The family man: Angelo Vangelopoulos (Food & Drink Annual 2013)

FOOD & DRINK ANNUAL 2013

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Photo: Jackson Smith Photo: Jackson Smith

Every Easter, chefs, purveyors, foodies, and friends gather for a massive celebration of food and wine centered around the distinctly Greek ritual of roasting a goat outdoors on a spit. Started in 2010, it is now the largest annual gathering of Charlottesville’s food family, and its host is the family’s patriarch, Angelo Vangelopoulos, chef-owner of the Ivy Inn.

Vangelopoulos’ family roots run deep, having grown up working in his parents’ Greek-flavored pizzerias in Northern Virginia. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1990, his experiences at two very different restaurants taught him  a lesson that stayed with him. Staff turnover at one was constant, while the staff at the other stayed for decades. The difference, he observed, was that one restaurant had a sense of family, cemented by things like a daily staff meal, where everyone, from the laundry ladies to the busboys, would gather for a chef-prepared meal before the restaurant opened. At the other, by contrast, “every decision was about the health of the business, not the health of the staff.”

In 1995, while working at the renowned Washington, D.C. restaurant Galileo, Vangelopoulos decided it was time to do something he had always wanted to do: open a restaurant with his parents. Finding no good sites in Northern Virginia, the family broadened their search and came upon an ad for a historic restaurant in Charlottesville. Although Vangelopoulos had never set foot here, he fell hard for the Ivy Inn.

“The first time I walked down that walkway, I knew I was home,” he said.

So, he and his future wife, Farrell, picked up and moved to a town they knew almost nothing about to take over the inn. Eighteen years later, Vangelopoulos knows he made the right decision. Bucking the downscale trend many restaurants have followed in recent years, Ivy Inn has proved it’s still possible to succeed under what he calls the “old school” approach: Take care of your guests from the moment they arrive until the moment they leave.

In the kitchen, Vangelopoulos likewise foregoes fads in favor of food that is squarely grounded in French classical tradition, showcasing the region’s produce. Now 43, Vangelopoulos is beloved throughout the Charlottesville food family. Fellow Mount Rushmore chef Craig Hartman calls Ivy Inn the backbone of Charlottesville fine dining. Maya’s star chef Christian Kelly, among others, calls Vangelopoulos “the best chef in Charlottesville.” And, food purveyors gush not just about his talent but also his leadership and “huge heart.”

All the while, family has been central. It’s not just that he runs the restaurant with his wife or that his sous chef is his brother-in-law. It’s also the sense of family he has built among his staff by treating them right. His now-famous Easter party started because he wanted to make sure his staff had a celebration of their own after toiling through Ivy Inn’s brunch.

And, there is one more endearing way in which Vangelopoulos, who has one son, embraces family: Asked how he wants to be remembered, he did not hesitate. “I want to be the chef that made it to all of his kid’s soccer games,” he said.

To read about Angelo’s pick for Charlottesville’s Rising Star, click here!

 

Angelo’s menu favorite

“Grilled Rag Mountain trout, grits cake, bacon butter sauce. This dish appears in many different forms throughout the year, with the vegetable accompaniments being seasonally changed and updated. Ellen Snyder, our local ‘trout lady,’ has been supplying us and several other Charlottesville restaurants with her super fresh and delicious trout that are raised in stream beds along the Shenandoah National Forest in Zepp, Virginia. And nevermind her amazing smoked trout, because she can’t sell it to you anyway! White Hall Vineyards Viognier is a nice, well-rounded wine that matches the fish, grits, and smoky bacon.”

 

Chef’s choice

Sandwich: Moroccan wrap at Aromas Cafe

DessertSticky toffee pudding at C&O

Virginia wine: Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir

Pizza: The Jack London at Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie

Taco: Lengua at El Tepeyac

Burger: Double with cheese and bacon at Riverside Lunch

Cocktail: Maya’s peach flame

Virginia beer: Devils Backbone Vienna Lager

Breakfast: Cafe Cubano, chorizo potatoes with tomatillo sauce

Guilty pleasure: Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream

Hangover food: The College Inn’s steak and cheese with fries

Appetizer: Orzo’s mussels with feta, loukaniko, and ouzo

Bodo’s order: Everything bagel, veggie cream cheese, sprouts, and onions

Local ingredient: The Rock Barn “barn dogs,” my favorite Ivy Inn staff meal

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