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Posts from the ‘restaurants’ Category

Belly Up to the Bar.

Don’t forget! My podcast, Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons, premieres ONE WEEK FROM TODAY! Friday, February 27, 2015. Right here, and on iTunes, and at my new podcast website. Which I will reveal one week from today ;) Cheers!

In this article, composed for his incredibly awesome magazine, Lucky Peach, Chef David Chang extols the virtues of sitting at the bar. He explains not only is it the best seat in the house, but you never have to call ahead.

I could’ve written this article in my sleep. In fact I did, for C-Ville’s Bites and Brews a few years back. The Hubby and I ALWAYS sit at the bar if we can manage it. Any given night if you walk into a restaurant where we are wolfing down food and gulping down cocktails you’ll find us at our perch, probably staring intently at the goodies coming from the kitchen, gazing longingly at the shiny bottles lined up like soldiers, and smiling endearingly at the bartender because he’s the one making our drinks, the coolest person in the place. I should know. I used to bartend. And it’s still the best job I’ve ever had.

The best reason is the view. You’re higher than everyone and can pretend you’re somebody even if you’re wearing dingy dungarees because you just finished weeding your garden. I love perching on a stool, legs crossed just so, like it’s 1977 and this is Studio 54. Plus, when you perch your gaze travels downward. Onto people’s plates. There’s no sneakier way to spy on what folks are eating, and thus make an informed opinion on what to order, than sitting at the bar. Not only that, the bar is usually somewhere near the kitchen, so you have a first-eye view (and smell) of the goodies coming out the door.

The first time Hubby and I discovered the virtues of bar-sitting was at Emeril’s in Las Vegas. We’d forgotten to make reservations and the place was packed. No matter two seats at the bar were wide open. Not only did we have a grand time, but the floor show of dishes emerging from the kitchen all night was more sexy than Zumanity. Granted, it’s not hard to be sexier than Zumanity but you get my drift.

Many people wrongly assume the bar is just for drinking. Not so. I’ve never been to a restaurant where they wouldn’t willingly offer you a menu. Most bars are full service. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s just good business. If you order something yummy and the drunk guy next to you finds it appealing, he might order something too.

The bartender often knows what to order. Become his friend. Talk to him or her. Ask the bartender to recommend a cocktail, a wine, an appetizer, or a main dish. They readily will. And I promise you it will be delicious. Quite often your bartender will have worked there longer than your server, especially in a town like Charlottesville where a good 80% are students hustling for beer money. It naturally follows the bartender will know more about what (and what not) to order.

It’s pretty cool to saunter past the hordes waiting at the door, flat buzzers clutched tightly in their hands, hoping at any minute they will start bleeping red lights madly signaling their table is ready. When you’re a bar sitter, you never have to make reservations. Decide at the last minute on a Saturday you want to go out? Head for the bar. Bar is full? No matter, do what you’d do anyway. Get yourself a cocktail at the bar and wait. I’ll bet you $20 you’ll wait less than other folks. Because they’re waiting for a table, and they have probably been waiting for a while.

Some of our best meal experiences have been at the bar. Downing vodka and caviar at Red Square in Las Vegas. The entire bar was topped with ice, making us feel like we were the 1% in the movie Snowpiercer. You wouldn’t get that experience at a table. Absinthe pipes imbibed at Sage in Las Vegas, and everyone who walked past stopping to ask us what in the hell we were drinking which resulted in some fine conversations. We’d never have had that in a booth. The Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in Pittsburgh was a home away from home, and the conversations we had while watching baseball games all the while gazing at the THIRTY BELGIAN DRAFT taps down the beautiful wooden bar are precious memories. Whenever someone strikes out, we still yell, “Nice fucking swing you pansy ass!” because years ago a drunk girl yelled this at a Pirate. At the bar. Still my favorite bar.

Closer to home at Bonefish Grill I had one of the best gin martinis I’ve ever had in my life, which resulted in a long conversation with the bartender about his methods and the virtues of a great martini. At our first visit to Beer Run we sat at the bar and met the owner, Josh Hunt, who directed us toward the best drafts. Now we’d never sit anywhere else.

Then there are those restaurants who don’t take reservations in the first place, like Tavola, so you end up at the bar waiting anyway. These folks hold a close, dear place in my food-seeking heart. I LOVE never having to plan to eat, and waiting at the bar is never a problem because we love it there. One of my biggest pet peeves is walking into an empty restaurant and having the hostess ask, “Do you have a reservation?” then giving me the stink eye when we say no. Not requiring reservations makes me love you more. And sitting at the bar removes that stressor entirely, making the meal an even more enjoyable experience.

Sit at the bar people! The minute you walk through the door, saunter past the crowd, inform the hostess of your lack of reservation and indicate with a wave where you’ll be dining. Take in her look of relief, her warm smile (she loves you already) before walking toward the far end of the bar nearest the kitchen. Find yourself a comfy spot. Perch on that stool as if you own the place. Ask the bartender for a menu. And prepare to have fun because you’ll be drinking and eating long before anyone else. Plus there’s no time limit. As long as you’re eating or imbibing, no one will ask you to leave! What could be better than that on a crowded Saturday night?

Red flashy buzzer things are so 2000’s people. Plus, I bet they’re germier than a Grand Central Station toilet seat. Forego them. Do what the cool kids do. Sit at the bar.

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 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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