Storm front

Storm front

It’s getting so that we actually have to look where we’re going when we walk along the Downtown Mall. No more staring at our shoes hoping to avoid tripping over the grout-thirsty uneven bricks. The bigger danger these days is walking smack into the chained-off alfresco dining area of one of the Mall’s many restaurants or colliding with one of the many servers who themselves are nervously teetering across the bumpy bricks to the patio seats with trays of drinks and piping hot food in hand. Restaurantarama now counts 27 dining establishments with outside seating either in front of their doors or along the middle of the Mall or both. And it’s no wonder the restaurant folks are carving up the pedestrian thoroughfare with metal tables and chairs—we in Charlottesville just love to fancy ourselves Mr. Jefferson’s children with our European-style cosmopolitan airs and our love of café chowing and piazza people watching. Of course, open-air dining comes with its own dangers. Rarely do we sit down for a tasty meal in the Mall sunshine without catching a very irresponsible dog owner leaving a very unsavory pile of dog doo in our midst, and God help your appetite if you end up across from the busking flute player.

You’ve been warned: Hamiltons’ at First & Main’s General Manager Daniel Page says he keeps a watchful eye on the forecast and discourages the use of its outdoor Mall space if rain is predicted.

But the real hazard out there this time of year is the sudden summer storm. Just the other day while traipsing along the Mall after a downpour, negotiating the ragged road underfoot, the landmines of metal furniture and the dog piles, we noticed the folks at Hamiltons’ at First & Main cleaning up a table that had overturned in the storm, breaking a set of their signature blue glasses in the process. That made us wonder: Just how do restaurants reconcile outdoor seating and inclement weather? We checked in with Hamilton’s for some insight:

Daniel Page, Hamilton’s general manager, tells us he tries to be proactive about the weather, but that scrambling in the rain is just part of serving on the Mall (he says they lost an umbrella half way down the block in the last storm). He does carefully watch the forecast, however, and discourages folks from sitting outdoors if rain is predicted. And he never take reservations for the patio even when the sun is shining. "We are responsible for their dining experience, and we just can’t take a chance," he says. But not seating the patio has got to hurt the bottom line, right?  Revenue is definitely impacted, he says—the patio adds space for 32 more diners (the inside dining room seats 60). And rain means a lot fewer mouths to feed. In fact, Page spoke to Restaurantarama just after calling to give his patio server the night off—with a thundercloud overhead, it just wasn’t worth having her come to work.

On deck

Undeterred by stories of broken glass and wayward umbrellas, the folks at the Clifton Inn just added their own outdoor dining area this month. And manager Depne Candir says Clifton’s back deck already has become the most popular spot to enjoy its signature gourmet fare, thanks to the mountain views and sounds of nature in Clifton’s secluded surroundings. Hey, it’s no busking banjo player, but we imagine that chirping birds and crickets must be a decent meal soundtrack too.

Cooks in the kitchen

We are a little disappointed to inform you that one of our superstar chefs, Blue Light Grill‘s Reed Anderson, is leaving our little Charlottesville nest for his next culinary adventure: a chance to cook at Arnolfo, a Michelin-rated-two-star restaurant outside of Tuscany. Anderson’s last day at Blue Light is August 4. And just who will next oversee Blue Light’s Southeast Asian-inspired seafood fare? It’s a mystery. Michael Keaveny, director of operations for Coran Capshaw‘s Central Restaurant Group, tells us they are still looking for Anderson’s replacement. Anderson does inform us, however, that the new guy or gal likely will come from outside Charlottesville. We will keep you posted.

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