There’s more to food than just eating. You’ve got chewing, licking, nibbling, sighing, buying, imbibing, smacking, chuckling, wiping, and grinning. And then you get to start again.
When we’re not busy running our mouths, we’re busy stuffing them. In those moments between editorial meetings and interviews, C-VILLE’s writers and artists can often be found somewhere between “Snacking” and “Pigging Out” on the chow-down spectrum. And in a place like Charlottesville, chances are you, dear reader, have had your fill, too, scattering fried bread crumbs or dripping BBQ sauce on these very pages. It’s a palatable thrill to live between bites in our city, where the term “locavore” is more an identity than a trend, and there are few items we haven’t learned to fry to perfection or drink with abandon. We have so many divine options—tummy ticklers and tongue tantalizers on all sides!—that we run the risk of being devoured by them all. But the pleasures of eating don’t stop with the mouth.
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Home cooks enjoy the excitement of equipping the kitchen at a bargain; and learning your way around a stove can be the beginning of a new life, for some. Not to mention the thrill of putting more cookies in cupboards than any other elementary schooler in the tri-county region! Hence, this guide to gustatory fulfillment—an essential utensil in a city where one may consume and be consumed by every person, place and provision. It’s fresh, seasonal and spoon-suckingly local. Dig in.—By Coogan Brennan, Chiara Canzi, Andrew Cedermark, Brendan Fitzgerald, Cathy Harding and Caite White
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Reliable dishes for any night of the week
Shake it up, baby: Tiffany Mills tosses a Bodo’s Caesar salad.
Caesar salad, Bodo’s Bagels
Crispy leaves, croutons and a spot-on, creamy, garlicky dressing make this refreshing lunch or dinner dish the perfect partnership between health and decadence.
Steak Chinoise, C&O Restaurant
Few dinner dishes can be made perfectly time and time again, never mind year after year. But this flank steak covered in tamari and ginger cream sauce is one of them.
Tomato basil soup, Café Europa
The fresh scent of basil inundates the nose as the silky soup glides down your throat. Excellent for a cold, winter day.
Sesame noodles, Hot Cakes
Whether paired with a sandwich or eaten by themselves, these tasty noodles always pack a kick.
Souvlaki, Tip Top
You can’t go wrong with marinated pork tenderloin, leafy greens, onions smothered in tsatsiki sauce. More, please!
Herd the one about the goat?
Feeding four adults comfortably, the Tea Bazaar’s Goat Herder’s Platter has as its gastronomic—and actual—centerpiece hummus that first tantalizes your tongue with a nutmeg taste that finishes into an earthy, honey-rounded sweetness. It is bested only by the accompanying pita slices, first toasted then rubbed with olive oil and za’atar, a Middle-Eastern potpourri. Other satellite items orbiting the hummus, such as dried figs, dates, olives, Turkish apricots, dolmas, dried papaya, sweet ginger candy and unnaturally large carrot and cucumber slices, all reflect the wonderful variety that sums up the city’s funkiest eatery.
Undone by udon
While the $5 udon bowl at Ten isn’t the cheapest thing on the menu—that distinction belongs to the 75 cent Japanese mint leaf side—it is very cheap, and the perfect primer to the sushi restaurant’s less hearty fare. The thick Japanese noodles are studies in al dente, swimming in a traditional soy broth that floats shredded seaweed on its foggy atmosphere. Tempura flakes add texture.
Meet Mr. Restaurant
He invented the Charlottesville power lunch at Hamilton’s. Invested early in a young chocolatier named Gearhart. Helps us get our healthy, ethnic fast food on with a couple of Sticks. Blends hot spice with a love of a good mustache on his masguapo.com site. If diversity is the key to a strong portfolio, Bill Hamilton is a titan. What’s his secret? “Our business and the community are inseparably integrated,” he says. “We never lose sight that the health of our business depends on the welfare and goodwill of the greater community.” That’s one for the recipe books.
Always well done
For 35 years, Jim Rowe (right) has been donning a black vest, white tuxedo shirt and bowtie and serving steaks—prompt and hot—at the Aberdeen Barn on Emmet Street. The best part of his job? “I love the people I work with and the people I work for,” he says, not to give short shrift to what he calls the world’s best pork chops. Served at a restaurant that fancies itself “Virginia’s Finest Steakhouse,” no less.
Some wait tables to make ends meet while, say, working on the great American novel, but Rowe says the great American food industry is his calling: Whether he was slinging fast food or owning a “long forgotten” restaurant, he’s been involved in every aspect of the trade.
And the Rowe name won’t soon be forgotten at the Barn: His son Thomas, 20, recently started serving.
Condiments with a little something extra
House dressing, Take it Away Sandwich Shop
The thick consistency and fresh sensation of this dressing will round out anything from roast beef on white bread to pastrami on rye.
North Carolina sauce, Belmont BBQ
Vinegar-based, tangy and all we want over warm brisket.
Chipotle mayo, Beer Run
Your fries practically throw themselves into this sharp but creamy sea. If they can’t resist, how can you?
Cilantro-lime sauce, Sticks
Add some zing to your falafel.
Pepper spread, Bodo’s Bagels
Understated enough to be at home on a bagel, it lends a chunky layer to any sandwich.
The Boar’s Head Inn’s Old Mill Room
Gettin’ hot in here
Everybody knows that eating makes you cold. How nice, then, that some area restaurants incorporate the most primal of Promethean delights, the open fire, into the dining experience. C&O’s woodburning stove greets entering patrons like a warm hug; the blast of a raging fire at the otherwise windowless Dürty Nelly’s keeps the beer in your blood flowing; so too with a cup of joe near the roaring hearth at Java Java. A word to the wise: Leave the marshmallows at home.
The ultimate locavore: Hunt your own
“Animals can have the life that they want, roaming in the wild,” says local hunter Jackson Landers (left), by way of explaining the humane merits of hunting. “And then they have one bad day.” That bad day begins when animals meet Landers, 32, who runs a soup-to-nuts class for the hunters who want to be able to prepare and eat what they kill. It’s called “Deer Hunting for Locavores.” The bad day ends, naturally, on the hunter’s kitchen table, where venison is expertly prepared and doves are made like small turkeys.
Scout’s highest honor
The top Girl Scout Cookie seller in Western Albemarle is busy from March through December with horseback riding, competitive swimming, karate, piano lessons and soccer. But for two months each year, the secret weapon of Brownie Troop 874, 9-year-old Natalie Russell, is mostly thinking about Thin Mints.
“She would sell in rain and snow and cold,” says Maryann Russell of her daughter’s 2010 sales season. “But she wanted to do it.”
Despite last winter’s record snowfall, Natalie moved 1,150 boxes of cookies. Arlene Wilhelm, a Girl Scouts sales manager, says Natalie is the first scout in six years to sell more than 1,000 boxes in the Girl Scouts’ Western Albemarle Service Unit.
And perhaps Albemarle took more comfort in cookies than it realizes. During the same season, county residents purchased 28,836 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies—including 8,808 boxes of Thin Mints, far and away the local favorite.
Asked to reveal her own favorite, however, Natalie remains mum.
“She says ‘All of them,’” her mother tells C-VILLE. “Natalie, pick one!”
Bowls: CaliBowl (set of 5), $37.95; Knife: Kuhn Rikon, $11.95; Cutting Board: Mountain Lumber, various sizes and prices. All from Seasonal Cook, 295-9355.
The guacamole at El Puerto falls on the end of the spread spectrum that prizes color (deep green) over texture (wherefore art thou, big avocado bits?). All the better to expand the guac’s uses, turning the taco component into a gorgeous dressing to smother a small salad.
Who said guacamole has to be a hearty appetizer? La Michoacana mixes things up, literally. Its take on the green goodness could be made into a fancy, limey, spicy martini.
With your first sniff of the fresh scent of cilantro in Guadalajara’s guacamole, you fall for a spicy, limey bite not for the faint of heart. Whether on a taco or a companion to carne asada, this guac is one of a kind.
At Aqui es Mexico, guacamole is a feast of hearty proportions: red tomatoes float in a sea of crushed (and chunky) avocado, cilantro and—most important to all cuisines—the right amount of salt. Going back for more.
Order your guac from the Cinema Taco shop on the side. The little plastic serving cup offers a tantalizing look at the various strata of deliciousness that make this guacamole Downtown’s best. With all that avocado, it’s wholly guacamole, indeed.
At Mono Loco, the bright green infused with touches of red and white, is a Mexican feast, es verdad!
Suits him fine
Craig Hartman (right) used to concern himself with fancy dishes described by words like “herbed” and “carpaccio.” These days, all the former Fossett’s chef wants to worry about, he says, is slaw.
Much in the way that clothing designer Isaac Mizrahi left couture for off-the-rack, as of this April, Hartman’s been manning the kitchen at a restaurant that’s more, shall we say, down-home than his previous haunt. The Barbeque Exchange, in Gordonsville, serves 12 different kinds of pickles, Brunswick stew, mac and cheese, sugar cookies, whoopie pies and, of course, barbeque. Also on the menu? Coleslaw, in three varieties. “People are so passionate about their coleslaw,” Hartman says. Indeed, good taste comes at many price points.
Don’t fry this at home
These clay charms might look good enough to eat, but we suggest leaving the creative cooking to Inedible Jewelry owners Jessica and Susan Partain. They’ve concocted a menu of Barbie-sized bagels, cocktails, sushi and more, all handcrafted from polymer clay and perfectly detailed, right down to the smear of cream cheese. Call ’em a charm bracelet, call ’em earrings …just don’t call ’em late for dinner.
Our original foodie
Two centuries ago, the northern and southern terraces of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello offered very different prospects, but Charlottesville’s original locavore doubtless preferred the latter. By taking just a few steps from his bedroom, our Presidential foodie could gaze upon the road that led from his 1,000′ terrace garden to the dependencies—the network of rooms below that includes the kitchen, smokehouse and the recently renovated wine cellar of Virginia’s preeminent oenophile.
“I think of this as ‘Garden to kitchen to table,’” says Monticello assistant curator Justin Sarafin, who was charged with restoring the dependencies.
Monticello’s food system, says Sarafin, functioned “by trying to utilize as much locally sourced, organic materials as possible.” And Jefferson, a keen interpreter of his own appetite, kept his immediate surroundings well-stocked—with beef from a Bedford County plantation, for instance, or the crowder peas and fish peppers that grow on-site today. Thanks to Monticello’s renovations, visitors can declare nearly as much gustatory pleasure as TJ himself. Nearly as much, we said.
Consider this your perfect excuse to host a dinner party: The annual Thanksgiving sale at Yves Delorme takes the Downtown store’s already-slashed prices to nearly affordable. The fine linen producer is known for its high thread-count cotton sheets, but keep your eyes peeled at this year’s event, held November 22-27, for kitchen towels, cloth napkins and placemats.
Crush-worthy and so sweet!
Talk about getting into a jam. We can’t help but smack our lips about Daniel Perry’s delicious concoctions. The jam man packs one pound of local fruit in every jar, in more than 50 flavors like peach lavender or cherry rhubarb and lime.
Where does Perry find his bounty of tasty ingredients? Locally, very locally. “Some of my leads come from customers at the City Market, who have a fig or cherry tree, or some blueberry bushes,” he says.
Priced at $8 for an 8 ounce jar, Jams According to Daniel are at the City Market, Feast, Happy Cook and Albemarle Baking Company.
I’m burning for you
The spice scale that extends across the bottom of Downtown Thai’s menu runs from 1 (“Mild”) to 5 (“Native Thai”), but there is a special place reserved for the customer willing to turn up the thermostat of his throat. Complete a full meal with a spice rating of 15 to 50—that’s 10 times the “Native Thai” ranking—and you will have sacrificed tongue and tastebuds for a spot on the Wall of Flame. The extra punch in your Pad Basil comes courtesy of the Thai hot pepper (the “Bird’s eye chili,” also used to treat arthritis), which determines the spice scale and the degree of your suffering. Manager Sandra Inthisen tells us every Downtown Thai employee is on the Wall of Flame, their photos alongside Polaroids of other fevered regulars, their lips red like licorice ropes.
Get out of the kitchen…and into a contest!
Many of us grow up knowing that the best apple pie in the world comes out of the oven in our very own kitchen. No one makes a peach cobbler like mom. My mom, that is. Fortunately, it’s not left to various families to settle the ultimate question of who exactly makes the most outstanding buttercream frosting. No, that’s why Goddess invented food competitions. Take it out of the neighborhood and into a county fair tent or a church kitchen and let the judges decide. And whether your family takes home the blue ribbon or another does, you can be content knowing that, really, we all—judges, chefs, chefs’ at-home tasting assistants—are winners. Oh, and we’re going to need more napkins.
How do I eat thee? Let me count the ways
It’s said that nature abhors a vacuum, which might explain how our kitchens fill up each summer with juicy, plump tomatoes and again in the fall with crisp, tangy apples of red, yellow and green. How to solve the “problem” of prolific produce? Soup, salsa, sauce, kebobs and salad come to mind. Then there’s pie, sauce, cobbler, butter, cider, and good ol’ raw eating. Fortunately, for as little as nature likes an empty space, neither do our bellies like feeling unfull. So eat up, pal. There’s more.
Hand to mouth
Roasted potatoes, veggie frittatas, hearty stew…These maybe aren’t the kinds of things you’d expect to find on the menu at the local homeless day shelter, but it’s exactly what kitchen manager Lena Zentgraf and her staff at The Haven at First & Main serve each morning for breakfast.
Culling ingredients from local farms and grocery stores, the folks at The Haven strive to prepare healthy, filling meals for those in need. They’re even developing a culinary arts program.
“Food doesn’t fall out of the sky,” Zentgraf says. “It needs to be respectfully produced, cooked and shared with all people.” We couldn’t agree more.
Foodies we lost
Before any family feast, a few people need to set the table. This year, Charlottesville lost three local food innovators who contributed not only to what we eat, but how we do it: farmers and food activists John Coles and Kathryn Russell, and Kathy’s Produce founder Chuck Lewis.
Months after Coles died of pancreatic cancer in April, his farm’s goat population is down from 17 to four. “Two of the goats won’t let me milk them,” says Christine Solem, Coles’ wife and business partner. When Solem developed tendonitis in her thumb, Coles—her partner since 1979—took over milking the goats that produced the unpasteurized cheese the pair brought to the Charlottesville City Market. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services requires that any cheese sold be pasteurized; Coles and Solem got around that by offering their cheese for a donation.
County resident and Majesty Farms owner Kathryn Russell, who died in an October car accident at age 54, also worked to ensure the livelihood of smaller, local farms. As a founding member of the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, Russell spoke in favor of issues like county land use tax breaks and against the National Animal Identification System, a portion of a 2007 bill that Russell denounced to C-VILLE as a Band-Aid solution.
Chuck Lewis, owner and developer of York Place on the Downtown Mall as well as one of Charlottesville’s most successful African-American businessmen, got his local start in food. Before he authored his business memoir, All the Riches of Job, Lewis put his last $250 dollars to opening a produce shop in Charlottesville, which he named Lewis Produce. After the death of his wife, Kathy, Lewis replaced his name with hers: Kathy’s Produce.
Lewis’ obituary read that he would “reunite with his wife, Kathy, in the great produce warehouse beyond.” For Lewis, Russell and Coles, we say: We’ll leave a place at our table for you.
Moore’s Creek’s Tammy Wells
Keep our skillet good and greasy
Grits, Moore’s Creek Restaurant
This off-the-beaten-path Belmont joint serves grits just how we like ‘em: not too thick, not too runny.
Sweet potato pie, Mel’s Diner
Creamy, buttery and with a flaky crust, “sweet” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Biscuits, Bluegrass Grill & Bakery
A little bit biscuit, a little bit scone, these treats feel a tad sinful at breakfast, but that’s why we love ’em.
Fried chicken, Wayside Takeout
This JPA staple has been churning out tender, juicy drumsticks and other parts of the clucker since the 1980s. Try “The Big Eater”: five pieces of chicken, two sides and two rolls for under $8.
Macaroni and cheese, Eppie’s
Served piping hot and smothered in melty cheese, the Downtown spot’s popular side whets our appetite every time.
Sweet tea, Fox’s Cafe
What better way to wash down all that delicious home cookin’ than with a tall glass of homemade iced tea?
Slaw and order
Who puts the “queue” in BBQ? On the right day, it’s the Trading Post convenience store in North Garden, which stoked our fire one nippy day in January with a memorable pulled pork sandwich. The ’cue has enough vinegar to get our tongue all emotional, but it’s the slaw—made fresh behind the counter—that makes us want to weep for joy. If you’re heading south on Route 29, you’ll have to make a U-turn and backtrack for the sandwich. We suggest you do.
Tales of a county fair gourmand
The end of summer means one thing for a true connoisseur of the American sport known as gluttony: a trip to the County Fair. There, the Deep Fried Oreo is a gutbusting mess, and, like funnel cake, better with cinnamon. But the crown jewel? The Taco in a Bag. That’s a bag of Fritos or Doritos with its top cut off, and filled with ground beef, shredded lettuce and taco fixin’s. But there is a price to pay, literally and, er, figuratively. Little Miss Albemarle, who said she ate at home this year, put it this way: “My mom says the food here’s too expensive.”
Beer there, done that
Drinking, it turns out, is like reading a novel: Chronology is vital. At Blue Mountain Brewery, the beer flight—six sample-shots, one for each beer on tap—changes frequently and seasonally, so the bartender points to the menu, then to the array of glasses. “Top to bottom, left to right,” he says. A single pint of Blue Mountain’s Kolsch 151—sweet with malt, aged like a more gulp-able lager—is an enticing chapter, and you might read it again (and again). But it deserves—nay, demands!—to be followed by the spice-and-citrus conflict of the Full Nelson India Pale Ale (IPA).
It’s the same at Devil’s Backbone Brewery, where the four-shot standard beer flight opens your palate with the lemon-butter warmth of Wintergreen Weiss, then wraps it around the citrus of the Eight-Point IPA. The seven-drink seasonal beer flight is a classic comedy, in that it ends with a marriage: The Brew Ridge Trail Collaborative Black India Ale blends five types of hops and four types of malt selected by four different local breweries. In short, why drink a single story when you can down a whole novel?
King of ‘shrooms
In the world of gardening, growing mushrooms is “pretty easy.” That’s according to Mark Jones (pictured) of Cismont’s Sharondale Farm.
Jones became interested in fungi while in college and relocated to his family homestead at Sharondale to explore a perennial edible garden. A self-proclaimed science nerd, Jones is now growing 16 species of mushrooms outdoors, “to see how they fit in the environment,” and six species indoors. He sells them to local grocery stores and chefs. Even the government thinks he is on to something: In 2008, he was awarded a USDA-SARE producer grant “to study mushroom cropping and earthworm effects on the soil amendment value of manure wastes.” Find out more about his workshops to learn to grow mushrooms in your neck of the woods at www.sharondalefarm.com.
Topping heavy, that’s how we like our ‘za
Meatball and bacon pizza, Mona Lisa Pasta
The juicy meatball does not take a back seat to the crispy bacon, the melted mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, oregano and tomato in a well-balanced meat extravaganza.
Cactus Jack, Brick Oven
This pizza steps boldly into a realm where most pizzas meet their peril: mozzarella-lessness. The risk pays off in a spunky pie that marries the brick oven bite with a selection of zesty veggies—garlic, mushrooms, onion and spinach—and a piquant mess of pepper jack and cheddar.
El Fantastico, Pizza Bella (left)
The requisite tomato sauce is replaced with a black bean puree and a pico
de gallo approach to the toppings, with red onion, jalapeños and avocado that they call optional, but we deem mandatory.
Humble Pie, Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie
Despite this slice’s modest name and construction—green peppers and ’shrooms, sausage and pepperoni, mozza and cheddar—the locally sourced ingredients and homemade dough come together in a truly alchemical experience.
Fry’s Spring Station, The White
A thin crust layered with white sauce, fresh mozzarella, fontina, goat and pecorino cheeses, prepared fresh—and in plain view—inside a retrofitted gas station.
A la cart
To walk upright is human; to walk upright with a hot dog in each hand, divine. Thanks to our city’s love of food carts, a stroll along the Downtown Mall now feels like the ambulatory equivalent of reading a menu. The dogs bark loudest, of course: Hamdinger’s Patrick Critzer (right) makes a great spicy lamb sausage, and Last Call Dogs dominates the bricks west of Central Place. Tom Jakubowski’s What Up Dog offers a two-for-$3.75 recession special and a few dozen toppings for no extra charge. His Bruce Lee—a Hoisin-and-mustard wonder on a flaky Albemarle Baking Company bun—is a stretched out pork dumpling. Speaking of which, we can think of a few more carts we’d like to see…
Battle ground beef
“Some of the orneriest men here that I ever saw,” a Virginia man once remarked. “And the most swearing and card playing and fighting and drunkenness that I ever saw at any place.” A UVA tailgate? Actually, an account of military encampments from The American Civil War. But when SUVs and minivans consume the parking lots of University Hall and Scott Stadium, battle hangs like a thick fog over ramshackle tents, where it mixes with war songs—they cheer our hearts and warm our blood—and the scent of scorched, salty red meat.
UVA tailgaters rally around propane grills that sizzle with pork and frozen burger patties, and discuss tactics with Natty Light or bourbon cocktail firmly in hand. The grills emit smoke signals to attract wandering soldiers, the provisions provide fuel for the next fight. Alumni are grizzled veterans, first-year students are wet-eyed recruits; infantry wear orange t-shirts, officers don blazers and bowties. And while the food quality ranges from nuked hot dogs to, somehow, oysters on the half-shell, the organization of a UVA tailgate is reliably top-notch.
Out of the fire
A foodie’s prayer answered: the Cavalier Restaurant Equipment Supply. Located just off Fifth Street, this warehouse teems with aisles of shiny plates, glasses, mugs, utensils, chef clothing and restaurant wares. Industrial-sized coffee makers, dough mixers, friers and hot dog heating machines take up the back of the store. We found a 12", aluminum frying pan, great for stovetop-to-oven roasts, for $19.67. Thank you, food gods.
Run a dining business in the midst of a recession? Been there, done that, got the apron. Nineteen years ago, with the nation in a business slump and the Downtown Mall practically a ghost town, Vincent Derquenne (left) and Tim Burgess launched Metropolitain, the first of three eateries the pair would open. Bizou, now a Downtown lunch staple, eventually supplanted Metropolitain in its space next to the Consigment Shop. And Metropolitain, relocated to Water Street, became Metro before finally catching the last train out.
Meanwhile, the Frenchman and the West Virginian transformed a Depression-era house on Second and South streets into a funky spot for Asian tapas and colorful mixed drinks. That lasting creation, Bang!, never looked back and cocktail culture in Charlottesville has never been the same.
Italian instructor Patrizia Johnson (right) passes out regional morsels at Speak! Language Center.
Yummy in many tongues
In 2004, Christina Ball had a vision: Make learning a new language fun by spicing it up with culture, food and wine. In other words, “edutainment.”
The owner and director of Speak! Language Center, which began as Ecco Italy in the Main Street Market, has branched out to other languages using the same model. “Food has always been an integral part of the learning process that we promote here,” says Ball.
In addition to language classes, every so often Speak! hosts a tasting/learning fete that features wine pairings with regional foods from a specific country, or region. Recently on the calendar: the Aperitivo Italiano, focused on the art of Italian antipasti. Buon Appetito!
Andy McClure has the food business Cornered
What do you do when you own the oldest restaurant in Charlottesville? Buy a few more, just for good measure. If you’re Andy McClure, that is. At 32, the restaurateur owns four restaurants on the Corner, including the 87-year-old Virginian. And he hasn’t stopped there.
In 2004, he snatched up Awful Arthur’s and turned it into West Main. In 2007, he bought Jaberwoke and made it three. Then last year, he bought the Biltmore Grill, tidied it up and dropped the “Grill” part.
What’s next for the entrepreneur? We’d suggest Mayor of the Corner, but it seems, after becoming President of the Corner Business Association last year, he doesn’t need another title.
Red, white and yum
You’ll never hear us complain about someone wining. Whining? That’s no fun, but take away the “h” and you’ve got one of our favorite activities, especially if there are fine comestibles involved. Following the tradition established two centuries ago by a wise redhead who lived on the top of a little mountain and liked a bottle or two with his locally grown meal, an increasing assortment of area restaurants are staging special wine dinners. Why toil in your kitchen figuring out which white pairs best with Carolina prawns when the good folks at Fossett’s, say, can figure it out for you? If there’s a more pleasant way to enjoy the many vintages of one winery than trying five glasses over the course of the evening with five delectable dishes at Tavola, for example, well, we haven’t heard about it. Best of all, when it’s time to fold your napkin, there’ll be no stemware to clean and no plates to scrape.
We like our tacos early and often
Though their presentation is unpretentious, served on a bamboo placemat and wrapped with tin foil, the breakfast tacos at Beer Run, available only on Saturday mornings, are a little slice of the divine.
Two words: homemade tortillas. Whatever version you choose—El Gringo, with egg, cheese and bacon, or El Bombero, with egg, potatoes, chorizo and diced jalapeño, or the vegetarian Gardener, with egg, cheese, black beans, potatoes and fresh alfalfa sprouts—each charming envelope of flavor won’t set you back more than four bucks. Tasty and cheap. Hello, weekend.
$89.95 at Seasonal Cook
Chairman of the board
If you want to make beautiful food, you need beautiful tools. Look no further than local woodworking wizard Brent Taylor, whose Classic Twig cutting boards are fashioned to mimic the local trees from which their wood was taken. A natural finish make these gorgeous accessories a must for the dedicated locavore.
Cappellino’s Crazy Cakes
Let’s hear it for cupcakes!
Cappellino’s Crazy Cakes. Fancy treats with a healthy portion of frosting and edible glitter. Recommended: Ruby’s Pick, red velvet with sweet cream cheese.
HotCakes. These delicious treats are tucked between rows of tiramisu and cheesecake at the Barracks Road eatery. Our recommendation? Classic chocolate. Lighter-than-air, melts-in-your-mouth icing and dense, fudgey cake.
Chandler’s. Light cake plus a liberal dose of creamy icing and multicolored sprinkles equals the perfect old-school treat from this local mainstay.
Charlottesville Cupcake (found at Para Coffee). Maria Porter’s home-based biz churns out light, fluffy confections with a rich vanilla buttercream frosting. Topped with a sweet fondant flower, they’re practically perfect.
Sure, you could go the conventional route and outfit your party with matching dinnerware that, setting after setting, insists we’re all identical. Or, you could let your plates and bowls reflect the rainbow that is your many wonderful guests—and even the many wonderful meals that will in time grace those dishes—and go the mix-and-match route. In Charlottesville there is no better source for a little bit of sunflower, a little bit of stripe, a square dish, a round dish, and a plain dish than the SPCA Rummage Sale. Bonus: If you break one, replacement is easy and cheap.
Fry one on!
Tofu balls, Monsoon
Orbs that refute any understanding you may have of tofu as a sickly, distant cousin of meat. Hearty and succulent, the tofu is rolled with shallots and other veggies before hitting the fryer.
Dried fried eggplant, Taste of China
The eggplant, fried in a basic batter then immediately sauteed in oil with a Szechuan dried flower (sometimes known as prickly-ash pepper), buoys the delicate, floral tones drawn from that regional spice.
Fried Oreos, McGrady’s Irish Pub
These artery-clogging, heart-stopping, powder-encrusted cookies are disturbingly good. The Oreo itself, encased in a sweet flour batter, melts during the frying to make the best Hot Pocket any stoner could ask for.
Fried ravioli, Escafé (left)
Dipped in a batter with rosemary and cracked pepper, served with a homemade marinara sauce and sprinkled with grated Parmesan, this is some yummy, pimped-out mozzarella stick.
Fish and Chips, Zinc
The light, crispy exterior highlights the cut of haddock inside, backed up by the thick, creamy homemade tartar sauce, which delivers a delightfully prolonged tang.
We’re with the ban
Remember when eating in was the new dining out? Now, thanks to the statewide smoking ban in restaurants, dining out is back as the new dining out. Goodbye, stale smells and a pack’s worth of second-hand smoke. Hello, fresh air and, yes, we will be staying for dessert.
With these two at the register, you’re never alone
UVA Dining’s legendary card swipes, Dean Caulfield and Kathy McGruder, work the breakfast and lunch shifts at different dining halls—Observatory Hill and Newcomb Hall, respectively. But, says Caulfield, “we hear about each other constantly.” McGruder, for instance, heard that Caulfield is able to swipe as many as a dozen student ID cards at a time, a story he doesn’t deny. (A student, says Caulfield, once drew him as Shiva, the multi-armed Hindu goddess.) Caulfield, who came to UVA in 1985 after hitchhiking around the country, also confirmed another UVA dining legend: He often retains student ID numbers through a short-term memory practice called “chunking.” And Caulfield remembers McGruder, a New Mexico native who moved to town with her husband in 2001, as the “Super-Happy Friendly Lady at Newcomb”—also the name of her Facebook fan page, 2,200-plus members strong. Asked about her reputation, McGruder chalks all her charm and warmth up to UVA students, who she greets reliably with a “Lookin’ good, sugar,” or “Hola, chico.” “I reflect what they direct,” says McGruder.
Thyme & Butter Coiled Backstrap
(recipe courtesy of Jackson Landers)
One venison backstrap, trimmed
A handful of fresh thyme
¼ cup of butter
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
Trim the backstrap. One side of the backstrap will be covered with a thick “silver skin” similar to that found on many cuts of lamb. This material includes connective tissue and sometimes fat. The best practice is to remove the entire thing in one smooth cut, losing as little meat as possible in the process. A good technique for this is to lay the backstrap flat with the silver skin facing down near the edge of a counter or butcher block. Using a very sharp cleaver, start the cut at the closest end of the backstrap, holding the cleaver parallel to the counter. Slide the backstrap slowly and firmly back against the stable cleaver, shaving off the unwanted material. Remove any other exposed connective tissue on all sides of the backstrap, but be careful not to chase them too deeply into the meat or you will find that you have taken apart the entire thing.
Drizzle a bit of Worcestershire sauce along the length of the backstrap. Spread butter intermittently along the meat. Do the same with your fresh thyme.
Roll the backstrap up into a tight coil. Either tie it together with a bit of string (organic materials only—nylon and plastic cord will melt in the oven!) or use wooden kebab skewers to pin it in place. Any old twig sharpened with a pocket knife will do the job.
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Pan-sear the coiled backstrap on a skillet, browning it in butter. Then place the backstrap in a covered dish, deglaze the pan with a bit of Pinot Noir, and pour the wine over the meat. Cook it no more than rare, using a meat thermometer if at all possible. Do bear in mind that the difference between rare and medium for most cuts of venison is also the difference between an absolutely perfect piece of meat that could be cut with a spoon versus a lump of grey shoe leather. A backstrap generally serves four to six (depending on the size of the deer), and I suggest pairing it with a bottle of the same Pinot Noir used to deglaze the pan.
Pasta Sciue Sciue (Quick Quick Pasta)
(recipe courtesy Megan Headley)
1 box of penne pasta
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound of plum or Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 ball of cold fresh mozzarella cut
into 1/2" cubes
8-10 fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring often to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Drain.
Meanwhile, in a heavy, large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and saute just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked pasta. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the cheese and basil, and toss to coat. Season the pasta, to taste, with salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Serve immediately.
Apple Oatmeal Walnut Crisp
(recipe courtesy Megan Headley)
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
3 cups Granny Smith (or other tart variety) apples, peeled, cored and chopped
Zest of 1 lemon, juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease an 8” square pan. In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, oats, flour and butter. Mix until crumbly. Place half of crumb mixture in pan. In another bowl, toss the apples with the lemon zest, lemon juice, white sugar, and cinnamon. Spread the apples evenly over crumb mixture and top with walnuts and the remaining crumb mixture. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown.