in a low-light space with enough Old World charm to make you forget you even had a boss in the first place (and isn’t that the dream?). At runner-up Alley Light, order the pork rillette to make a great first impression.

HALL OF FAME

Mas

In the 14 years since it opened, Mas has garnered praise in Best of C-VILLE for a whole host of reasons—its outdoor patio (just look for the cheerful yellow umbrellas!), its appeal as a date spot (mood lighting, yummy cocktails to calm the nervous jitters) and its chef/owner, Tomas Rahal, whose affinity for Spanish cuisine delivers a menu of artisanal small plates six nights a week (though for some of us, that’s still not enough). Readers know—and have known for a while—that this is why it’s also consistently voted best restaurant in town.

Bodo’s Bagels

It’s hard to poke a hole in this choice. On the Charlottesville dining scene since 1998, this standout bagel spot has wowed customers for nearly 30 years thanks to an inclusive atmosphere, its Caesar salad and, let’s be honest, prices so low you could come back for breakfast, lunch and dinner and not even break a 20. It earns a spot in the Best of C-VILLE Hall of Fame this year because we can’t think of another restaurant that has gotten it so very right for so long.

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