The oddest thing about Charlottesville. It’s a small town, a ‘ville, a ‘burg, definitely not a city. So you’d think living here 4 years I would’ve met just about everybody there was to meet at the corner store. Or grabbing bagels at Bodo’s. Or getting dinner at Maya, or snagging a six pack at Beer Run. Or bumping eco-friendly shopping bags at the Saturday farmers’ market. Or pushing past the strollers at Fridays After Five.
But no. In my tenure as writer I’ve met the majority of Charlottesville food folks online. Seriously. I’d say a good 70% of either industry peeps or enthusiasts I’ve met through email, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, or Google Plus. Just kidding. NO ONE has met anybody through Google Plus.
Take Tami Keaveny for example. I first “met” Tami through email in my previous life as a fundraising assistant. She worked for a theater who shall remain nameless because they were stupid enough to let her go, and I worked coordinating events to raise money for a nonprofit. Tami was extremely helpful with raffle prize tickets for all the events I put together and I was always grateful. Nonprofit is a bitch, and when you come across someone so generous, you tend to remember it. It’s not all hearts and flowers people. In the end, it’s still all about money.
Flash forward a year. Now I’m writing food full time and she’s coordinating all kinds of food-related events for this theater, combining film, chefs, and food into one glorious evening after another. She sends me press releases and I gladly sing them from the rooftops, thrilled someone is putting evenings like this together. And no we still haven’t met in person.
But when she sends one particular email, I decide things need to step up a notch. Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain are coming to town? Two of my favorite food people on this Earth? Sure I’ll Tweet it. And buy VIP tickets. And attempt to sit in the front row. And try not to drool. We Facebook, email, and express our excitement over the event and promise THIS night, we will finally meet face to face. Once and for all.
Evening arrives and it’s a sold-out smash. Smiles all around, foodie excitement and hilarity. The Abbott and Costello of food take the stage and trade barbs back and forth. The Hubby and I howl and jump excitedly in our seats, punching each other in the arm each time Tony or The Silver Fox answers one of the questions I submitted. For the record? They answered SIX. Count ‘em. Six. I was in hog heaven. It was almost like having a private interview. Almost. Just with hundreds of people interfering. How very annoying ;)
I was thrilled she’d shown them my questions and looked around all night to thank her. I’d seen her pic online, and so thought I’d recognize her right away. Leaned over an adorable couple to my right at one point to say hello to our friends Harrison and Jennifer from Brookville. Looked and looked, but sadly, no Tami to be found. Went to the VIP event, had a cocktail and sailed home on Cloud Nine, grateful once again we had someone in town putting extravaganzas of this sort together.
It wasn’t until the next day after the hoopla of the night wore down I realized that adorable couple had actually BEEN Tami and her husband Mike, chef of Tavola, our favorite Italian place. DOH! Talk about a Homer Simpson moment. Except after mentioning it to friends I’m finding it’s not that uncommon, more a quintessential Charlottesville moment than a social faux pas.
To have “talked” to this woman for MONTHS, and not immediately recognize her, further to have LEANED OVER HER to speak to someone else? I was beyond mortified. So what did I do?
I emailed her an apology.
Thankfully, Tami is beyond gracious and apologized herself. In the whirlwind of the night she hadn’t realized I was me either. Phew. And so, to rectify things and finally put this awkward 21st century social media snafu behind us, she invited us to dinner at Tavola. A true, face to face old-fashioned dinner.
It was marvelous. From the wine to the appies to the pasta to the dessert. And I can chalk this experience off my bucket list of things to do: Dine at a restaurant where you know the chef and owner. Because being beer people, The Hubby and I never have any idea what wine to get. Tami pointed us in the right direction straight away. And the 2009 Crivelli Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato she selected? Spectacular. Light and flowery with a slight peppery finish. My new favorite red.
As were all the dishes we tried. Tuna belly bruschette, baked littleneck clams, beef carpaccio. And the pastas? Housemade and to DIE for. My garganelli con funghi e porri (pasta with roasted cremini mushrooms, melted leeks, upland cress, and truffled pecorino) melted on my tongue like butter. Gourmet comfort food. Hubby’s ragu was unctuous and soul-healing. Tami’s capellini gamberi “raucci” is a house specialty and an amazing amalgamation of pasta, shrimp, tomatoes, lemon, and gorgonzola-garlic butter. Screw you Batali, this seafood pasta is AWESOME with cheese.
As we ate, Tami described her husband’s signature dish and how Michael came up with the combination long ago as a line cook, eventually deciding with Tami to design his first restaurant around it. She and Mike developed Tavola as a casual place full of good food similar to the restaurants Mike got his start in. A place where you don’t need a reservation – where you can arrive, hang out at the bar with wine if the place is crowded, and be guaranteed a damn fine meal when you sit down.
We talked about how often the food industry can sink into an “us versus them” mentality. When really, we’re all on the same side. We all want to create and enjoy a good meal. To recreate that sense of community which revolves around food like we all had as kids around the Sunday dinner table, or at the picnic table, or at the weeknight table over Spaghetti-O’s.
There’s so much for us to be excited about in Charlottesville. Not to get all “Kumbaya”, but by keeping focused on the goal we can show the rest of the world what we’re about. And after a bottle of Crivelli and a belly full of pasta and such optimistic company, this sure seems possible. Tami and her husband create an excitement and passion about what they do that’s infectious. It makes you want to dine there again and again. And it made me feel silly we hadn’t done this much sooner.
Hubby and I left sated and content. Several weeks later, Tami compounded her generosity by sending me an email with the food opportunity of a lifetime: to volunteer at an event where both Chef Alice Waters and Chef Scott Peacock would be cooking (blog in the works). I’m not sure what I did to deserve such wonderful gifts, but I’ll take them. And I’m so grateful.
After the Facebook message I sent (of course) where I thanked her profusely, Tami replied, “It was my pleasure. One step at a time I aim to unite this community through food!” She and Mike are doing exactly that. And Charlottesville is the better for it. I’m so glad I stepped away from the computer for once and actually MET someone face to face. It was so pleasant I might just do it again. Right after I go check Pinterest.