Faced with a terminal illness, most people might hunker down for months of treatment and forgo future plans. Not Mark Weber. Last summer, in the middle of an intensive treatment regimen for a malignant brain tumor, Weber bought Woolly Mammoth, the two-story restaurant at the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue, envisioning a restaurant-bar-arcade combo, with pool tables, old-school arcade games, giant TVs and stacks of board games.
“I realized that my clock may be running out, and I bought this place so I can have the experience, and share it with other people,” he said in August, a few months before opening the restaurant he renamed Firefly.
Weber, 40, died on Wednesday morning, January 21, having achieved that vision, and those grieving his loss are taking comfort and inspiration from the way he lived his final months.
“Mark had been talking about opening a restaurant for years,” said Weber’s life partner Melissa Meece, who owns the consignment shop ReThreads and was with him when he died. “It was one of his wild ideas.”
Meece said Weber had a lot of “wild ideas,” and he usually saw them through—like traveling to Honduras with the Peace Corps, biking a century ride (100 miles in 12 hours), running a farm business, getting on home improvement reality TV and opening a consignment shop.
“When it was obvious that he was serious about buying the bar this summer, I jumped in to be as supportive as possible, just like he had done for me with my business,” Meece said.
Weber, whom Meece described as young at heart, creative, passionate and loveable, grew up in Alexandria, Virginia with his parents and younger brother. He met Meece in 2009 when he crashed in her living room; he was traveling and snowboarding around Vermont before attending grad school at the University of Vermont, and found her listing on couchsurfing.com.
With the help of Meece and Ben Quade, who’s been in the Charlottesville food biz for seven years, Weber officially opened Firefly in November 2014. The bar is stocked with local brews, wine, a small selection of liquors and sugarcane sodas. Firefly’s Facebook page is regularly updated with happy hour reminders (4-7pm Tuesday-Saturday), daily specials like last week’s roasted duck leg with bok choy, announcements of new additions like the recently acquired pinball machine and arcade games and the streaming of Friends season three on a giant screen.
“When you’re facing your own mortality, it makes a lot of things clear,” Meece said. “It was obvious how badly he wanted to see Firefly come to light. I am so thankful that he lived to see the start of its success.”
For now, Firefly’s hours will remain the same, and Meece said she’s looking forward to expanding the restaurant’s hours, adding brunch options and hosting events.
“The vision for Firefly was Mark’s, and I will keep his vision alive,” she said.
A local group of Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) competition judges has a habit of meeting at the best ’cue spots around town to chow down and rate the fare. On January 19, the group made the newly rebranded PastureQ the target of its insatiable appetite for slow cooked beef and pork.
The exercise didn’t bode well for PastureQ. The KCBS judges are used to eating competition-level BBQ, and no retail restaurant ever lives up to their lofty standards. But chef/owner Jason Alley’s take on smoked meats actually came through pretty well unroasted.
“We were pleasantly surprised by everything at PastureQ, and many of our group expressed interest in becoming repeat customers,” group organizer Joan Haverson said. “When we spoke with the sous chef at the end, we all reinforced how we know that competition BBQ is a totally different animal from restaurant BBQ; the loving attention given overnight to eight pieces of meat by contest competitors is just not in the realm of possibility for a restaurant.”
The group of 10 judges sampled platters piled with PastureQ’s fish, ribs, sausage and pulled pork, as well as side dishes like pimento cheese, which KCBS Master Judge Todd Parks said “tasted like homemade.”
Haverson said the group’s next meeting place would likely be Hoo’s BBQ in Ruckersville.
Restaurant Week doesn’t necessarily scream health, but the folks at local nonprofit Move2Health had a different idea when they created the Charlottesville Restaurant Week Recipe Contest. Intended to showcase locals who know their way around fruits and vegetables, the contest welcomed healthy recipe submissions from anyone 18 and up, with the promise of three winners finding their way onto actual Restaurant Week menus.
The judges, Brookville Chef Harrison Keevil, Sal’s Caffe Italia Chef Joe Finazzo, and Bavarian Chef’s Jerome Thalwitz, selected Ruth Payne’s Champagne Lentils, Janice Esposito’s Kalamata Olive Hummus and Heather Esposito’s Spinach Salad with Artichoke Hearts as their winners. Bavarian Chef elected to serve the lentils alongside its saffron-poached haddock; the salad found its way onto the appetizer list at Sal’s; and Brookville decided to offer the hummus as an amuse bouche.