New Mezza Tapas venture has no frontier and more local restaurant news

Ristorante Al Dente and Al Hamraa owner Karim Sellam (right) teamed up with Alan Doukan for Mezza, the latest addition to Charlottesville’s small-plate dining options. Photo: Rammelkamp Foto Ristorante Al Dente and Al Hamraa owner Karim Sellam (right) teamed up with Alan Doukan for Mezza, the latest addition to Charlottesville’s small-plate dining options. Photo: Rammelkamp Foto

New tapas venture has no frontier

There’s a new small-plates restaurant in town, but the owners promise it’s “not just another tapas place.” Featuring a menu with dishes from every corner of the world, Mezza Tapas & Bar is the newest addition to the ever-growing selection of restaurants on West Main.

“Here we have no frontier with the tapas,” says chef and co-owner Karim Sellam, who also owned and operated Ristorante Al Dente (which rebranded as Al Dente Pasta Cafe in 2014) and Al Hamraa, both of which closed this year. “It’s East meets West, with no borders. That makes tapas more interesting.”

Sellam teamed up with Alan Doukan, a long-time friend who works at Rosewood Village Assisted Living. Doukan has “always liked the restaurant business,” he says, and the two spent months redesigning the space inside what used to be L’etoile and coming up with an extensive menu.

The list of available small plates is divided into “for the table” items, which include marinated olives, grilled polenta and bread, plus categories for vegetarians, vegans, meat-eaters and fish-eaters. Each section features dishes inspired by different countries, such as France, Turkey, Spain, Italy and Morocco. Carnivores can go all-out with the cheese-stuffed, prosciutto-wrapped dates or meatballs with organic eggs, and vegetarians and vegans have options like the roma tomato pizza and Moroccan eggplant dip. Seafood plates include grilled squid, marinated anchovies and tuna steak, and last week’s special was a surf ‘n’ turf featuring beef tongue and octopus.

At the bar, Doukan and Sellam want to focus on wine and cocktails, with a small list of beer. The lengthy wine list includes bottles from all over the world, and the cocktail menu features nearly two dozen martinis and house drinks, like the port mojito, gingertini and strawberry martini.

Mezza made its debut about three weeks ago, and the owners say they’re already seeing customers come back a second and third time. With local art on the walls and long, communal tables in the dining room, the space was designed with community in mind.

“We have people come in and sit down and just start talking, and it’s a good feeling,” Sellam says. “We are a family environment. The food, the wine—it’s a cultural, social experience.”

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Lunch relaunch

The little restaurant at the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue is getting another facelift. Dan Heilberg, who originally owned The Lunchbox, stepped back last year when it was rebranded as The Boneyard, a café focused on Southern-inspired, grub-like barbecue. But as of November 27, Heilberg has partnered with Steven Martin (whose restaurant resume includes The Box and Two Guys Tacos), taken the space back under his wing and given it a new name and a new focus.

Introducing Holly’s Deli & Pub, a classic lunch-and-dinner spot named after Heilberg’s mother that will offer $7 sandwich platters (with chips, choice of side and a pickle), everyday happy hour specials, late-night delivery and a giant screen for sports fans. The idea is to simplify the menu and create a space that allows you to either get in and out for lunch as quickly as you need, or park yourself in front of the game with a beer for as long as you want. Oh, and for those of you who miss The Lunchbox’s menu, good news—the Philly cheesesteak that Heilberg says was a favorite is back.

Posted In:     Living


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