It’s not me, it’s you: A loving breakup letter from a cranky food writer

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Fox’s Cafe in Belmont is one of the last best places to get an affordable, fresh, and made-to-order red-blooded American breakfast. Photo: John Robinson Fox’s Cafe in Belmont is one of the last best places to get an affordable, fresh, and made-to-order red-blooded American breakfast. Photo: John Robinson

Dear C’ville,

We always knew this is where it would end up. I know a big part of you will be very happy about me leaving. And maybe an even bigger part of you never really loved me in the first place.

But let’s not kid ourselves, there were some pretty great moments, some memorable nights. Like shivering in the rain in the neon glow of the El Tako Nako trailer on Hydraulic Road. The eye-watering, hot pepper seed-infused grease soaking through the double corn tortilla-wrapped carne asada tacos brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it. Yeah, it was really goood.

And the long Sunday afternoon walks to Lemon Grass to slurp near perfect beef noodle soup and chat with Hiep Pham and his wife Mai about pho. All things pho, new locations of great pho houses, and, most encouragingly, Hiep’s dream of one day opening a pho and bun-only joint Downtown, whereupon all the trendy pretenders would recede, leaving us alone. Together.

And then there were the mornings when we woke up at the crack of dawn. If an early breakfast was in order, the over easy eggs, sausage, and potatoes at Fox’s Cafe seemed like America’s greatest invention outside of exceptionalism. Heck, I guess there were even a couple times when we went for a long walk after a Fox’s breakfast and just waltzed, shameless as a cow-pie bingo winner, right back in there and ordered up some double cheeseburgers and fries for lunch. And, even after two meals and all that talk, we each had a little bit left of a 10 dollar bill and more to say.

Remember when we met Chris Gibson at Gibson’s Grocery? He cares so much about how a hot dog should taste that he purchased a vintage frankfurter steamer for his Nathan’s dogs, and he treats his potato rolls as tenderly as…well, you know. I guess losing mutual friends is always the hardest part of a breakup. Song Song, and her lovingly prepared pork and leek bings, will always tug achingly at the softest part of my hungry heart.

Oh, and I won’t ever forget the evenings we spent together with Bashir and Kathy Khelafa at Bashir’s Taverna, in the warm embrace of their worldly salon, with an endless parade of delectable surprises from every corner of the globe emerging from the kitchen, and conversations with good people making us feel like a part of something bigger. Maybe they’re even a little bit to blame for all this. They love what they do so much, they made me rethink how I spend my days.

But C’ville, if there is to be another chapter for us for some time down the road a piece, certain things have to change. It’s not a laundry list or anything, but I need some gestures of good faith, some indication that you’re making an effort to acknowledge what I need.

For instance, there are several Japanese restaurants up and running already, so why no ramen? Hot and hearty soup like fine ramen has fueled and inspired many an army to rise up and face impossible odds, and even win hopeless battles in certain circumstances. With ramen on our side, think what we could accomplish.

And you really need to get gyro, shawarma, or doner on the spit. Enough of these frozen slices, imported from out-of-town distributors, reheated on the griddle. Find a way around Virginia’s Victorian era health regulations and get us some shaved meat sandwiches, dripping their grease into that sweet dark place at the bottom of a cylinder of foil where the tzatziki dwells.

You have a new, more diverse clique now, I know. But please invite the Sudanese and Lebanese to make your life richer by availing unto you the wondrous cuisines of their ancient lands. An Ethiopian restaurant shouldn’t be out of the question either. They occupy corners of the most unassuming burgs from coast to coast and thrive. I could wrap you in injera and eat you alive.

But most of all C’ville, you need to show a little love to the working schleps like me. It hurts me to think that we were star-crossed from the start—you, prep school, and me, well, you know school was never my thing. Towns everywhere are bragging up their cuisine spectrums and feting their top chefs, but the truth is you can get good food for $20 a person anywhere. What separates podunk from cosmopolitan is that in places like New York, Paris, London, and Chicago there is ubiquitously available great tasting (if not macrobiotic and/or preciously conceived) universally affordable food. The true measure of any grubscape is the food it serves its common people.

Maybe you’ll think of me sometime when you’re down to your last five bucks and you pick up a local rag looking against hope for a tip on something grubby to mow on. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

  • carrick castle

    good for you. thanks. so appreciate the honesty.

  • Casual Reader

    You had some good articles, Preston.. The one about Planet Earth was spot on. But you can’t seriously be thinking that Fox’s Cafe is a good breakfast. Or that Charlottesville’s restaurants are so incredible as to be missed in your new location. Are you moving to Montana? Saskatchewan? Tulsa? Somewhere they don’t serve food?

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