Our quest to find the “Best Food” in small town America started in Charlottesville, VA. We began our first full day walking through the downtown mall en route to the weekly public market. We were accompanied by chef Harrison Keevil of Brookville Restaurant. Chef Harrison took us by some of his favorite market vendors to purchase items so that he could prepare us one of his signature dishes…fried green tomatoes, which was a first for both Brian and I. The Brookville is closed for lunch, so we had the place to ourselves and were able to watch Chef Harrison prepare the dish.
Moments later, we were greeted by a special guest…Mr. Thomas Jefferson himself (portrayed by Steve Edenbo). This amazing historic impersonator took us for a tour of the campus (University of Virginia) he designed, which included the Rotunda and the famous lawn area where lucky and scholastic seniors can obtain a dorm room and mingle in the same area as the professors. Because President Jefferson is such a local hero, we enjoyed the glimpse from onlookers around every corner. Mr. Jefferson provided us with interesting information about the area, historical facts, as well as a wonderful sense of humor.
At this point we were a bit famished, so we headed to a great sandwich shop near the campus, Take it Away Sandwich Shop for a late lunch. We tried not to eat too much because we knew what we had in store, but it was tough because the sandwiches were so good.
As we headed back to our vehicle, we encountered a very interesting sight…”Beta Bridge,” which is allowed to be painted at will and thus has layered inches of paint, making for some interesting photo opps. The idea behind the “Beta Bridge” is to encourage free speech…giving students a public platform.
Next up on our agenda was an interview with the local news station, which actually houses Fox, CBS and ABC in one building. After our T.V. interview with Frankie Jupiter in front of the very famous “Peter Chang’s”, we enjoyed a signature dish made with Asian eggplant…it was tasty and savory with a numbing kick. ” Click here to read an interesting story that was published in the New Yorker Magazine on this fascinating and elusive chef.
After “Peter Chang’s,” we headed over to MAS, conceived by chef Tomas Rahal to be both an antidote for the growing corporate fast-food presence and as an opportunity to feature slow, organic, artisinal foods and wines…mainly inspired by Spain. The bacon wrapped dates were delectable.
Just a block away we hit “The Local,” which was a cool old brick building with a number of modifications that has turned it into a world-class dining experience. If you go, you have to try the shrimp appetizer dish…simply spectacular.
Across the street we went to a modest little place called “Belmont BBQ,” serving up a catchy and delicious dish called, the “Slop Bucket.” It’s a large cup layered with comfort goodness. First is a layer of au gratin potatoes, then a layer of baked beans, a layer of pulled bbq pork, topped off with cole slaw. I tried to dig into it, and Brian had the right idea…he just turned the cup upside down and we went to town. It was so good, but I’m afraid we took too many bites and still had a lot of food ahead of us.
Just next door to “Belmont BBQ,” was Tavola, a cozy, rustic place serving up Italian faire with a variety of seafood and local wines on the menu. We had Cozze Ai Ferri (skillet-roasted mussels, garlic butter, parsley) and the Vongole Oreganato al Forno (baked littleneck clams, bread crumbs, oregano, garlic butter, lemon). Brian could not get enough!
Our next stop was a bit farther than next door, which was good…the more walking the better to burn some of the calories off. We then visited C&O where kitchen crew works tirelessly cultivating relationships with local farmers, cheese makers, vintners and ranchers bringing the best of what’s available. While we tried a few dishes here, the one that stands out was the “SweetBreads,” which was delicious…until we found out what it was (click here if you’re not familiar). Sometimes, it’s just better to let your palate be your guide and not your brain.
Across the way was “Tempo,” a chic upscale restaurant/lounge. We sat at the opulent bar where Erinn lined up a variety of things for us to try, from the Lemongrass Scallops Lafayette, Spicy Tempo Shrimp to the Roasted Beets. Everything was delicious. And, we had a great time talking with chef Brice and his father Stewart, who shared their food inspired travels with us.
The night was just getting started…we still had another half dozen restaurants to go. Thankfully, Splendora’s was up next with a wonderful gelato palate cleanse. We enjoyed an array of different flavors, all of which did the trick to get us going for our next stop, which was some inviting light fare at Petit Pois, their signature pea soup.
By the time we arrived at “Positively 4th Street,” we had just hit our stride…on tap was a tasty slider, some shrimp and grits and a roasted beet salad with arugula.
Our final restaurant of the night was “Bizou,” where we tried some pan seared tout and another sampling of shrimp and grits…a southern favorite.
While Bizou was our last scheduled “eating” establishment on the restaurant tour, it was not our last stop of the evening. Next up was the “9 1/2 Speakeasy,” an authentic 1930s secret prohibition style lounge. Here we were treated to a couple speciality drinks, one was called the “Betty White,” the other, the “Smokey Gentleman,” both were unique, tasty and refreshing.
Our final stop of the evening…the Whiskey Jar, where we enjoyed some freshly baked peach cobbler and a number of flights of authentic Virginia Whiskey at the owners table—where we had a blast getting to know the folks in front, and behind, the scenes of this very popular venue.
We should also mention that we enjoyed paired Virginia wine and beer with nearly every meal, so needless to say we were feeling no pain by the end of the evening. We met the most fantastic people in Charlottesville and had such a wonderful time. You all set the bar extremely high for the other cities. We wish you the best of luck and hope to visit again soon.