Now that it’s warmer outside, they will come. They’ll come from the field and the hollow and the valley and even the next state over. I saw one last summer just after he had gotten off the bus. He looked as lost as Gomer Pyle at a love-in. He was warily wandering around the west end of the Mall, a little after sundown, in dark-colored dress jeans—creased, of course—with a short sleeve, snap-button, pattern-fabric cowboy shirt and a 10- gallon hat. He carried a small, overnight Samsonite in one hand and a guitar in the other.
“How you doing?” I asked him.
He looked at me like he was still shaking off the residuum of whatever malfunctioning time machine had landed him here.
“All right,” he said, completely unconvincing even to himself.
A couple hours later, I saw him walking west on Preston Avenue around Harris Street as though he was expecting to find an all-night diner he could hole up in until Mrs. Mulgrew would rent him a room at her boarding house come morning.
The cowboy hung around the Mall for a week or so, seeming to have made a couple of unlikely acquaintances of the more bohemian variety. He tried playing a little music with some of them, all sitting outside of Red Light’s offices (some of the slyer ones will set up a block away, so as not to appear too desperate) hoping someone would look down from the tower and say, “Holy s**t fellas, I think I see the next Alicia Keys right down there.”
After about a week, the cowboy disappeared, off to find the real Nashville, one would hope.
If that cowboy was still here though, I’m sure he’d be happy to spend what few bucks he scraped together busking the hard, brick streets of our town on a hearty, home-cooked meal, the kind of meal he might have found at that diner at the end of the world he was walking toward, or at Mrs. Mulgrew’s supper table.
Three places along the West Main Street corridor have popped up lately, serving just that meal—the kind of repast that would have sustained perseverant traders on treks over the Khyber Pass.
The Afghan Grand Market on West Main set up a steam table six or seven weeks back and started serving hot meals of kabobs and curries. The curry changes day to day: Monday and Tuesday it’s lamb, Wednesday/Thursday goat, and on Fridays, chicken. They all come ladled over basmati rice with naan and some creamy sauce. There’s even a little side salad. The curry is of the milder variety spice-wise but there’s a sauce to fix that. All the food is halal and the curry is done in vegetable oil, not butter. It’s all $6 to $8.
A little farther down on West Main, just east of 14th Street, is Nasir Sathi, who used to serve his Pakistani delights in Manhattan but brought his family to Charlottesville to raise his children in a more family-friendly environment. His Kabab & Curry has been there just a month now. I had the goat curry, which came on long rice, with warm tandoori bread and a side salad. Very good. There’s a fairly extensive menu that includes fish and shrimp curries as well as fish kebabs. There’s plenty of reasons for repeat visits. The curry here is done in vegetable oil as well.
Back after a four-year absence is Just Curry. It’s directly across the Mall from the Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar, which is handy for proprietor Alex George, because Commonwealth is his other project, which he worked on while Just Curry was on the back burner. Just Curry does lamb, chicken, goat, and veggie curries with a Caribbean bent. All ingredients are listed on the wall and they all come with a perfectly fried plantain. The thing that really sets this place apart though is the hot sauce: a papaya-habanero base with cumin, mustard seed, and a hint of citrus. It sounds a little fruity, but it really works.