Best Charlottesville Restaurants 2011 – Part 1 of 2.
Hence the golden flatware. It’s that time of year again. The time when I sit down, gather my thoughts, reflecting on all I’ve seen, written about, and eaten this past year. I almost didn’t do this post, because I didn’t venture forth much in 2011 due to a neck injury. Nevertheless, I did go out. And I did eat, some pretty memorable dishes as a matter of fact. So, what the heck.
Take these winners as you will. I’m only a humble food writer, and everyone has their own opinion – that’s what makes this fun. On any given day if the planets were aligned another restaurant might have taken home the trophy. These are the ones that did. These are the ones I REMEMBER, sitting at my computer many months later when it’s freezing cold and I wish for all the world I could be enjoying something yummy al fresco.
Congratulations to all the winners, and here’s to many more good eats in 2012, starting with Charlottesville’s Restaurant Week January 23 – 29, 2012. I’ve made my reservations. Have you?
Note: The categories are purely arbitrary, and in no particular order. Last year they were different, next year they’ll change. One of the perks of having your own blog : ) I did keep it within a one-hour driving radius and no franchises or chains…..well, just one, and one I probably won’t get TOO much argument with….cheers!
Hands down, the award goes to Zynodoa in Staunton (yeah, I know, not Cville proper). Every time The Hubby and I eat here we talk about the meal for weeks. The food is hearty and upscale without being frou-frou. The atmosphere is elegant without being snooty. The service is stellar. Makes me wish we lived closer so I could go more often. Makes me wish I could cook like that. Just makes me wish.
Runner-Up: The Clifton Inn
A tie between Zinc Bistro and Ten Sushi. Every so often for date night The Hubby and I just want a few appies and a fancy cocktail – something cool in a tall glass with exotic ingredients we couldn’t possibly possess in our own meager liquor cabinet. We like to order then sit and pretend we’re cosmopolitan jet setters before slinking back home to our snuggies, our tv, and our dog.
Hands down Fossett’s Bar out at Keswick Hall. Not the restaurant, the bar. In the summer you can take your cocktail and truffle fries out onto the veranda with sweeping views of the countryside, and in winter you can cozy up to the fire in a huge leather wing chair in the wood-paneled room with an old-fashioned, leather-topped bar and pretend you’ve just done some hill walking out at Balmoral. Every time we go I think of the game Clue and wonder if Mr. Mustard did in fact do it in the library with a candlestick?
Runners-Up: Palladio at Barboursville Vineyards or Blue Mountain Brewery’s patio
BEST AL FRESCO
Mas Tapas of course. Not only is Tomas’s food spectacular and perfectly Spanish in its bite-size tapas-ey goodness that pairs so well with the BEST sangria I’ve ever had in my life, but the scene outside is trendy and fun without being too much of a scene (if you get my drift). The waitstaff don’t mind if you linger, and there’s no better atmosphere for people-watching than some Tuesday night in glorious downtown Belmont. Beats the Downtown Mall by a mile of bacon-wrapped dates.
Runner-Up: The Nook patio (when the birds aren’t pooping!)
This was a difficult choice, but I’ve got to go with Devil’s Backbone Brewery out in Roseland near Wintergreen. Stellar views on the patio paired with hearty food and the best beer in the area. I’m in love with their Vienna Lager, and that’s saying something because I usually go for something with milk, coffee, or chocolate in the name. And their recently released Baltic Porter? A 2010 Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal winner made with Trager Brothers coffee and scrumpdiliumptious. Don’t miss their Sunday brunch with a build-your-own bloody mary menu laid out like you’re ordering sushi. It’s never taken me so long to order a drink!
Runner-Up: Blue Mountain Brewery
I like to choose this based on pure gut instinct. What is the one dish I can look back on over the past year with immediate love and affection? It has to be the pork and beans at Zynodoa. Ayshire roasted pork with spicy baked kidney beans, coleslaw, and pickled onions to add some acidy lightness to this meaty dish. After my first bite, I swooned. It’s gorgeous. The kind of thing you hope is simmering on the stove when you come home from a long hard day at work in the middle of winter. The portion was GINORMOUS! I never ask for a doggy-bag, preferring to “live in the moment” and only eat what I can, but with this dish I made an exception. And let me tell you something, it was even better the next day. All the flavors blended together to create something so bursting with umami, I lack to words to describe it.
Runner-Up: The Clifton Inn’s Roasted Sweetbreads with Ricotta Mousse, Borage Jus and Red Quinoa
It’s still Mellow Mushroom. Not technically local being a chain, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t locate a pizza with that combination crunchy/chewy crust I adore with toppings that don’t weigh it down so much the whole thing sinks into sogginess. What can I say? I’m a sucker for Mellow Mushroom’s Buffalo Chicken Pizza. Paired with a beer? It’s the perfect winter date night splurge.
Runners-Up: Fabio’s and a slice at Wholefoods with grilled chicken, lemon, feta, pine nuts and currants. Yes, currants!
So long Ten, I’ve found Tokyo Rose. The servings are huge, the fish is fresh, the service friendly, and the price is right. Plus they have the cutest damn logo I’ve ever seen, a retro pinup girl in Japanese garb. Anything retro/vintage/pinup is going to make my heart melt. Brownie points for having moldy golden oldies playing on the sound system. After a few sakes, I dare you not to dance in your seat.
MOST HIGHLY ANTICIPATED NEW RESTAURANT OF 2012:
One word. Pho. God bless Chef Vu of Zinc Bistro for making my dreams come true. My mouth is watering at the thoughts of all the slurping and slopping and general disgusting eating sounds I plan to make in the new year. . .
Let the flames begin! Next time, I award golden flatware in the categories of:
BEST COFFEE WITH A SIDE OF SWEET TREAT
BEST CHEAP LUNCH
BEST AFTER-WORK BAR
2011 CHARLOTTESVILLE LOCAL FOOD HERO AWARD