Melissa Close-Hart leaves Palladio, restaurants take Thanksgiving reservations and other local restaurant news

Melissa Close-Hart will add to Belmont’s restaurant boom with her yet-to-be named restaurant. Photo: Jackson Smith. Melissa Close-Hart will add to Belmont’s restaurant boom with her yet-to-be named restaurant. Photo: Jackson Smith.

Close-Hart keeps big plans ‘quiet for now’

Melissa Close-Hart has been gathering awards as head chef at Palladio restaurant in Barboursville for the past 14 years, so news that she’s striking out on her own has the local food world buzzing.

“I was ready for a new challenge or adventure,” said Close-Hart, whose plans were first announced on the Charlottesville29 blog on November 11. “It was a hard decision. It’s not something that comes lightly.”

The four-time James Beard Award semifinalist said she’s been “asked to keep quiet for now” about her new Belmont restaurant venture with The Local owner Adam Frazier, but she did allow it will “not be Italian.” Close-Hart said the team that runs The Local kitchen, headed up by her husband Matthew Hart, will be involved in developing the concept and menu.

The new restaurant, currently under construction in the space directly across the street from The Local, has yet to be named and is going by “The New Belmont Eatery” on Facebook. In an effort to control news on the highly anticipated dining spot, Close-Hart said updates will be available through social media only.

No open date has been set for the New Eatery, but renovations seem to be coming along. Pictures on the restaurant’s Facebook page show a historic Pepsi advertisement on a newly exposed brick wall and extensive balcony construction. Close-Hart said the goal of the renovation is to maintain the “integrity of the building” and “keep as much as possible” from the original structure while adding new elements to the space. She credited Frazier with skillfully leading the updates and said newer construction, such as some of the plaster walls that have been added over the years, has been removed.

Clues to what the restaurant will offer in terms of cuisine may start to trickle in on December 8, when The Local will host a benefit dinner featuring Close-Hart acting as guest chef and preparing dishes expected to be on the New Eatery’s menu.

Whatever the concept turns out to be, Close-Hart said she’s excited about the prospect of doing something different. “It will give me a chance to spread my wings,” she said. “Chefs always like change, and after 14 years I feel I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish at Palladio.”

Close-Hart said she’ll continue doing her thing at her current restaurant until March 1 of next year, when sous chef Spencer Crawford will try to fill her highly-decorated shoes.

“There will be no change in the format,” Close-Hart said. “It will just be Spencer’s take on it, and his philosophy on the food, which is very similar to mine.”

Turkey talk

It’s that time of the year again, y’all. The annual American glutton fest (oh, and opportunity to give thanks and spend time with loved ones) is just around the corner, and some of Charlottesville’s favorite spots want to help you out with that turkey. And stuffing, potatoes, gravy, casseroles, rolls, pie…

If you’re looking for a swanky Thanksgiving (swanksgiving?) meal where you won’t have to lift a finger, places like Clifton Inn, Ivy Inn, Palladio, The Bavarian Chef in Madison, The Pointe (at the Omni hotel) and Maya are taking reservations for sit-down, multi-course dinners. The Pointe is also offering a brunch buffet before the dinner seating, and at Blue Ridge Cafe in Ruckersville you can stuff yourself silly at the all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving buffet starting at noon.

For a Southern twist on a classic, grab a 12-pound, deep-fried turkey injected with your favorite marinade from Wild Wing Cafe. Place your order by Monday, November 24.

Do you usually pour most of your Thanksgiving energy into cleaning the house and hosting two dozen cousins and in-laws before you can even think about turning on the stove? Allow someone else to do the cooking without letting that perfect table-setting go to waste. The Barbeque Exchange in Barboursville, Horse & Hound and HotCakes all offer a la carte pick-up Thanksgiving menus with everything from herb-roasted turkeys and cranberry chutney to roasted mushroom bread stuffing and bourbon-chocolate pecan pie.

Happy eating, and don’t forget to give thanks to whomever is cooking for you this year.

Toro’s Tacos is no mas

The ownership group that operates successful UVA hangout and burger joint Boylan Heights rebranded, renovated and reopened the former Baja Bean space as Toro’s Tacos with little fanfare last September 4. Now, 14 months later, the Corner restaurant reportedly has gone out of business.

Toro’s ownership has not returned voicemails or e-mails about the apparent closure, and a walk by the space during business hours shows what looks like a restaurant shut down for the night, but individuals knowledgeable of the situation have confirmed the restaurant is no longer operating. Phone calls to the business ring through with no voicemail, TorosTacos.com remains “coming soon” and Toro’s active Facebook page has not been updated since October 31.

Toro’s had received relatively positive reviews on social media over the past year, and its Facebook page indicates an engaged college hangout with more than 3,200 likes. Its departure is a mysterious adios indeed.

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