Mediterranean cuisine converges on small plates at Parallel 38

Parallel 38 owner Justin Ross has big plans for the new small plates restaurant at Stonefield. Photo: Martyn Kyle. Parallel 38 owner Justin Ross has big plans for the new small plates restaurant at Stonefield. Photo: Martyn Kyle.

While The Shops at Stonefield struggle to become known for something other than a place to see a movie, a cluster of restaurants surrounding the theater may save the day. Travinia Italian kitchen, which is routinely packed, and Pasture, the bare-bones, cafeteria-style homage to locally sourced food, have lured foodies to the development. And soon, Parallel 38 will join the mix with a completely different concept.

Parallel 38 takes its name from the latitudinal position just 38 degrees north of the Earth’s equatorial plane, a parallel that happens to run through some of the world’s finest wine and food regions: the Greek Ionian Islands, Spain’s Alicante region, Calabria in Italy, the Setubal Peninsula in Portugal, and Napa Valley in California. Central Virginia also happens to be strung along the 38th Parallel, and while it may not be as renowned as Napa Valley or Cambria, the idea here, according to the owners, is to merge all those cuisines in Charlottesville.

“We want to re-create what you find along that parallel here, using as much local produce as we can,” said co-owner Justin Ross*, who plans to open Parallel 38 at the end of December with his business partner Steve Pritchard. “It’s the ideal parallel for great food and drink, and we want to introduce people to new things and educate them.”

Take quinoa, for example.

“Usually this is served soft, like rice, but we heat it in oil until it becomes crispy,” said chef Alfredo Malinis. “I can assure you, no one is doing that around here.”

The masterminds behind Parallel 38 use the word “approachable” a lot, emphasizing that while Parallel 38 will offer some exotic foods and at least 100 different wines from around the world, they want people to feel comfortable trying different things.

“We want to take the pretension out of eating this kind of food,” Malinis added. “But these are dishes you will find  in high end D.C. restaurants.”

The dishes, it should be noted, are all small plates, tapas-style. Plus the layout of the space will give guests a number of seating options—on casks while you wait for a table, stools against a wall, at the massive soapstone bar, at formal tables, or on salvaged railway flatbed cars in the bar area. There’s also a 12-person communal table and an eight-person chefs’ table.

Behind the bar, a massive set of what look like bookshelves will display every bottle of wine in the place, and the bartenders will maneuver a 20′ high library ladder on wheels to access them. The space is wide open, with high ceilings, and there’s an elaborate chalk drawing of the regions along the 38th parallel by Virginia-based artist Sam Welty. Ross and his girlfriend Jackie Bright, the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Blue Ridge, designed the place themselves, with a little help from local lighting designer Mark Schuyler.

Ross cut his teeth in the restaurant business at D.C.’s Zaytinya, the well-known Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese spot owned by celebrated chef and activist José Andrés, who was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2012. Malinis also has an impressive resume, having been the executive chef at Level, an award-winning small plate lounge in Annapolis.

“We’re going to be authentic as we can without sticking to the book,” Malinis said. “We’ll have a comfortable approach to this kind of food. We’ll have the classics, like hummus, octopus, and calamari, but we’ll also have goat on the menu. But we’ll serve it in the form of a meatball to make people feel more at ease.”

Malinis noted that even the classics like calamari and hummus will be created with new, modern twists, with a tendency to borrow techniques from different regions and mix and match them. For example, he’s planning a Catalonian version of a French ratatouille.

Other menu items include Gambas al Maratho—a shrimp and fennel dish served with house-made chorizo, garlic, olive oil and feta cheese—a Gnocchi with squid ink labneh, confit of tomatoes, and chestnuts, and a Motsarela, which is house-made mozzarella with white balsamic vinegar, roasted garlic vinaigrette, and olive oil. And keep an eye out for the special tasting menu, which will feature specialties not offered every day.

“We’ll ask the question, ‘How can we create foods from these regions using local produce?’” said Malinis. But they’ll be importing stuff as well, like jamón serrano directly from Spain.

“The people at Stonefield want restaurants to be the anchors here,” Ross said. “And they wanted another cool concept. We’re confident this will be it.”

Ross wants guests to explore the different foods along the 38th Parallel, but don’t be shy or intimidated; he promises to make this unique food accessible.

Indeed, the debut of this exciting new concept is fast approaching—the owners are aiming for a December 30 opening day —so get ready to try something new.

Parallel 38 owner Justin Ross has big plans for the new small plates restaurant at Stonefield.

*In an earlier version of this story, Justin Ross was incorrectly identified as Justin Rose. 

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