By Sam Padgett
Considering our broad food and drink world, it’s difficult to imagine a single dish that could represent the city’s local food scene. Charlottesville, on account of its geography and demographics, has a more dynamic selection of foods compared to the seafood-obsessed southeastern part of the state and metropolitan areas of Northern Virginia. However, difficult as it might be to identify the dish of the city, a panel of four judges assembled by the Tom Tom Founders Festival made the executive decision that it is the humble ham biscuit.
Leni Sorensen, a culinary historian and the writer behind the Indigo House blog, sees ham biscuits as an inevitability of living in Charlottesville. Sorensen moved here later in life, and the ubiquity of ham biscuits made an impression on her. “They’re everywhere,” she says. “They’re a part of every cocktail party, every museum opening, every kind of festive occasion. I personally know people who would not dream of having a party without ham biscuits.”
Besides its abundance, Sorensen sees the ham biscuit as something that cuts across all spectrums of dining, from gourmet to everyday. Locally, the adaptability of the ham biscuit is extraordinarily clear.
Specialty foods store Feast! has a 2-inch li’l cutie of a slider-style ham biscuit made with local sweet potato biscuits, local ham and a dollop of Virginia spicy plum chutney.
Timberlake Drugs makes its traditional version with a fluffy white biscuit and ham, and there’s the option to add egg and cheese, too.
JM Stock Provisions tops a buttermilk-and-lard biscuit with tasso (spicy, smoky, Louisiana-style ham) and a drizzle of both honey and hot sauce.
The Ivy Inn uses Kite’s Country ham, a sugar-cured ham from Madison County, served with hickory syrup mustard.
The Whiskey Jar also uses Kite’s ham and offers the option of adding egg and cheese.
Ace Biscuit & Barbecue, Fox’s Cafe, Tip Top Restaurant, Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar, Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen, Bluegrass Grill & Bakery and plenty of other spots that we don’t have room to name here have ’em, too.
What’s your favorite local version of the ham biscuit? Tell us at email@example.com.
Is this the best IPA ever?
Luddites might want to steer clear of Champion Brewing Company’s new ML IPA, which debuted last week during the Tom Tom Founders Festival. In conjunction with local startup Metis Machine Learning (the “ML” in the name), Champion’s newest beverage was designed via computer. Using machine learning algorithms, information about the nation’s top 10 best-selling IPAs, as well as Charlottesville’s 10 worst-selling IPAs, was fed into a program that output the desired parameters for the theoretical best IPA.
While there are plenty of variables that make up the taste of the beer, they analyzed the beers’ IBUs (International Bittering Unit, a measure of bitterness), SRM (Standard Reference Method, a color system brewers use to determine finished beer and malt color) and alcohol content.
The results for each variable were 60, 6 and 6, respectively, possibly stoking more fear of a machine uprising.
Michael Prichard, founder and CEO of Metis Machine, wants to quash those fears. “All we really wanted to do was arm the brewer with some information they could work with,” he says. “It’s still a craft; we don’t want people to think we’re trying to replace the brewer.”
Hunter Smith, president and head brewer at Champion, confirms: “At the end of the day, all I was given was some parameters. After that, it was brewing as usual.”
Prichard and Smith met at a machine learning talk about a year ago, and they decided to collaborate; it seemed appropriate to have the ML IPA ready to serve during the innovation-focused Tom Tom Festival.
The ML IPA, which could stay on the menu after Tom Tom if the demand is there, is, according to Smith, a “spot-on typical IPA.”
Market Street Wine opens
Back in February, we reported that Market Street Wineshop owner Robert Harllee had decided to retire and sell his shop at 311 E. Market St. to two longtime employees, Siân Richards and Thadd McQuade. Market Street Wineshop 2.0—now called Market Street Wine—will open this weekend, with an open house from 1 to 4pm on Saturday, April 21.—Erin O’Hare