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Posts from the ‘Brookville’ Category

There Will Be Brunch.

My podcast, Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons, premieres here (and on iTunes) Friday, February 27th!

In the depths of February (the cruelest month I don’t care what Eliot says), my mind fixates on brunch. Al fresco. So outstanding you need a nap, take the paper along and stay awhile, you leave with a just the slightest Bloody Mary buzz, brunch. Bloody Marys, never mimosas, which are just a waste of good bubbles. This might be a long post because I’m a brunch fanatic. And I got lots to say.

Brunch is the greatest creation of mankind no matter what that writer at the New York Times says. Wasn’t that a piece of whiney hipster bullshit? No offense to hipsters who enjoy brunch. He quoted Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes. Seriously? Didn’t his dad run a modeling agency? He’s your expert? I’ve a hard time believing American Brunch Culture is dead because some writer said so. There are tons of folks who gather eagerly over fancy eggs and cocktails every weekend, if only to celebrate the fact they just got through another 7 days without killing someone!

I’m so sick of people who roll their eyes and act “too cool for school” over life’s simpler pleasures. Who doesn’t love lingering with friends over food? Someone who hates eggs? Or breakfast in general? Or who’s had to work too many brunch shifts? I’ll grant you that being on the other side of things is zero fun.

I’ve worked my share of brunches. Early weekend mornings at The Corner Café in Richmond where we’d toss a coin to see who’d be the poor sap manning the pancake station. Usually me. Endless hours of pouring banana pancakes the size of dinner plates. Getting raw batter everywhere. Looking at the line going out the door and truly believing you’re in a nightmare and this will never, ever end. Heading home around 3pm so tired you can’t even remove your shoes. When you do, finding pancake batter in your socks. Smelling like turned milk even after a shower. Swearing you’ll never work another brunch shift. Ever.

Despite that, I’ve loved brunch since I was a kid. Saturdays spent running errands with Momma began with a stop at Shoney’s. Pancakes piled high with strawberries in syrup and whipped cream, Big Boy comic book on the side. We’d wolf down what we could from Cake Mountain and head over to The Imp Peddler where Mom would shop for bargains, and my sister and I would play Hide and Seek in the clothing carrels. On special days we’d go to Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House for a platter of buckwheat cakes, or potato pancakes with fried apples. I was the only 6-year-old in existence who preferred latkes to cavity-forming chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream.

In my youth brunch was a chance to gather and share gossip from the night before. Who hooked up with who. Who was a hot mess. Can you believe he said that and she did that? Making plans for tonight. And tomorrow night. Dreaming of being rich and not having to work while inhaling cheap burnt toast, greasy potatoes, hard crusty omelets, and shitty Bloody Marys. Probably the biggest meal we’d have all week. We’d sit outside at places like Trio’s, or crowd a booth at 3rd Street Diner or McLean’s. Sometimes gathering in the daylight, but never before noon, then heading out for 75-cent cocktails if it was Sunday. Holding onto the weekend with all our might. Most of the time we’d gather in the wee hours after leaving the club, because we couldn’t wait for our grits and red eye gravy, or a hot, sweet 3rd Street Diner Grilled D (a grilled Krispy Kreme topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce) which I swear tastes best when you’re 5-drinks drunk at 2am. Gossip exchanged and stories told while we waited hours to be served by the one strung-out waitress they’d assigned to a giant room during the graveyard shift. So many late night brunches. Most of them good, although there was the “Sour Waffle” episode of 1994 at the now-dingy Aunt Sarah’s in midtown Richmond.

Brunch is still my favorite. I love fancy eggs. Sitting al fresco with a fabulous Bloody Mary and a heaping plate, doesn’t matter whether it’s eggy or pancakey, is my version of heaven. Too bad restaurants in the region don’t agree. Is Saturday brunch going the way of the dinosaur? Is that writer correct? I see no established Saturday brunch culture in Charlottesville like I experienced in Richmond, DC, and later in Pittsburgh. Places here offer it maybe seasonally, maybe occasionally on Sundays, or not at all. Yep, no Saturday brunch in Charlottesville, and if they do offer it, it’s more lunch than eggs. And Sunday brunch? Sure I can promise to get my ass up on a Sunday and head out, but let’s get real. It ain’t happening. It’s me and the paper on Sundays. With coffee.

Don’t get me wrong, you can get eggs on Saturday. There’s Tip Top. Bluegrass Grill and Bakery is great, except you can’t linger (an important brunch element), and Blue Moon is fantastic. The Nook is good. The Hubby and I usually end up at one of these. But none of them is perfect. Is anything ever? No matter. In my little headspace, because it is my favorite meal, I’m always dreaming about what the perfect brunch would be in a perfect “Every Day is Saturday” world.

It’s outdoors, preferably a pleasant 70-75 degrees. I don’t care about the setting, but if you pinned me down, the view from Blue Mountain Brewery’s deck is pretty damn splendid.

Let’s start with a cocktail, because all good meals start this way. I’ve had some earth-shattering Bloody Marys in my time, including Bouchon in Las Vegas, and Zocalo here in Charlottesville. My favorite? The Bloody Mary at The Magpie in Richmond, Virginia. Made with bourbon, lager, house-made hot sauce and Bloody Mary mix, with a pickle and Slim Jim garnish, this cocktail brought me to my knees! It had a deep, smoky-spice and a meaty flavor. I could SWEAR Chef Owen Lane added bacon. One is usually enough, but this drink? I could’ve easily downed four and canceled my day.

On to eggs. Some people like fried, over easy, scrambled. Or a great Eggs Benny. I love my omelets. I’m lumping Huevos Rancheros into the omelet category because I consider it “eggs with stuff inside”. The best? Huevos Rancheros at the now-defunct Texas-Wisconsin Border Café in Richmond. Spicy, cheesy, peppery, and the size of your head. Covered in their special house-made salsa you can STILL GET here in town at places like Feast!

Kudos go to The Magpie again, who ran a close second. The omelet with rabbit, goat cheese, leek tops and red wine-caramelized onion jam had me floating off the floor in glee. Not only that, the leftovers I took home TASTED FRESH THE NEXT DAY! When was the last time you microwaved day-old eggs and had them taste light and fluffy? I thought so. Chef Owen Lane has a magic touch.

Honorable mention goes to the Bluegrass Grill’s caramelized onion omelet. Delicious, the size of Shaq’s shoe, and so light! They might’ve ranked higher if Bluegrass was a “lingering” kind of place (I need to linger after consuming Shaq’s shoe). One of the downfalls of being small and wildly popular.

If Eggs Benedict is more your taste Zocalo has a great one according to The Hubby. Spicy and filling. Too bad they only do brunch seasonally. Sigh.

Hash browns? Scattered, smothered, and covered at Waffle House. I don’t care, you can present to me any combination of heirloom fancy schmancy hand-grown by kid-gloved potato scholars in Ireland preparation of potatoes and I’ll still want scattered, smothered, and covered. Double order please. Bacon from Coca Café in Pittsburgh on the side.

French toast? The unique version at The Bright Morning Inn in Davis, West Virginia is my benchmark. So good I’m not sure I can eat any other kind. Banana Dream french toast starts with potato bread dipped in a cinnamon batter with banana liqueur, then it’s dipped in oats, fried, and topped with more bananas. Tastes like a big ol’ nap!

Pancakes? I’m still a sucker for the potato pancakes at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House with a side of fried apples. In fact, if any brunch I’m attending serves potato pancakes I’ll probably wolf them down. WITH hash browns please.

It’s easy to louse up biscuits and gravy. The biscuits can be dry and puck-like, and the gravy can end up a gloppy, tasteless goo. The Frost Diner in Warrenton serves up an amazing version, with flaky light biscuits and a nice creamy, peppery gravy. But they don’t have the BEST biscuits. That award goes to the now-closed Betsy’s Coffeehouse on the corner of Auburn and Cary Streets in Richmond. Large and square, these babies were sliced open and toasted with lots of butter. Sage and feta, rosemary and gruyère, cheddar and chive. With a latte and a nice spot on the porch, this was my dream meal back in the day. I discovered Nick Drake while studying at Betsy’s, and watched prudes leave in droves when she played Prince’s “Darling Nikki” at top volume. I must’ve written a million words on her porch. And when we left Richmond for Pittsburgh, our last stop was for biscuits. Betsy bagged them up with a sad face. I’ve attempted to recreate her biscuits, to no avail, ever since.

Grits? You can have your shrimp and grits, your cheese grits. I’ll take my grits swimming in red eye gravy. From McLeans in Richmond. Consumed preferably at about 3am with greasy eggs, hash browns, and toast. You gotta love a place only open from 11pm to 3pm. As long as I live, I’ll never forget a late night when a group of friends looked over to see four pretty heinous-looking girls sitting in a booth in taffeta prom dresses, one of them with a massive black eye. We spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out the story. Because there was surely one.

Coffee? Any good cup of diner coffee in a white mug will do. I ain’t picky. You can forego the fancy foam design, as I take my first cup black, and my second cup with copious amounts of cream and sugar. Breakfast dessert.

Finally, because I can’t find a proper place to stick this dish, I must address the Chicken and Waffles from Bouchon in Las Vegas. I must because it’s as close to brunch heaven as I’ve ever achieved here on this dim, dusty planet of ours. Chef Thomas Keller takes roasted chicken and sets it atop a bacon-chive waffle with Tahitian vanilla bean butter alongside. Pour some velvety sauce Chasseur over the entire thing (imagine the creamiest chicken gravy you’ve ever put to lips) and you’ve reached brunch Nirvana. Everything on the Bouchon brunch menu is stellar, but this reaches new heights. They get bonus points for not requiring reservations.

I understand restaurants have to survive and doing a year-round Saturday/Sunday brunch might not be feasible. I can still gripe about it. Just as that hipster declared, “Brunch is over!” I’m here to declare it’s not. American Brunch Culture is alive and well. Eating eggs with cocktails and friends, lingering over your food with no other plans for the day is one of the great joys of life. I bet there are plenty of people out there who agree.

Sure there are places who throw their leftovers into a quiche as a “Brunch Special” but the restaurants who take time and care to offer creative brunch options week after week? They’ve got my respect for keeping the flame alive. They’re carrying the torch for those of us who look forward to making it through yet another week by celebrating with pancakes and tomato juice spiked with vodka. Brunch isn’t dead. Or there wouldn’t be 10-gazillion versions of the Bloody Mary!

As long as people go to bars on Friday night, there will be brunch. As long as there is a farmer’s market to run a stroller through, and a Targe-Home-Depot-WalMart-Kroger run to be made, there will be brunch. As long as there is church to visit, there will be brunch. It’s one of the great shames of my life I’ve not yet visited Brookville’s brunch, served only on Sundays. We’ve discussed why my ass can’t seem to get out the door on a Sunday. It’s a problem I plan to address in 2015. But what about the rest of you? Won’t someone please take up the cause of great, creative eggs-centric brunch on weekends? I selfishly implore all chefs completely unashamed! Purdy please? I’d like to do this list again in a year or two with ONLY Charlottesville restaurants on it. Me and my tummy are waiting.

Note: I didn’t include Bodo’s because Thank God for Bodo’s. I can satisfy my bagel craving any time of day. Even if they don’t toast.

Addendum: Several people contacted me after publishing to let me know Chef Harrison Keevil of Brookville Restaurant has both Saturday and Sunday brunch. And has been doing it for at least a year. Doh! Is my face red? Another signal I need to get out more…and will.

Best of 2013.

Yep, about this time each year I pull out my golden fork and spoon awards for my “Best of” post. Not the best restaurants, but the best food I ate. The most memorable. I sit down with coffee and a notepad, and brainstorm the 13 best foods I ate in the Charlottesville area in 2013. From off the top of my head. Because in this brain with its vastly diminishing capacity (thanks middle age and Lyme Disease) if I can remember it right away, it was probably pretty outstanding. And worthy of an award, however small. I’m just one broad, but I’ve got a good palate and know when something has skipped past the boundaries of delicious into the stratosphere of, “Hey remember when we ate that?”

Here are my picks in alphabetical order by establishment. Go eat them. A few are seasonal, but I bet if you wait until the appropriate season and ask real nice, they’ll make it for you. Especially when you tell them it won a major award! Congratulations to all, and good eats in 2014!*

Smoked Turkey. At BBQ Exchange.
This is the second year in a row Chef Hartman’s smoked turkey has won a golden fork and for good reason. It’s incredible. Melt-in-your-mouth-smoke-meets-sweet-meets-meat incredible. Only available at Thanksgiving. Sad face. This was the third time The Hubby and I ordered our turkey from The Exchange and if I can help it, I will never cook turkey again. Because it won’t be as good. The first year we got the dinner with sides, but I like leftovers. LOTS of leftovers, so the next year we got an entire bird. Repeated this year. And between the two of us, managed to finish off a 15-20 pounder. Boom!

Fried Green Tomato, Smoked Salmon, and Mozzarella Salad with Basil Crema. At Bizou Restaurant.
A fancy take on a BLT. The crunchy fat and acid of the tomato pairs well with the soft cheese and the creamy greenness of the crema, which was like the best Green Goddess dressing I’ve ever had. I couldn’t eaten five of these salads without saying Boo!

Bacon Fat Popcorn. At Brookville Restaurant.
Congrats to Brookville for making my “Best of” list 2 years running! The Hubby and I love Chef Keevil’s place and eat there often for brunch or any time we need the greatest hamburger on the face of God’s green earth. But in 2014 his bacon fat popcorn sent me into the stratosphere. Imagine huge fluffy kernels with just a touch of salt. Then imagine crunching down and tasting bacon. But not a big grease-filled overpowering smoky business. A touch, a kiss. Like popcorn and bacon didn’t get married but are just making out. HEAVEN!

Chocolate Macaroon. At Cappellino’s Crazy Cakes.
Who cares if it’s gluten-free? This cookie is simply the most deeply, darkly, chocolaty, ooey, gooey confection I’ve ever eaten. Right away you can taste the high-quality chocolate. The way it just glides over your tongue into a gooey delicious chewy chocolaty mess is a gorgeous thing indeed. No way you can eat just one. It has officially replaced their Apple Harvest as my favorite cookie.

Carne Asada Tacos. At El Tako Nako.
Monday night is taco night because of this food truck on Hydraulic Road across from Stonefield. I love all the tacos on offer: Pastor, Chorizo, Lengua, but it’s the Carne Asada that gets my motor running. Charred meat with a little cilantro, onion, and lime in double-wrapped corn tortillas. Completely authentic Mexican tacos for $2 each. You can’t beat that with a stick.

Pupusa Queso Con Frijoles. At El Tepeyac.
El Tepeyac has incredible tacos, but I will always mark 2013 as the year I fell in love with pupusas. This Salvadorian style tortilla tastes like the best Hot Pocket you’ve ever eaten. Scratch that. Imagine if Hot Pockets were actually any good! That’s an El Tepeyac Pupusa. They’ve got several different styles (including an incredible one make with loroco flowers) but my favorite is the pupusa with black beans and cheese. Like you took corn pudding, stuffed cheese and black bean dip inside it then stuffed it in a panini press. I can eat pupusas until the cows come home.

Poached Duck Egg Frisee Salad With Warm Bacon Dressing, Chive Flowers, and Crispy Ramps. At GlassHaus Kitchen.
I’m very sad I won’t be able to enjoy this classic anymore while sitting on the patio with The Hubby and watching the freight trains roll by. Chef Ian Boden’s version is lovely and perfect. The creamy egg mixes with the warm fat of the bacon and the tang of the chive and the sweet of the ramps to create something awfully special. Perhaps we can persuade him to recreate this perfection at his new venture, The Shack? Hope so.

Chicken Liver Mousse. At JM Stock Provisions & Supply.
I’m a sucker for a good chicken liver mousse. Put some of that on a cracker or good piece of baguette and pour me a glass of wine and that’s dinner. The mousse at JM Stock is luscious, creamy, rich, and decadent. Priced right and presented in a small Mason jar. Yep, an entire Mason jar full of chicken liver mousse. If that’s not decadent I don’t know what is.

Tonkotsu Ramen. At Now & Zen.
Ever since I tucked into my first bowl of in Vancouver a few years back I have searched and longed for this dish. There isn’t a day goes by where I don’t long for ramen. Not the 5-for-a-dollar version in the market, but good, authentic, steaming, yummy ramen. Preferably with fatty broth, seasoned egg, and extra wakame. No matter where we travel, my first question is always, “Is there ramen here?” Now when fellow seekers ask me, I can point them to Now & Zen. Unfortunately Chef Sato only has ramen nights every so often (next one scheduled for January 19 and 20). Go early with an empty stomach (bowls are huge), and order the broth as fatty as you can.

Fried Okra With Comeback Sauce. At Pasture Charlottesville.
Oh my lord! Simply the best fried okra I’ve ever had in my life. Chef Jason Alley fries the okra whole, and the batter is so light, so crispy, I dare you not to finish off their ginormous bowl. Every time I’ve eaten this I swear I won’t possibly finish the whole thing, and every time I fail. It’s that good. The comeback sauce tastes like mayonnaise and Sriracha? Not sure, but it has kept me coming back for this appetizer again and again.

Spicy Creamed Rice Grits, Smoked Tomato Broth, Black-Eyed Peas.
At Pasture Charlottesville.

This is one of those dishes I want to magically appear on my counter every time I have a crappy day. Or the weather is crappy. Or I’m just feeling crappy. Comfort in a bowl. They serve this as a small plate, but trust me, after inhaling this unctuous blend of smoky, creamy goodness you’ll want more. A whole lot more. Tastes like a big ol’ nap! Which is a compliment of the highest order.

Charcuterie Plate. Pippin Hill Vineyard.
We had a miserable spring and summer full of rain and gray skies. So when we finally hit a warm patch The Hubby and I had a lovely “All Summer in a Day” moment at Pippin Hill. Cured meats, olives, arugula pesto and grape must mustard paired with a nice Cabernet Franc can cure every form of seasonal disorder. I’m convinced of it. And I’m counting the days when I can lounge on their sumptuous deck once again.

Anson Mills Sea Island Peas with House Bacon and Appalachian Star Farm Spring Onions. At The Whiskey Jar.
This dish was prepared as a side for the Southern Foodways Alliance Summer Symposium opening dinner. The beans tasted like tiny black-eyed peas, but with better texture and flavor: sweet, meaty, and hearty. The bacon added a fatty, smoky flavor while the spring onions provided sweetness. This dish was by far the hit of the night; everyone raved. I even bought my own bag for New Year’s Hoppin’ John. To say I can’t wait to dig in would be an understatement. Here’s hoping Sea Island Peas are rediscovered and relished in 2014. They need to be.

Peach Trifle. At The Whiskey Jar.
Congratulations to Rachel Pennington on creating a dessert I devoured without a second thought. Let me explain. Usually I’m so enamored of appetizers by the time the dessert comes, I can’t take more than a bite. Not here. This trifle with its layers of fresh peach, feather-light cake, fresh cream, and vanilla custard is simply one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. Decadent, yet light as a Spring cloud in May. It should be a staple on their summer menu. And they should give Chef Pennington a raise. Yum!

*You’ll notice I actually included my “Best 14 for 2013”. Whatever. I love it when my town makes it hard to stay within parameters ;)

2012 Best Dishes. (Top 3!)

All week I’ve been describing my top Charlottesville Dishes of 2012. This was not the year of the “Best Restaurant” but the year of memorable bites and brews. The stuff I crave when I get hungry for something special. The dishes I immediately remember without even thinking. Looking back over the list, they’ve run the gamut from appetizers to mains to condiments. And now we arrive at the Top 3.

Numbers 12-10

Numbers 9-7

Numbers 6-4

3. Almond Cake. I gained weight this year. And I blame Jenny Peterson of Paradox Pastry. Seriously, I go in there for one little sweet treat and a tea, and I end up going home with a bagful of goodies. Her Spice Cake made me tear up it reminded me so much of my grandma’s. But her Almond Cake? It made me slap the table. Hard. It’s my favorite kind of cake because it’s SO dense and chockfull of almond flavor. Cakey cake ;) But the kind I make at home with almond paste comes NOWHERE NEAR the perfection she reaches. And it’s served as a giant slab which makes you feel like a naughty child who’s eating dessert before dinner. What’s better than that?

2. Bibimbap. Imagine a huge piping hot stone bowl of rice, veggies, meat, and sauce all topped with a fried egg. The meat is sliced thin and is secondary, acting as a condiment to the veggies and rice underneath. The sauce is spicy, but sweet as well. The rice on the bottom is getting crispy because the stone bowl is browning it up nicely. When you take your chopsticks and blend it all together, the egg yolk runs all through this delicious mixture, turning it into one big gorgeous heap of comfort. In your mouth the crispy rice, the sizzling meat, the creamy egg and crispy vegetables blend into a perfect morsel of happiness. There is seriously nothing better to eat on a cold day. The Bibimbap they serve at The Korean House on Carlton Avenue is unstoppable. Suffering from the flu? The blues? A serious case of “There’s nothing new to eat in this town” syndrome? Eat this. Now.

1. Potter’s Craft Oak Barrel Reserve Cider. I love this stuff. Adore it. People have begun to get sick of hearing me wax poetic on how beautiful it is. The checkout guys at Whole Foods roll their eyes when they see me coming because they know I’m about to go off on the merits of Potter’s Craft Oak Barrel Reserve Cider. Again.

I’ve spent years telling anyone who’ll listen about the wonderfulness that is cider, and to my glee, 2012 was definitely “The Year of Cider” in Charlottesville. There are 6 cideries in the area at last count, numerous cider tastings and events, and November saw our first Cider Week in Virginia. So what makes Potter’s Craft Oak Barrel Reserve so special?

It seriously tastes like nothing else I’ve had. Ever. And I’m what you call a cider enthusiast. Nothing is more refreshing on a hot day, cold day, hell, any day. Dan Potter and Tim Edmond have really invented something new. I’m convinced of this. By aging their blend of cider in used Laird’s Apple Brandy oak casks for 6 months, they’ve allowed a dry, crisp, refreshing beverage to acquire undertones of mellow roundness, caramel, vanilla, and well. . .bourbon! It has replaced Calvados as the after dinner drink of choice in our house. It’s lighter, but with the same “kick” a nice digestif offers after a big meal. What did we crack open on New Year’s? Not champagne my friend. It was this cider. Sipped slowly. Sipped often. Congratulations Dan and Tim. This was the best, greatest thing I had in Charlottesville all year. By far.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Must admit, it was tough to have only 12. So I include these additional as honorable mentions. Thank you Charlottesville for keeping my belly full this past year, and here’s to a scrumptious 2013. Cheers!

Honorable Mentions:
Smoked Turkey from BBQ Exchange (only available Thanksgiving & Christmas)
“The Burger” at Brookville Restaurant
Sticky Toffee Pudding at The Ivy Inn
Dolmas at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar
Blondies at Great Harvest Charlottesville

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