Another reason to celebrate

Another reason to celebrate

First there was the Virginia Festival of the Book, and then the Festival of the Photograph.

Now yet another local event has been scheduled for the purpose of enticing important people from around the country, the world even, to schlep to tiny, out-of-the-way Charlottesville for networking and celebration. George Benford, owner of Downtown Mall-located Siips Wine and Champagne Bar, is spearheading an effort to hold an international food and wine festival here in Charlottesville, January 23-25, 2009. He and his partners in this effort will hold a press conference at the Omni Charlottesville Hotel at 10:30am on Wednesday, September 3, to discuss the plans. The festival is not a Siips event, although Benford does say that some of the festival’s offerings—wine and food tastings and pairings, demonstrations and seminars—likely will be held there. Also, it’s not a for-profit project, per se. Instead, Benford is heading up a nonprofit organization, which will produce the festival and allocate the funds raised by the three-day event to create scholarships for the children of local food and beverage industry folks. But there is a bit of self-interest here, as Benford definitely wants the festival to give a boost to Downtown Mall businesses during a time of year when things otherwise could be quite dismal. Unsurprisingly, winter typically is a slow time for the Mall, but in addition to dreary weather this coming January, Downtown restaurant owners and merchants will have to contend with the start of the Mall rebricking project.


Siips owner George Benford (right), pictured here with business partner Tim O’Brien, wants to light up dreary January with a wine and food festival.

“We want to show that the Mall is up and running—that there’s not going to be much interruption to business. We want to make the Mall renovation an event, make it an experience,” says Benford.

The real purpose of the festival, however, “is to show people that Virginia wines can compete on the international scene,” says Benford, who points out that most of the local food and wine festivals around here pair Virginia vino against itself.

“We want to show that Virginia wine is able to compete with other states’ wines—that it’s not just good in Virginia,” he says.

For that reason, Benford tells us that between 60 and 90 of those other states’ wineries, and even other countries’ wineries, will be represented at the festival, which will feature blind tastings so the real score can be settled. Benford also tells us the festival will be attended by high-profile chefs from D.C. and Northern Virginia, as well as from our own neck of the woods, and will include a gala, an auction, and entertainment at the Paramount. A package ticket to the whole event will run about $600. It’s shaping up to be a doozy! And by the end of the weekend, Benford hopes to have raised between $20,000 and $30,000 in scholarship money. How’s that for good grapes?

Steak at your steps

A good friend of Restaurantarama’s once said he’d never leave New York City for one very important reason: Nowhere else, he says, can you get scrambled eggs delivered to your apartment door. Now, eggs is one dish Restaurantarama can handle in the ol’ home kitchen, and we think it takes a special kind of NYC-bred narcissism to expect front-door service for something so simple, but there are times when even we wish there was an option besides pizza, Chinese and a few other ubiquitous snack-y edibles, available for home delivery in this town. Well, thanks to a new franchise, there is such a something else. Last week, a Steak-Out Char-Broiled Delivery opened at 900 Gardens Blvd. This place originated in Alabama and now has about 70 or so franchises in 16 states. The Charlottesville location is the first in Virginia and is owned by Culpeper residents Cheryl and John Jackson and Cheryl’s parents. Steak-Out has a small eat-in area and offers take-out, but the real niche here is the delivery of ribeye and sirloin tip steaks and the typical sides (e.g., salads; baked potatoes; rolls), as well as chicken breast filets, large dinner salads and cheeseburgers, right to your front door.

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