While the experience of being at a restaurant—the din of clanging dishes and diners’ chatter, the comfort of being tended to—is unparalleled in our estimation, there’s a certain something special about taking your favorite menu items home. We’ve rounded up a few of our top picks: lightning-fast pasta, perfectly layered sandwiches, and the ultimate takeout cuisine—Thai. Plus, find a roundup of picnic spots or, if you’d rather opt for PJs and TV, a few pretty plates to up the ante on prepared foods chez you. Let’s go (or stay)!
Is Thai food the new go-to takout?
By Shea Gibbs
Thai cuisine has gone from Bangkok to bangin’ in the States in the last 15 years or so. Where two decades ago American families were stuck mostly with Westernized Chinese joints, today we have more than 5,000 Thai restaurants from coast to coast, according to Tasting Table, making the cuisine the most well-represented per capita in the country.
And while a lot of ethnic eats come stateside to be bastardized and appropriated—looking at you Taco Bell and PF Chang’s—the evidence suggests Thai restaurateurs stick pretty close to their roots. Jay Pun, owner of Chimm and Thai Cuisine & Noodle House, agrees.
“Pad Thai is the national dish, but a lot of Thai people don’t eat it,” Pun says. “After you go away from that, the people do eat dishes like pad see ew and drunken noodles.”
The three noodle dishes Pun pinpoints are staple street food, and Thailand’s city-dwellers take many of their meals out on the town, he says. Add the noods to Thailand’s various curry and rice dishes and ubiquitous tom yum soup, and you have a decent representation of what the locals eat in the motherland. So, what do the locals eat on C’ville’s Thai cuisine scene?
Pad See Ew offers a thicker, more glutinous noodle than Pad Thai, and it’s traditionally the least spicy of the big three Thai noodle dishes. “It’s such a great introduction to Thai,” Pun says. Pun likes to crank up the spice in his own pad see ew, and alternates the protein based on his mood. “I think it’s even perfect for breakfast, with the egg and vegetables,” he says. “You can have it any time of day.”
Use your noodle
A postage-stamp storefront just off the Downtown Mall serves up enormously tasty pasta
By Nathan Alderman
For proof that good things come in small packages, head north on Second Street from the Downtown Mall and look for the streetlight mural, where Luce (pronounced LOO-chay) serves up cups of handmade pasta to go.
Nearly everything about this eatery is tiny, from the menu—three regular pastas, a fourth special, a kale Caesar salad, and a dessert—to the prices, at $10 or less per dish. The flavors, however, are huge: The Bolo alone boasts ribbons of perfectly al dente pappardelle, red sauce rich with Parmesan and pepper, savory ground pork, toasted bread crumbs, and verdant notes of fresh mint.
That goodness comes from a six-by-eight-foot kitchen—the size of the average U.S. prison cell. But chef Tyler Burgess says that despite cramming in a cook and a cashier, “it’s definitely our most spacious kitchen between here and [his other restaurant posts] Bizou and Bang.” Clever organization helps, with wall-mounted shelves, refrigerators that double as countertops, and induction burners to cook food in mere minutes.
So does having an off-site prep kitchen at The Space on Water Street, where two to three more cooks make 50 to 60 pounds of fresh pasta every day. The dough’s mixed and sheeted by machine—if they rolled it out with wooden pins, Italian grandma-style, “my prep cooks would probably have jacked forearms and hate me forever,” Burgess says—but otherwise made by hand. Throughout the day, runners carry ingredients across the mall. “It’s good for my arms,” Burgess says. “I canceled my gym membership, and I just curl boxes of pasta.”
As summer’s fresh produce approaches, Burgess looks forward to trying new specials. But “I’m too afraid to take something off the menu yet,” he says. “We’ll see what kind of backlash I get.”
Fresh pasta, fast!
And just like that, pasta is now a fast-food “thing” in Charlottesville. Following the late-October opening of Luce, a sliver of space on the Downtown Mall, a new instant-gratification, fresh-pasta shop opened on the Corner in the spot that formerly housed Revolutionary Soup.
Pronto is the brainchild of Daniel Kaufman, who also owns Public Fish & Oyster, and Johnny Garver, former head chef of now-closed Parallel 38. Stop by, and you’ll find a variety of fresh pastas—including gluten-free and zucchini zoodles—and eight different preparation styles, ranging from bolognese to pesto. Rounding out the menu are salads, garlic sticks, macaroni and cheese, and housemade tiramisu.
Just because you’re eating at home doesn’t mean you have to dine in your PJs (though you absolutely can and we’d never judge you). These porcelain Mud Australia plates from Be Just elevate any to-go order—even pizza. Don’t forget your cloth napkin.
One man reimagines a world between two slices of bread
By Shea Gibbs
Geoff Otis envisions a world where no one idly chit chats about the weather. They talk of sandwiches. Sandwiches are, after all, universal: “Welcome to my TED talk,” Otis says.
An audio-visual technician for UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, Otis is a self-professed “sandwich enthusiast from way back.” He fell in love when he walked into his namesake Geoff’s Superlative Sandwiches in Providence, Rhode Island. The sammies were wacky, fun, delicious.
And Geoff’s wackiness is something that’s driven Otis’ hero worship for many years since.
“The reason I go for a sandwich—my rule for sandwiches—is I never want to get a sandwich I can make at home,” he says. With that in mind, Otis offers up his choices for the best handhelds in town.
Best all-around: Torta Cubana at La Michoacana
Chicken, steak, pastor meat, egg, and bacon with beans, shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and mayo on a bolillo roll
“The Torta Cubana is straight decadence, just so many amazing ingredients thrown on a sandwich. It’s an incredibly soft bread, and you can choose your salsas to go with it and make it as spicy as you want.”
Best high-end: Porchetta Panuozzi at Lampo
Housemade porchetta, garlic aioli, broccoli rabe, calabrian chili, fior di latte, and provolone on wood-fired pizza dough
“The porchetta is just everything that makes a sandwich great. This amazing bread, the same dough they use for the pizza, the pork is cooked perfectly and balanced with the bitter broccoli rabe, the cheese, and olive oil. You get it all in every bite, and it’s this perfect balance. It changes your idea of what a sandwich can be.”
Best sleeper: The Balboa at Basil
Shaved prime rib, grilled onions, roasted sweet peppers, pepperoncinis, hot cherry peppers, cremini, balsamic vinegar, provolone, romaine, Roma tomatoes, and mayonnaise on an Italian sub roll
“Basil makes amazing sandwiches. They approach sandwiches the same as their dishes, with the kitchen sink approach. ‘Let’s throw it on the sandwich!’”
Best chain: Italian B.M.T. at Subway
Genoa salami, spicy pepperoni, ham, choice of veggies, and dressing on a sub roll
“Subway actually does a decent chain sandwich. Jersey Mike’s is a good alternative. I am principled against Jimmy John’s. I do not eat there. That’s the big game hunter right? Fuck that guy.”
Best healthy: Don’t bother
“When I’m getting lunch, if I go to Littlejohn’s or Wayside, the rest of the day is gonna be a much lower calorie intake.”
Honorable mention: So many
As Otis gushes about sandos and finishes up his TED talk, the options come fast and fresh. The chicken breast sandwich at Wayside, Littlejohns’ Five Easy Pieces and Chipotle Chicken, Durty Nelly’s The Jefferson and Sailor, The Virginian for C’ville’s best club, the rib sandwich at Mel’s, Market Street Market for “an absolutely killer Ruben,” the pastrami at Bodo’s, College Inn for chicken parm—dine-in only—Ace Biscuit and Barbecue for the Old Dirty Biscuit and meatloaf special.
For Otis, sandwiches and their artists serve up something for everyone.
“This is what draws me to sandwiches,” Otis says. “They’re such a common denominator. If you’re ever stuck in an elevator, don’t talk about the weather. Talk about the best sandwich you’ve had. That’s a better feeling than saying whether it’s raining.”
What should you get in your big bad beer bottle?
By Shea Gibbs
Growlers are dead. Long live the growler. Talk to 10 people in the beer biz, and you’ll likely get 10 different opinions on growlers, those 32- to 128-ounce brew behemoths designed to carry tap beer from craftroom to couch. Growlers are the best way to enjoy craft beer. Growlers are the worst way to enjoy craft beer. Growlers are far superior to bottled beer. crowlers are far superior to growlers.
To wit: Reason Beer doesn’t offer growler fills on any of its beers and never has. Random Row Brewing Co. sticks to crowlers, sealable 32-ounce cans of to-go goodness.
“Crowlers are great because of how versatile they are,” says Kevin McElroy, Random Row’s brewer and co-founder. “They can be taken almost anywhere…and at half the size of a typical growler, they are perfect for sharing or consuming by yourself.”
Growlers typically last a few days, where crowlers can go a few weeks. Either way, if you’re looking to fill your fridge with freshly tapped suds—”a great way to support your local brewery,” McElroy says—you’d do well economically and hedonistically to focus on brews you can’t otherwise pick up in cans or bottles. And shy away from super high alcohol contents. You’ll want to drink the brew in one sitting, and let’s be honest, you don’t have many friends.
Following are a few suds-gestions to get you growling.—Shea Gibbs
Brewing Tree Beer Co.
Philinda Vienna Lager
$13 for 64-ounce growler fills; $4.50 for 16-ounce crowler fills
Brewing Tree packages its beers sparingly, so the best way to drink BT beer at home is growler and crowler-wise. Owner and brewmaster Mark Thompson is a fiend for classic beer styles, so give this German- style lager, brewed with Tettnang and Saaz hops, a to-go.
Champion Brewing Company
While not satisfying the low ABV requirement, barleywines are all the rage (among a small group of beer geeks), and English barleywines like Champion’s John Barleycorn are particularly hot (among an even smaller and geekier group). This brew features caramelized Marris Otter malt and East Kent Golding hops. That’s bloody English right there.
South Street Brewery
South Street consistently offers the lowest prices in town on growler fills. This medium-bodied pale ale features healthy amounts of Pacific Northwest hops to balance the sweet Belgian base with bitterness.
Pick up and picnic
Got a minute? Grab your food to-go, then settle in at one of these popular spots for dining al fresco.
Beaver Creek Lake: This gem out towards Crozet is a great place to boat, kayak ,or canoe. There are several picnic tables available for lunch on the water. Greenleaf Park: A great option for families, Greenleaf Park offers a picnic area, a spray ground, and a half-basketball court. The Lawn: Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy a more serene experience on Grounds at UVA. If you’re lucky, you might even find a spot in one of the pavilion gardens. Jefferson, Pollack, and King Family vineyards are three of a number of vineyards that allow guests to bring their own food. At any of these spots, there are striking views and—of course—plenty of wine to go with your sun-drenched snacking.—Meg Irvin