Barbie’s Burrito Barn brings CaliMex to C’ville

Barbie Brannock’s love of Southern California-style Mexican cooking comes from her mother. The menu at Barbie’s Burrito Barn includes burritos, tacos, bowls and tortilla strips instead of chips. Photo by Amy Jackson Barbie Brannock’s love of Southern California-style Mexican cooking comes from her mother. The menu at Barbie’s Burrito Barn includes burritos, tacos, bowls and tortilla strips instead of chips. Photo by Amy Jackson

For more than 20 years, every time Barbie Brannock cooked California-style Mexican food for her friends, they’d ask, “When are you going to open a restaurant?”

They weren’t so much asking as they were insisting, says Brannock, who learned to cook in her mother’s Southern California kitchen, and was a Peace Corps worker, an artist and a preschool art teacher before finally opening her CaliMex takeout joint, Barbie’s Burrito Barn, three weeks ago in a stone cottage under the Belmont Bridge.

“I think it was meant to be in this weird little spot,” Brannock says, adding that she opened her modest eatery to cook and share the food she loves.

Brannock loves the texture of CaliMex food, how melted cheese, chewy tortilla, crisp cabbage, soft cilantro and creamy avocado mix together in a single bite of guacamole tostada. “It really plays with your mouth,” she says.

She wears brightly colored aprons while preparing everything herself, from soaking and cooking the beans to slicing, salting and frying the tortilla strips, all in a tiny kitchen with bright floor tiles.

Everything at Barbie’s Burrito Barn is made to order and wrapped to-go. Customers can stop in and order from Brannock herself, or they can call in their order to pick up later. Brannock’s menu of vegetarian and meat burritos, tacos, tostadas, chopped bowls and strips (her take on chips) with salsa and guac is simple, and with the most expensive item ringing up at around $7, it’s affordable. And it’s healthy to boot: Add-on side dishes include jicama slaw and chili-lime cucumbers.

Customers can eat at one of the small tables inside or out, or many take their burrito barn bounty around the corner to the Champion Brewing Company patio. Barbie’s doesn’t serve alcohol, but it does offer bottled water and soft drinks, including sweet Jarritos.

“It’s like I’m feeding people from my heart, or my mother’s,” Brannock says. “It’s not fancy food, but it’s yummy food.”

Farm to brewery

Woodridge Farm in Lovingston has grown and supplied grain for Virginia breweries such as Blue Mountain, Champion, Devils Backbone and Lickinghole Creek for several years. But now they’re getting into the beer-brewing game themselves, as Wood Ridge Farm Brewery.

This will be the fifth brewery and first farm brewery in Nelson County, which, for the record, still has just one traffic light.

Wood Ridge Farm Brewery is unique in that it grows, malts and roasts 100 percent of the grains—rye, wheat, barley and oat—used in its beers. Clay Hysell, the brewery’s general manger, says they grow their own hops, too, but often have to outsource them because the Virginia climate is not ideal for most varieties.

“It’s a great feeling to drink a beer while overlooking the land it came from,” Hysell says. “To an extent, it’s like terroir with wine” or food. Farm owner Barry Wood tapped Nicholas Payson, formerly of Winnetou Brauerei in Mount Airy, North Carolina, as head brewer. In advance of the brewery’s September 10 opening, Payson has created a kolsch, IPA, pale ale, porter, blonde ale and a shandy.

When pressed to name a favorite, Payson says he’s partial to the porter. “I love this beer because I use no additives to achieve the flavor.” The creamy, mocha coffee notes come from the grain, he says.

But all of this is just to start, says Hysell, noting the farm will continue providing grain to other breweries, as well. “We’ll have even more fun later on.”

They’re all winners

The Olympics wasn’t the only fierce competition going on this summer. While athletes from around the world were winning medals, local food and drink purveyors racked up some major accolades of their own.

Castle Hill Cidery’s port-like 1764 cider won Double Gold and Best of Category-Fortified in the inaugural Drink Outside the Grape competition held in town earlier this month.

At the 2016 Virginia Craft Brewers Guild Virginia Craft Beer Cup Awards last weekend, Scottsville’s James River Brewery took home first place, Best of Show, and first place, British Bitter for its River Runner ESB, a take on a traditional English bitter brewed with pale and crystal malts and British hops. Many other local brews received nods as well, including Pro Re Nata’s Old Trail Pale Ale American pale ale; Starr Hill’s Jomo Vienna lager, The Love German hefeweisen and Sublime Belgian wit; South Street’s My Personal Helles lager and Peanut Butter Cup Barrel-Aged Soft Serve American porter; and Three Notch’d’s No Veto brown ale and Ghost of the 43rd pale ale.

To top off the wins, Hudson Henry Baking Co.’s cashew and coconut granola, made by Hope Lawrence in Palmyra, was a 2016 Sofi finalist in the Breads, Muffins, Granola or Cereal category at the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City in June.

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