Local restaurants were on the rise in 2017

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Pearl Island Catering (owner Javier Figueroa-Ray, above) teamed up with Vu Noodles to serve lunch at the Jefferson School City Center Café. Photo by Amy Jackson Pearl Island Catering (owner Javier Figueroa-Ray, above) teamed up with Vu Noodles to serve lunch at the Jefferson School City Center Café. Photo by Amy Jackson

We’ll admit it: Last year’s end-of-year restaurant wrap-up was tough to write as we bid farewell to our beloved Spudnuts and to Brookville’s baked egg breakfasts. Little did we know that 2017 would be a boon for eatery openings. This might finally have been the year that convinced us that our eyes are, in fact, bigger than our bellies.

Ones that are new

Melissa Close-Hart’s long-awaited modern Mexican restaurant Junction opened in Belmont and Carpe Café began serving donuts, coffee, breakfast sandwiches and more in the Studio IX café space. Feelin’ Saucy Pizzeria and Corner Juice both opened on the Corner, while Tucker Yoder got back in the traditional restaurant game with Back 40 in the Timbercreek Market spot in the old Coca-Cola building on Preston Avenue (the market now focuses on butchery). Monsoon Siam opened a to-go outpost, aptly named Monsoon Siam Togogo, in the Main Street Market building.

The Coat Room gives off a speakeasy vibe as a restaurant-within-a-restaurant tucked underneath Brasserie Saison. Photo by Stephen Barling

Downtown, Iron Paffles and Coffee brought us pastry waffle sandwiches (we never knew we needed them, but consider us hooked). Turkish, Indian, Nepali and Mediterranean fusion restaurant Kebabish Sizzling and Fire Grille opened up on Water Street, and Urban Bowl started noodling around in the York Place building—but don’t confuse it with Citizen Bowl, a lunchtime-only salads- and grains-focused spot in the new Penny Heart event space. Restaurateur Will Richey and brewer Hunter Smith opened their Franco-Belgian beer and cuisine spot, Brasserie Saison, (complete with underground brewing space and private dining room) on the Downtown Mall.

Plus, former Public West chef Bryan Sewell opened Wayland’s Crossing Tavern in the old Public West spot in Crozet, and the Faulknier family began serving classic comfort food at the Cherry Avenue Diner in Fifeville.

Charlottesville foodies have more specialty shops to peruse, too, with Tilman’s, a cheese, wine and charcuterie-focused shop on the Downtown Mall, and Oliva, a gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop at Barracks Road Shopping Center.

Satisfying the city’s sweet tooth are The Candy Store on Fourth Street SE, and not one but two bakeries: mad-for-macaron wholesale bakery Bowerbird Bakeshop, and sprouted-grain, gluten-free and vegan bakery Moon Maiden’s Delights in the York Place building on the Downtown Mall.

A few new food trucks started wheeling around town, including El Guero, serving Cuban sandwiches and a Dr. Ho’s truck run by the North Garden pizza-slingers of the same name. And then there’s the highly mobile Sliced. Cake Bar, dishing out cake by the slice, buttercream shots and cake flights (like a beer flight, with cake). And then there’s Mochiko, serving Hawaiian food (including SPAM masubi rolls) at the City Market and other events around town since July.

But however will we wash it down? With beer, bubble tea and other beverages, of course. Richmond’s celebrated Hardywood Park Craft Brewery opened a pilot brewery and taproom on the ground floor of the Uncommon building at 1000 W. Main St., while Reason Beer began brewing and tapping beer on Route 29. Three Notch’d Brewery funked up Charlottesville’s beer scene with a sour house in its Grady Avenue spot.

The aptly named Bitty Bar started zipping around to area celebrations, serving cocktails and mocktails from a repurposed two-horse trailer, while the folks at Feast! had their own conversion, turning a 1974 Citroën H Van into a beverage cart with coffee, tea, mulled cider and other seasonal drinks served from a permanent spot in the Main Street Market. The adventurous tea drinkers among us can get a wide variety of bubble teas (sweetened teas mixed with milk, tapioca balls or fruit jelly) from Kung Fu Tea on West Main.

More chain restaurants opened local franchises this year, too, including Chopt, b. Good, MidiCi, Texas Roadhouse, Uncle Maddio’s Pizza, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and Pizza Hut.

Plus, the Green Market at Stonefield launched its upscale May through October farmers market, and The Haven began serving community lunches every Wednesday.

Ones that grew

Other local food and drink spots took over a little more real estate this year. Juice Laundry opened its second location in Charlottesville (and third location overall) on the Corner, while Found. Market Co. added a storefront to its wholesale bakery business. Kitchen(ette), an offshoot of Kitchen Catering, began offering sandwiches for purchase a few days a week, and the Bageladies expanded their wholesale Bake’mmm bagel business into hundreds of Kroger stores across the country.

Three Notch’d Brewing Co. grew its brewing operation into an additional spacious restaurant and bar location at IX Art Park.

MarieBette Café & Bakery got a new facility that tripled its baking capacity (vive le gluten, indeed!), and Shenandoah Joe about doubled the size of its roastery/cafe on Preston Avenue. Champion Brewing Company added a kitchen to its Charlottesville taproom and expanded west, opening a taproom in Richmond. Vu Noodles and Pearl Island Catering teamed up to serve lunch at The Jefferson School City Center.

Ones that moved

Still other places moved around. Sweethaus also moved into IX, leaving its Tiffany-blue warehouse space on West Main behind. Parallel 38, which closed its Shops at Stonefield location in January, reopened in the former l’etoile location on West Main.

The Bebedero jumped from the Glass Building into a Downtown Mall location (where Brookville Restaurant used to be) and Cactus hopped into the former Aqui es Mexico spot.

Some chefs shuffled around, too. Harrison Keevil is now at his specialty grocery store, Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen, and served as a consultant on the revamped Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar menu; Frank Paris moved over to Heirloom at Graduate Charlottesville after closing Miso Sweet; Dylan Allwood left C&O for Tavola; Jeremy Coleman filled the Rapture chef spot vacated by Chris Humphreys, now at Fellini’s; and Andrew Silver left Zocalo for Roots Natural Kitchen. Plus, Jose de Brito returned to town after a stint at the Michelin-starred Inn at Little Washington—he’s now chef de cuisine at Fleurie and a consultant for Petit Pois.

Ones on hold

Much to our dismay, it looks like Blue Moon Diner won’t open in early 2018 as expected—in fact, it could be almost a full year before we have our huevos bluemooños and powdered sugar-covered pancakes in the shadow of that glorious Vegas-era Elvis bust. For now, the occasional Blue Moon pop-ups at Snowing in Space will do, but it’s just not the same.

And that Sugar Shack we said was coming to West Main? It’s still happening, just a little later, and a little bigger: It’ll include a Luther Burger. Burgers served on donut buns? Okay, maybe we can wait a little longer.

Ones that closed

Now let’s take a moment to remember some of the places that closed this year, including the Shark Mountain Cafe at IX (Shark Too at the Darden School’s innovation Lab still stands), Zip Chicken, Downtown Thai, South Fork food truck, Nude Fude, quaint sandwich shop Salt Artisan Market, Flaming Wok, My Chocolate Shoppe, Miso Sweet Ramen + Donut Shop, Public West, Baja Bean North, Thai ’99 on Fontaine Avenue and Flora Artisanal Cheese. We’re still sad about losing Arley Cakes to Richmond, too.

Cho’s Nachos opened in January in the former McGrady’s spot on Preston Avenue, only to close before the 12-month mark. Photo by John Robinson

Ones that opened and were also deposed

As anyone in the business will tell you, the restaurant industry will chew you up and spit you out, even if you’re one of the hardest working folks out there. This year, three different Charlottesville restaurants opened and closed within the calendar year including Hamooda Shami’s Yearbook Taco replacement, 11 Months—but his concept restaurants have done well in Richmond, so go figure. Cho’s Nachos opened in January only to close mid-December, missing the one-year mark by just a couple of weeks.

And then there was Cardamom. After taking a break from restaurants to teach cooking, Lu Mei Chang returned to the scene with the Asian cuisine spot in February. Chang aimed to cook healthy, mostly meatless dishes, which pleased vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike, but after holding a traditional pho pop-up (pho tends to include meat), some customers lashed out at Chang on social media, boycotted the restaurant and urged others to do so as well. Chang wouldn’t say whether the social media backlash contributed to her choice to close Cardamom just a few months after opening, but we can’t help but wonder.

Ones to cheer in the new year

There’s no telling what’s in store for Charlottesville food in 2018, but a few things seem certain. Aroma’s Cafe, which closed up shop in October after 10 years in Barracks Road Shopping Center (and nine prior years at Fontaine Research Park), will reopen in a new location soon. The Bageladies will (hopefully) have a bagelini bus to bring their pressed bagel sandwiches to the masses on non-City Market days. And, speaking of breakfast, the Villa Diner will move to a new location (we’re not sure where yet) in the summer.

The chains continue to rush in, though, as both a Zaxby’s fast food chicken joint and fast casual Mediterranean eatery CAVA are planned for Emmet Street Station. But there’s still hope for variety: Signs hanging outside two buildings on Fontaine Avenue indicate that Fry’s Spring will get a couple of new restaurants, Tibetan cuisine spot Druknya House and Silk Thai, next year. And don’t forget about Peloton Station, the sandwich joint/bike repair shop from chef Curtis Shaver and the rest of the Hamiltons’ at First & Main crew.

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