A taste of Costco’s reliably cheap chow and more local restaurant news

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A taste of Costco’s reliably cheap chow

There’s a cult following around a new place to eat in Charlottesville, and it’s not a restaurant run by a James Beard nominee. Costco, the long-anticipated membership-only warehouse club located in The Shops at Stonefield, already seems to have found its niche here. At lunchtime, a steady stream of shoppers comes and goes, pushing carts with 42 rolls of Kirkland paper towels and lifetime supplies of Dr. Bronner’s soap, and stopping by the little cafeteria for a meal that is almost guaranteed to not exceed $6.

So let’s talk about this small, cheap, comforting menu. If you’re feeling adventurous (or inclined to clog your arteries), the popular chicken bake offers more than 700 calories worth of creamy, bacony goodness cooked into a crusty, cheesy loaf of bread. Other menu items include chicken Caesar salad, BBQ beef sandwich, polish sausage, a chewy churro roughly the length of an infant, smoothies and frozen yogurt.

But for the classic Costco dining experience, you’ve got to go with either the quarter-pound hot dog or the cheese, pepperoni or combo pizza. For a whopping $1.58 you can treat yourself to the unapologetically simple and reliable all-beef hot dog, plus a refillable soda. The massive slice of pizza is exactly what you expect—you know, the kind that barely fits on the paper plate and exudes those beads of cheesy oil that you could sop up with a napkin but why bother.

Oh, and don’t forget to save room for free samples. Possibly the most appealing thing about shopping at Costco—aside from the $15 jeans and shampoo sold by the vat—is the presence of employees at nearly every corner offering two-ounce servings of everything from chicken alfredo to vitamin water. Not only could you probably lunch on samples alone, but if you chat with those apron-clad folks behind the tables, you might pick up some cooking tips. Spinach and artichoke dip (sampled with Kirkland brand tortilla chips) used as a marinade for chicken breasts? Who’da thunk?

Take a hike

The months-long discussion about an increase in the meals tax from 4 to 5 percent drew restaurant owners into City Council meetings week after week, and they argued that a 25 percent increase would put too heavy a burden on the local restaurant industry. Now that the tax is in place, at least one restaurateur is still keeping tabs on the issue.

“I have been tasked with keeping it in front of Council and asking questions,” says Maya owner and Charlottesville Restaurant Association member Peter Castiglione. “We’ll be having this conversation every month.”

According to Castiglione, the tax increase is more nuanced than simply adding a few extra cents onto the tax line of a dinner bill.

“We can’t raise our prices because we have to keep up with the competition,” he says, adding that transaction fees from credit card companies eat up a large chunk of the tax dollars they owe the city. “Ultimately restaurant patrons who go out have to pay more, and for people who work in the business, it makes it harder to pay them more. It trickles down.”

Castiglione wants the city to follow in Roanoke’s footsteps and consider a sunset provision, which would raise the tax for one year, then bring it back to 4 percent. He’ll be on the issue like “white on rice,” he says.

“It’s marginalizing the good places, and my big fear is that places will start to close,” Castiglione says. “The quality of nice restaurants starts to fall, and this wonderful culture we’ve spent the last several years creating starts to go too.”

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