Any way you slice it, there’s a lot to love about Charlottesville. That’s why, every year, we ask readers to tell us their favorite things about our city—burgers, bike shops and homebuilders alike. And while we respect the answers you’ve given, you’re not the only ones with opinions. In honor of Best of C-VILLE’s 20th year, we decided to take a stab at some “bests” of our own, from food trends to music stores, even borrowing a few categories from the magazine’s two-decades-long history (like Best Chain Restaurant and Best Place to Work). Of course, as with anything, you have to take the good with the bad, so we’ve also cooked up a few complaints (it wasn’t as hard as we thought) relating to traffic, Trump and where you rest your head. There’s no telling what the next 20 years will bring—for Best of C-VILLE or Charlottesville—but we can’t wait to hear what you have to say about it.
Click here to see all the winners in this year’s Best of C-VILLE!
BEST FOOD TREND
Cereal, salads, stir-fry—the concept of eating food in bowls is hardly new. Hell, Chipotle has been doing it for years. But the trend—which, as far we can tell, made a quiet debut in 2014 with a mention in a New York Times article about making your own grain bowls and steadily picked up media recognition from there, from the Wall Street Journal to NPR—has finally landed in Charlottesville in a big way. Smoothie bowls at The Juice Laundry (literally a smoothie in a bowl, but with fresh fruit, nut and seed toppings), salad bowls at Roots Natural Kitchen, rice bowls at ZZaam! Korean Grill, grit bowls at Grit, noodle bowls at The Spot, sushi bowls at Poke Sushi Bowl—there is no end to the concavular madness. You might say our bowls runneth over.
BEST PLACE TO BECOME A REGULAR
Champion Brewing Company
When searching out a place where everybody knows your name, consider Champion Brewing Company. With a stable of core beers on tap, as well as creative experiments on a regular rotation, the brewery’s foundation of independence and innovation has drawn in those who want a place to hang out with their friends (board games are on the shelf), catch a DJ set under the outside tent or watch some sports on one of several TVs around the space. Regulars know to look out for the 22-ounce one-off beers of experimental brews sold in the taproom.
Emilie Faith Thompson. Photo: Dan Rader
BEST PLACE TO CATCH A RISING STAR
Heritage Theatre Festival
Summer stock is not a recipe for cold soup, kids. It’s the way aspiring and established actors get serious about grooming their skills during the off-season, and many find that opportunity right here at UVA’s Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds. As students exit in May, the Heritage Theatre Festival assembles for a summer season that attracts almost 18,000 people through attendance and performers each year.
“Heritage Theatre Festival is full of hardworking artists who truly want to put on the best theater possible for this area,” actress Emilie Faith Thompson told us in 2013 when she played Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun. The Los Angles-based actress has come to HTF five times to build her résumé.
BEST CHAIN RESTAURANT
Mezeh Mediterranean Grill
Not to harp too much on the food-in-bowls trend, but this relatively new restaurant in The Shops at Stonefield is a welcome addition. Pick a base (rice or salad), pick a protein (chicken shawarma, falafel, beef kafta, etc.) and then load it up with your choice of more than 25 toppings, from Lebanese tabbouleh to pickled carrots. And don’t even get us started on the house juices, like cucumber-mint or kale, beet and apple.
BEST EXAMPLE OF YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK
Route 29/Rio Road interchange
In the realm of local construction and development, “ahead of schedule” is a phrase that we’ve learned to take with a grain of salt. That’s why we tipped our hats to VDOT last July when the highly anticipated Route 29/Rio Road grade-separated interchange reopened a whopping 46 days early. The project aimed to lessen traffic on 29 North by creating two lanes—running under a major intersection—for vehicles with destinations north or south of Rio Road. And for its timeliness, we’re giving the project an A+.
BEST NEW BUILDING
If Charlottesville’s penchant for classic red-brick architecture feels like we’re still in the 18th century, Oliver Kuttner shows what the 21st century can look like at the corner of Garrett and Second streets with his odd-angled, jutting in here, balconies there Treehouse. Kuttner wanted to build height without intimidating mass at the sidewalk (ahem, Residence Inn Charlottesville Downtown), and the three-story building elevates without overpowering. Inside, the ceilings are high, the windows tall and the environment makes the worker bees of Ten Flavors and WillowTree Apps soar.
BEST NEW VIEW
The Graduate Hotel
If you wanna get technical about it, this view isn’t new. But access to it is. Located on the ninth floor of The Graduate Hotel (which was formerly the roof of the Red Roof Inn), Heirloom restaurant affords diners an open-air look-see all the way to the Southwest Mountains. Go for the view, stay for the pork belly donuts.
WORST EXERCISE OF FREE SPEECH
Talking during concerts
Pipe down, Charlottesville! Here’s how it works: You fall in love with a band or musician, you listen to them a lot—at home, in the car, at parties, even in stores—and you know all the lyrics. And then that musical act announces a show at, say, the Jefferson or the Pavilion. You get excited to see one of your favorites. You buy a ticket. You attend the concert…and fucking talk through the entire show? That’s actually not how it works.
In recent years, the chatter at concerts has become so invasive to the experience that along with venue personnel, Jeff Tweedy, Ray LaMontagne, Stevie Wonder and Cat Power (at a Satellite Ballroom meltdown) have all had to address it from the stage, with perhaps the most memorable being when Steve Kimock Band frontman told the audience to “Shut the fuck up!” between songs at Starr Hill Music Hall. Please don’t make us say it again.
Let’s get frisky
Not that it’s any of our business, but you know what they say: Sex sells. Over the years, Best of C-VILLE has asked readers about every stage of their courtship—from date spots to birth control.
Place for a midnight condom run: Barracks Road CVS
Birth control device: CVS
Place to play footsie: Escafé
Place to improve your sex life: Lowe’s
Place to land a one-nighter: Rapture
Place to hook up: Downtown Mall
Sexiest atmosphere: The X Lounge
First-date spot: Downtown Mall
Place to snag a spouse: Blue Light Grill
BEST NEW BUSINESS
Rivanna River Company
When people connect with their passion, it shows, and talking with Gabe and Sonya Silver for just a couple of minutes makes it clear that promoting and protecting our waterways are at the top of the list for them. The couple launched the Rivanna River
Company this summer, which has remained busy ferrying people up and down the Rivanna in innertubes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. But their goal is larger—to make the Rivanna (and Charlottesville) a destination for Virginians and out-of-state tourists alike, so that our river remains clean, safe and a natural resource.
BEST RIDICULOUS STATEMENT BY A POLITICIAN
Trump’s nonsensical press conference
In March, Donald Trump held a press conference at his golf course in Jupiter, Florida, after Republican primary wins in Mississippi and Michigan. He started off talking about Trump water, steaks, magazine and wine (all displayed behind him) in response to Mitt Romney’s statements that some of his companies were no longer around. Trump
challenged the press to check his facts, saying Trump Winery was based in Charlottesville on 2,000 acres (property records show 1,206), that it’s the largest winery on the East Coast (it’s neither in terms of land under vine nor production of wine), John Kluge built the vineyard (it was John’s ex-wife, Patricia, who established the vineyard after their divorce) and, the kicker, that it’s located next to the “Thomas Jefferson Memorial” (as we know, Monticello was Jefferson’s home—his memorial is in Washington, D.C.).
While we’re at it…
BEST EXAMPLE OF CHARLOTTESVILLE ON A NATIONAL STAGE
Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the DNC
On the flip side of the political coin, the best example of Charlottesville on a national stage was at the Democratic National Convention when Gold Star family Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Charlottesville residents, spoke about their son, Humayun, an Army captain and UVA graduate who was killed in 2004 in Iraq. The powerful speech was met with negativity from Trump when he said that perhaps Ghazala was not allowed to speak at the convention (implying their Muslim faith prevented it), and since then the Khans have continued to speak out against Trump.
BEST CANDIDATE FOR SYNCHRONIZED TRAFFIC SIGNALS
Ivy Road/University Avenue/West Main Street
Sometimes we wonder if traffic engineers are demons from a Hieronymus Bosch painting, fiendishly manipulating stoplights to make our lives a living hell. Exhibit A, the current iteration of Three Notch’d Road, the original version of which settled the west faster than one can travel from Bellair Market to downtown. Whether on Ivy Road, University or West Main, the pattern is the same: A tendency to catch every one of 15 red lights. Not that we’re counting. Okay, we’ll admit it’s been better this summer. But will that trend continue when school starts? Runner-up: Seminole Trail, which usually is synchronized like a dream, but has fallen into a stop-at-every-light scenario. We’re cutting VDOT some slack because of the Rio intersection construction, but please please please don’t give us another reason not to want to go up 29 North.
WORST NEW BUILDING
Residence Inn Charlottesville Downtown
Having been saddled with the husk of the Landmark Hotel for what seems like decades (it’s been nearly that—construction began in 2008 and came to a halt in 2010 after developer Halsey Minor filed for bankruptcy), we know beggars can’t be choosers—and it is nice to see a hotel project come to a close. But those bricks, man. Sure, we’ve praised Oliver Kuttner for foregoing Jefferson’s own architectural instincts, but we wonder if the Residence Inn’s façade wasn’t stolen from the set of a high school play, in all its orange glory. Even with its convenience to the Downtown Mall, the structure at the corner of West Main and Ridge streets is only slightly more attractive than an airport hotel (except even airport hotels don’t give passersby a peek into the pool area). It’s a good thing we can drown our sorrows at the hotel’s rooftop ba—no, sorry. There isn’t one of those, either, despite its seven-story height. Talk about missed opportunities.
While we’re at it…
BEST PRETENTIOUS BUILDING NAME
The new residential complex at the corner of West Main and Roosevelt Brown Boulevard is a cool-looking building, to be sure. But that name? The website describes Uncommon residents as “trendsetters who don’t try too hard.” Wethinks thou doth protest too much.
BEST ART ON A PLATE
Is there a more sensory dining experience than having a gorgeously assembled feast for the eyes and the palate placed in front of you?
At Fleurie, chef Brian Helleberg has been sending out plates designed with the talent of a fine artist for the past 15 years. Striking without being fussy, Helleberg and his team offer a beautiful take on French tradition through thoughtfully selected ingredients (many items from the chef’s home garden) and precise composition.
With no gimmicks necessary—the ol’ parsley garnish be damned—an evening at Helleberg’s elegant bistro is as mesmerizing as a trip to a museum.
WORST FOOD TREND
Meals tax increase
Whether you are sipping your locally sourced craft cocktail, cutting into a grass-fed steak au poivre or running down your debit card at the drive-through window, the City of Charlottesville is right there beside you with its hand held out. In 2016, the city voted to increase the meals tax from 4 to 5 percent—as C-VILLE reported last year, that “penny-on-the-dollar hike is actually a 25 percent increase in the rate, and would generate an estimated $2.1 million in new revenue for the city’s general fund.”
While noted that these funds are tagged for school and police budgets, the tax is by definition regressive. Some on City Council refer to it as a luxury tax, but restaurant owners worry that it will go unnoticed by consumers and further increases won’t be far behind, unless awareness is raised, as is the case at Brazos Tacos, where each receipt has a cheeky line item noting a “City Council Meals Tax.”