There is no elite culinary school in Charlottesville. Instead, there is the Clifton Inn. No kitchen has helped to create more local chefs than the Clifton’s, the fine dining restaurant that Craig Hartman built.
Hartman first came to town in 1991, when he visited from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to watch a UVA soccer game. At 33, he already had an esteemed resume, including stints at The Governor’s Mansion and the Mayflower Hotel, as well as a gig as opening chef of the Sanderling Resort on the Outer Banks. During their visit, Hartman and his wife, Donna, stayed at the Clifton Inn. A few weeks after they left, the inn’s managers invited the couple back to fill in for the innkeepers, who wanted a vacation. Clifton had no restaurant at the time, but when Hartman arrived, he created one.
And then he ended up staying for good, establishing Clifton as the top special occasion restaurant in town. There was just one seating each night, and dinner guests arrived an hour early to mingle by the fire with a drink (or two). At dinner time, Hartman emerged from the kitchen to announce the evening’s meal and where he had obtained the ingredients. This was locavorism before it was cool.
In 1998, Hartman left Charlottesville for several years before returning in 2006 to run the kitchen of Fossett’s Restaurant at Keswick Hall. Just a stone’s throw from Clifton Inn, it has since become another training ground for top young Charlottesville chefs. Under Hartman, Keswick was named by Condé Nast Traveler magazine as the best hotel for food in all of North America.
In 2010, 37 years of fine dining finally caught up with Hartman. He decided it was time to fulfill a lifelong dream of opening a barbecue restaurant with his wife. Gordonsville’s The Barbeque Exchange was born. There, Hartman says, his goal has been to create not just good barbeque, but a restaurant that feels and tastes like Virginia. A food historian, Hartman doubts whether it’s even possible to achieve this lofty goal, but anyone who has ever enjoyed the food at The Barbeque Exchange knows that he’s once again created something special.
Hartman belongs on our Mount Rushmore, though, not just for his own food, as you don’t have to drive to Gordonsville to sample cuisine that he’s left his mark on. It is everywhere. At restaurants all over the Charlottesville area, you can enjoy food prepared by chefs who Hartman trained. One of them, Melissa Close-Hart, joins Hartman in this issue. Two others, Amalia Scatena and Curtis Shaver, are among the four Rising Stars. And, a third Rising Star, Tucker Yoder, now runs the kitchen of the restaurant that Hartman built at Clifton Inn.
During his time away from Charlottesville in the early 2000s, Hartman spent four years as the Executive Chef of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, teaching aspiring young chefs, including many who went on to achieve national acclaim. Now that he has returned to the area, the Hartman era of Charlottesville dining lives on through a food scene that he and his area students have helped create.
To read about Craig’s pick for Charlottesville’s Rising Star, click here!
Try this, Craig says:
“Pork belly barbeque (three days dry-cured, three days wet-cured, and then smoked over live green hickory coals) with Colonel Bacon sauce is our signature dish, also served with green tomato pickles paired with Bold Rock Virginia Apple!”
Cocktail: Yamazaki Yuzu Sour at TEN
Virginia wine: Barboursville Octagon 2009
Appetizer: Datil con Tocino at Mas
Taco: Taco al Pastor at El Monarca III
Bodo’s order: Lox with veggie cream cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions on an everything bagel.
Sandwich: I preface this with a huge apology for self promotion, but The BBQ Exchange Pulled Pork Sandwich with Hell Fire Sauce, Spicy Pickles, Pickled Hot Peppers and Colonel Bacon sauce is the best for me!
Burger: I hate Burgers. They give me indigestion. Why doesn’t someone make a real HAM Burger?
Dessert: Virginia Gentleman Cake as made by Amor Echeverria (formerly Pastry Chef at Keswick Hall) is the most addictively delicious chocolate dessert that I have ever eaten. No longer available anywhere. Olive Oil Cake by Melissa stands out along with Sticky toffee Pudding Cake by Erin Maupin.
Virginia beer/cider: Bold Rock Amber… Pork’s dream come true!
Breakfast: At home having my Scrapple with fig preserves from our daughter in law in Italy, along with having time to bond with my family.
Guilty pleasure: CHEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSEEEE! Every kind of cheese… Caramont, Meadowcreek, rapidan, etc. etc. etc.
Hangover food: Bacon heals everything!! Bacon to the people!!
Pizza: God, I love Pizza!!! Go to Pippin Hill or Amalias wood fired Italian style pizzas. I believe in her abilities and I love her pizzas.
Appetizer: Dates wrapped in Bacon from Mas Tapas!!!! enough said!
Local ingredient: Pork Bellies from registered Virginia Berkshire Breed Pigs at Patterson’s Farm.