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Posts from the ‘local heroes’ 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.

Cookin’ Cheap.

I used to be a cooking show addict. “Used to be” the operative phrase here. These days the shows rely on gimmicks. Folks are either racing and running through grocery store aisles or they’re opening secretive boxes full of strange mounds of geoduck and fermented calf brains trying to create dinner. Don’t even get me started on that chubby, platinum-spiky-haired douche or that pseudo punk rock chick on Cooking Channel whose voice makes my skin crawl. Someone online compared her to Amy Sedaris and if I was Amy, I’d haul off and hit her. You could say I’m not a fan.

I like my cooking shows straightforward. Someone announces they’re going to cook and then they do. Sara Moulton of Gourmet Live, or Jeff Smith from the Frugal Gourmet. Remember how he bossed around poor assistant Craig? Then he got into all that trouble and disappeared off the face of the earth. I adore Ina. And I miss Mario Batali’s old show, where celebrities like Issac Mizrahi and Ileana Douglas sipped wine while he whipped up sumptuous homemade pasta.

But the show I miss most aired weekends on PBS. Cookin’ Cheap will always and forever amen be my favorite cooking show. Why? Not only did they have a straightforward format of we’re going to cook something, then cook something, then talk about how they cooked something, then sit down to eat it, but they were funny as hell. Pee your pants then have to go change funny. There will never be another show like it, which is sad.

Cookin’ Cheap was a low-rent affair syndicated out of Roanoke, Virginia, and their eventual popularity was such if you mentioned the show most people up and down the Eastern Seaboard with PBS had at least heard of it. Even The Hubby born and raised in Buffalo had watched once or twice and thought, “What the fuck?”

What made the show special was the chemistry between hosts Laban Johnson and Larry Bly, two Southern gentlemen who liked to cook and throw barbs at one another while doing it. Larry might be sautéing onions and Laban would bark, “Ain’t you done yet?!? I need to add this cream of mushroom soup!” and Larry would shoot back, “Hold your horses Grumpy, I’m going as fast as I can!” Insert ugly laugh here. Their kitchen looked like my Momma’s, full of 1970’s Autumn Gold appliances. They talked like my relatives, saying things like, “Y’all” and “Afta-while.” Their measurements weren’t all that exact, they had no professional chopping skills, and mise en place was a concept they might have considered briefly, then discarded as just too much damn work. Just like in my Momma’s kitchen.

And the food wasn’t fancy, oh no. Cans were opened, Bisquick was used, and items like Miracle Whip and Velveeta were popular ingredients. There were copious amounts of *gasp* MARGARINE of all things. I remember chocolate cakes made with mayonnaise, cans of fruit cocktail, and casseroles. Lots and lots of casseroles, usually with Ritz crackers crumbled on the top. Often they’d implement leftover ingredients used in previous episodes, and mention over and over again how to save money, for example using canned sweet potatoes instead of fresh because they were cheaper. Just like in my family kitchen.

And every episode about midway through, they’d trot out The Cook Sisters, Laban and Larry in bad drag, dressed as old Southern grandmas, dispensing advice. And let’s not forget Doris, their adorable assistant who looked liked she was four feet high and was always reduced to giggle fits every time she was asked to come help. Towards the end of the program their very own kitchen witch, one of those wooden ones you get at “Arts and Crap Shows”, would fly in on a string with a question from a viewer. Usually hitting Laban right in the head. Like Hee Haw with food!

My favorite part was the viewer recipes. Faithful fans sent in their most treasured family heirlooms, Laban and Larry would whip them up, and render a verdict. The stank face they’d make when a recipe didn’t quite work out was priceless! I’ll never forget Laban crinkling up his nose at one particularly awful casserole and declaring, “Well, I might serve this to the kids on a desperate Monday night, but it’s certainly not good enuf fa-cumpny!” Blam! Pow! Take that Aunt Edith!

The puns were a favorite part as well. There were more awful puns in this show than in a century of knock-knock jokes. On my deathbed I’ll remember the chitlin’ episode. Yes, chitterlings. Laban carefully removed the chitterlings from the package and was in the process of cleaning them. With a totally straight face, he looked right into the camera and declared, “Takes a lot of GUTS to make this here recipe!” I spewed my coffee across the room and guffawed for 10 minutes straight.

And I was usually drinking coffee while watching Cookin’ Cheap, which aired Saturday afternoons in my Richmond, Virginia hometown. In the early 90’s I had no life. Between going to college full-time and working two jobs, any down time was spent eating in front of the TV or sleeping. I kept Friday nights open for partying, and usually closed the Willow Lawn Benetton store on Saturday nights, or maybe it was the Mrs. Fields store where I was manager. I’ll admit that whole decade remains ever so foggy. But I have vivid, fond memories of sitting in front of my tiny black and white TV in my shitty apartment, hung over, watching Cookin’ Cheap before catching the Number 6 bus up West Broad Street to Willow Lawn.

Laban and Larry got me through a lot of long weekends with their friendship and their laughter. I don’t remember a lot of the recipes, and I’m not sure I really learned any cooking techniques from them either, but who cares? They’re still my favorite cooking show. Because you could tell they enjoyed cooking, loved food, and were very dear friends. At a time when all I did was study, dance, drink, and work, I envied that kind of camaraderie and friendship.

You can still view episodes of Cookin’ Cheap on YouTube, and buy a cookbook from the show. There’s not a whole lot going on at the website (Larry promises aprons with logos and personal appearances “soon”), but a great “Memorable Moments” video is posted below. Be forewarned. You will do the ugly laugh. Loudly and often.

Cookin’ Cheap was also profiled in the New York Times in 2010 under the headline, “Best Cookin’ Show Ever”, and someone even wrote an academic paper about their cross-dressing ways. There’s a fan group on Facebook, but they don’t post an awful lot. Laban Johnson died in 1999 from a bad heart. He was only 57. According to Wikipedia, “Before his death, Johnson left instructions for Larry Bly to write and deliver his eulogy at his funeral, which he did. Johnson was replaced by Doug Patterson, his hand picked successor, for the remainder of the show’s run.”

And although Larry continued the show with new host Doug, it just wasn’t the same for me. The new guy was nice, but the whole reason I adored the show was the love/hate “old married couple” friendship aspect of Laban and Larry. That and the puns. And the Velveeta. To me Cookin’ Cheap will always be the best cooking show there ever was. Period. Amen. Rest in peace Laban. Making a casserole tonight in your honor buddy.


Best of 2014.

It’s that time again. Since 2008 I’ve handed down golden forks to the best dishes in and around Charlottesville. But first, a few announcements. While I have your attention.

I’m published! In at least one other place beside this blog ;) Deep within the pages of the 2015 Virginia Travel Guide, page 22 to be exact and distributed in January, you’ll find an article about hidden food gems. Places serving incredible eats that don’t necessarily look “gourmet” from the street. Who did I write about? You’ll have to visit your friendly neighborhood Virginia Welcome Center to find out. Or check back here when I get my copy and crow a bit more. I will tell you this. I fought like hell for Sally Bell’s Kitchen but they wouldn’t allow it because Sally Bell’s has no seating area. Whatever. They’re still number one in my book.

Second announcement. This is major folks. I’m creating a podcast! Over the years I’ve been interviewed for a few (you can listen here and here) and I did several food segments for the Cville Podcasting Network. I miss it. A lot. From your emails I gather you’d like to read more about what’s happening in the Cville-area food scene. More food news, gossip, events and the like.

Well, I don’t want to write about that. But I’ll sure as hell talk about it. Loudly and with views. Until the cows come home drunk and repentant. I’m sure I’ll ruffle some feathers, wouldn’t be a good podcast otherwise. Where we live and what we eat is important. Folks got opinions. In fact my goal is to sound as LITTLE like an episode of SNL’s “Schweddy Balls” as possible. I want people laughing but not because I sound like a loaf of white bread served with plain rice, weak tea, and melba toast. Terry Gross I ain’t. Look for my new podcast, edacious, to debut here and on iTunes, Stitcher, and all the regular hangouts in February 2015.

Without further ado, here are my Best Dishes of 2014 in alphabetical order. Let me state, as I do every year, these are my opinions and you will probably have different ones. Variety makes the world go around. It’s like the Rock Hall of Fame. I’m pissed Green Day got in, but other people think Billie Joe is gold. We can still coexist. What we eat is important but in the end, it’s just food. Every December I sit at my desk and reminisce on what I ate. What I remember goes on the list. The very best dish I ate? The Chicken Congee at The Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, which might say something about the state of my stomach slash appetite in 2014. But what were the dishes I remembered in Charlottesville? My 14 for 2014 are below.

Best Charlottesville Dishes of 2014

Barbecue Exchange – Fried Chicken
Chef Craig Hartman’s establishment seems to hit my list in some form or fashion every year, probably because he’s always trying out new ways to smoke, fry, and barbecue. This year it’s the fried chicken, only served at the yearly Porkapalooza gathering in February. Now, I’ve tasted every fried bird Charlottesville and its environs has to offer, even judged a contest, and this is hands down, the best. Crispy on the outside, juicy beyond belief on the inside. Plus it passes the “next-day” test by tasting even better cold. Grace Kelly would be proud to offer up a leg or breast to Mr. Grant.

Bizou – Crab Cakes
I ate this dish outdoors over the summer when the humidity was high and all I could think about was the beach and boat drinks. Bizou’s crab cakes took me right there. Delicate and sweet these crab cakes transported me to the Outer Banks. Instantly I’m in a lounger on vacation and the biggest decision I have to make today is what to eat for dinner. Easy! An entire bowl of the fried polenta bites they serve alongside. Now if I could just convince the chefs to put that on the menu.

Bodo’s Bagels – Pastrami & Swiss on an Everything Bagel
This one HAD to go on the list because I inhaled one at least 3 times a month the entire year. My go to “feel-better-lunch-because-the-day-has-been-shitty” sandwich. Four dollars and eight cents plain, and just a little more with lettuce, tomato, and mustard. Tender meat, melty Swiss, on a perfectly boiled and baked New York Everything. Half for lunch, the other half for dinner and my day goes from shitty to stellar.

Crozet Pizza – Hero Pizza
“What’s the best pizza in Charlottesville?” is a volatile question around here. My assertion, and I’m willing to argue this until end of days, is a good slice holds its toppings. When you lift a slice, there should be no avalanche of cheese and sauce onto your plate. Avalanche = soggy crust. Crozet Pizza delivers. The housemade sausage on this pie is super, the peppers offer great acid and heat, and the crust holds its own, a nice thin crust with some crispiness and a good chew. Damn, now I want some.

Eppie’s – Pimento Cheese Grits
I’ve been a huge fan of Eppie’s since the day one. Their 3-veggie plate with a side of cornbread is a lunch staple. The ham on pumpkin bread biscuits are to die for. But this year they added pimento cheese grits and I heard an angel’s choir. I’ve eaten these before many places, but something about the grits at Eppie’s is just better. It’s like they took that machine Jeff Goldblum used in “The Fly”, threw some grits and pimento cheese into it, and created a new yummy organism. It’s not grits, it’s not pimento cheese, they are actually, irrevocably melded into one cheesy, creamy concoction. And the human race is all the better for it.

Kokoro – Sushi
When the former sushi chef from TEN opens a new restaurant with wife in tow, you go. Kokoro is less upscale, but only in price. Sushi portions are generous, tasty, and the menu so extensive I find myself torn with each visit. Will it be the omakase (chef’s choice), or some of my favorite rolls? Maybe a chirashi bowl? Or maybe this visit I’ll forgo sushi entirely in favor of their wonderful ramen (9 different kinds!), yakisoba, or kushikatsu skewers? Half the fun is trying to decide.

Mellow Mushroom – Holy Shitake Pie
A new pizza has usurped the Buffalo Chicken pie we usually get. The Holy Shitake is a glorious amalgamation of three kinds of mushrooms, three kinds of cheeses, sweet-like-candy caramelized onions, and a garlic aioli so luscious I want to stick my head in the bowl. It passes the “even better cold” test and all those shrooms play against the sweet onion and tang of the aioli to create something I find myself craving when I think “pizza”. Get you some.

Parallel 38 – Wine
This restaurant is fast-becoming a “to go” spot for our date nights, not only for its amazing food, but because owner Justin Ross knows wine. Really, really well. As an admitted beer fanatic I am woefully ignorant on wine’s language. But the first time I ordered a glass, the blinders on my eyes were lifted. My tastebuds opened up and declared a tiny hallelujah. THIS is what properly decanted wine is supposed to taste like! Ross and his staff have invested countless hours to make sure each glass of wine you order tastes like the cork was just popped from the bottle. He has ruined me for any other wine bar.

Pasture – Smoky Thai Whole Wings
Holy crow were they amazing! Served as a special for a few weeks last summer, these wings tasted of smoked birdy goodness through and through, fried golden, then topped with a sweet hot sauce I still dream about. Maybe if I close my eyes, click my heels together three times, spin around and wish really hard, Chef Jason Alley will make them at PastureQ sometime.

Red Pump Kitchen – Squid Ink Tagliatelle, Clams, PEI Mussels, Bay Scallops, Uni Butter
This dish was just stunning. Squid ink pasta? I can take it or leave it, but the combination of briny, sweet shellfish with the lovely umami of the pasta and uni butter is magic. The Hubby ordered this dish, and I spent the entire rest of the evening coveting his plate. And dipping my bread into the buttery sauce. It made uni butter my new favorite thing. Apparently a lot of folks agree. The waiter told us they tried to take it off the menu with the season’s change, and there was an uproar.

Rocksalt – Lamb and Clams
This was a dish I had heard about weeks before I tried it. Such a weird combination I was all set to hate it. I love when I’m wrong. The spicy chew of the merguez sausage blends wonderfully with the sweet mineral quality of the ale-roasted clams. The green harissa provides nice acid and bite and the grilled bread sops up all the good juices left over. As always, I requested seconds on the bread to soak up every last drop. Great with beer! I anticipate ordering this every time I visit.

Sedona Taphouse – Fish Tacos
Bright, bright, bright. That’s how I describe the taste of these wee beauties. I get two for dinner with a beer and it’s enough for me, but hungrier types might enjoy them as an appetizer. Broiled tilapia topped with avocado and pineapple/mango salsa. A tiny taste of summer. Sedona’s huge beer selection is just an extra added bonus.

Tavola – Pappardelle Bolognese
I found myself craving this comforting dish Christmas Week, when it seemed every day I had to pull on my waders to venture out, and the grey, rainy skies seemed like they’d never end. House made pasta, cooked to al dente perfection with some nice hearty meat sauce wrapped around it. Deep beefy flavor with just a touch of game from what I guess is organ meats. It reminds me of the best ragu I ever had at The White Boar in Florence, Italy. It reminds me that although the weather isn’t perfect, some dishes are.

The Shack – Crispy Soft Shell Crab, Greens, Chick Peas, Green Garlic
I’ll admit it. The Shack is my favorite restaurant right now. Not only does it fulfill my “diner” sensibilities by being a restaurant you can visit in jeans, and having the prerequisite mismatched dishes, chairs and tables, it fulfills the need for a fancy “Chef’s Tasting” gourmet experience on the few occasions I crave what I like to call “tweezer food”. Chef Ian Boden has created something special in Staunton, and every time I visit I send him good restaurant success juju for many years to come. Soft shell crabs are one of my absolute favorite dishes, and it’s rare they’re prepared right. The Shack’s version is beyond fresh, light and crispy on the outside, meaty and sweet on the inside, and the soft notes of the green garlic blend nicely with the creaminess of the chick peas and the light bitter of the greens. Delightful.

Honorable Mentions
Barbecue Exchange – Brunswick Stew
Comfort – The Appalachian Memoir Dinner at Comfort (not in the Cville area, but I’ll be remembering this meal for a long time)
El Tepeyac – Pupusa Con Loroco
Horse & Buggy Produce – Purple Sweet Potatoes
Kokoro – Tonkotsu Ramen
Now & Zen – Tonkotsu Ramen
Pasture – Black Bean Falafel (I miss them! * Sniff *)
Public Fish & Oyster House – Smoked Trout Dip
Red Pump Kitchen – Sourdough Bread
The Virginian – Reuben & Fries

Drool-Worthy Hall of Fame (3 or more golden forks)
Barbecue Exchange – Smoked Turkey

For the first time ever, I’ve decided if you earn three golden forks you get into my own little hall of fame of deliciousness. I’ve said it before about this turkey, and I’ll say it again. If I can help it, I will never cook another bird. Because it won’t be as good. The smoke permeates this bird so completely it’s as if each bite is infused with a cabin-in-the-woods homey quality that makes you want to snuggle in your flannel pajamas. And so sweet! Gah! Kept looking at the meat wondering if he used maple wood because I swear I tasted maple syrup. Definitely drool-worthy.

Disagree? Let me know in the comments. What did you eat that was memorable? Cheers, many thanks, and be edacious in 2015!

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