Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jinx’s Pit Stop

Once I spent an early weekend morning at the Collier’s towing lot. I was met by an overweight man outside who after finishing his coke crushed the can in his hand and threw it on the ground. I followed him into the house-turned-office where he generated a receipt. He just as easily could have led me into Jinx’s barbecue joint.

Once you cross the threshold you see everything there is to see. There are two booths and a stale tobacco smoke smell. The walls are covered with old tin signs, newspaper clippings, photographs. There are VHS videos and books in an old display case.

It’s a one man operation, a pit in the backyard, smoking away. I don’t think the experience of it can be separated from the food, pulled pork sandwiches on white bread. The cole slaw was excellent. It’s worth the trip, just don’t wear your nicest coat.

1307 E. Market Street

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

El Dorado

Why don't you come to your senses?
Opening near McGrady's in the old Monticello Diary building, El Dorado serves up Mexican and Salvadorean food. Since they've recently opened, they do not yet have an ABC license, so ordering a margarita or the sangria will have to wait. It's too bad because the tortilla chips would have been really good with a margarita. The menu is expansive and difficult to digest the first time. The veggie burrito will leave enough for lunch the next day. The combinacion guanaca includes a chicken tamale, a papusa, rice, beans, cabbage, and plantains. Perhaps it is unfair to compare this restaurant to its in town competition at this point. El Dorado joins Guadelajara, Aqui es Mexico (recently just moved into a bigger space), and El Puerto. The yellow walls and cavernous rooms of El Dorado give it a leg up. It looks like the back room will host some festive late nights in the near future. El Dorado is a welcome addition to the food node on that part of Preston.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Para Coffee

Officially opening last Thursday, Para Coffee (pronounced the Spanish way) is serving caffeine to anyone looking for some. It's many merits were enumerated here. I failed to mention they have free Wi-fi.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Turk Mountain

From the Turk Gap Parking area on the east side of Skyline Drive (Mile 94) the peak of Turk Mountain is 1.1 miles. The parking lot is only 10 miles from the southern entrance to the park. To reach the trail cross Skyline Drive to the western side. Follow the AT south for .2 miles and then follow the trail to the top. The best views are westward across a rock field. Crimora lies closest in the valley below. There are views of the Allegheny mountains across Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain to the the northwest. On the way up we were surprised by a rattlesnake. By the time we made it down he had slithered away.

Here's his angular head among the leaves and moss.
The telltale rattle.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Para Coffee

A sign outside Starbucks on the corner usually points the way. Para Coffee opened Monday, September 11, 2008. It's the independent coffeeshop that every college town community needs. It doesn't hurt that it's an alternative to Starbucks and Fox Park wasn't completely filling that niche. Para joins a bunch of other area coffeeshops.

Para has the eclectic furniture, a hallmark of independent coffeeshops. There is plenty of natural light. Outdoor seating is available. The old building, the previous home of Blue Wheel Bikes and then mod, couldn't be a better place for a coffeeshop. The bar is made of a gorgeous wood. The coffee served will be the hometown roasted Shenandoah Joe's. Snacks include Albemarle Baking Company goods and Spudnuts. Most people probably don't care but their plastic cups for iced tea are recyclable and the coffee is served in paper cups.

This place has been a success. There's been a void ever since the ERC (espresso royale caffe) closed, and that place didn't even have good coffee. The only thing going for it was the indie music and the do-it-yourself pizzas.

Admittedly, I've only been in Fox Park a few times, but every time I'm in there they play old Radiohead. In with the new!

Free Wi-fi!
19 Elliewood Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
(434) 293-4412

M-F: 8AM - 10PM
Sat: 9AM - 10PM

Boylan Heights

Replacing Orbitz Billiards on the corner of 14th Street and University Avenue, Boylan Heights opened September 5th. It's a burger joint first with about half the beers of the previous establishment. Everything else about it is an improvement. The garage doors are still in place and tonight they were open. A CSX train with five engines, laden with gravel cars, roared by during dinner. The dungeon-like atmosphere of Orbitz has somehow been scrubbed away. The multi-colored wall is painted over and the astronaut hidden by an oversized painting.

This is not your average corner food. The cheeseburger was certainly gourmet and the pulled pork was tasty. It's made with a generous amount of Stubb's BBQ sauce and topped with cole slaw. Sweet potato fries are not yet available, but they will be. Orbitz served a niche for a while but it was time for it to go. Writing this makes me wonder what's keeping St. Maarten's open.

Boylan Heights, in a revamped space with better food, is a welcome addition to Corner restaurants.

Holy crap, happy hour is cheap. $2 dollar pints from 4-7 every day. Thursday the special lasts until 9pm.

Dinner for 2: $22

102 14th St
Charlottesville, VA 22903
(434) 984-5707

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bottles and Cans and Plastic Cups

In the past it has been prior to the first day of school, but this year the Wertland Street block party was on Saturday night. And they came. At times it was hard to drive through the crowds that poured into the streets. The cops were on hand providing crowd control.
If the size of a party can be measured by the amount of trash left over afterwards, this one was a doozy. Unfortunately the solo cups are not recyclable.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

White Oak Canyon

The Lower Falls and swimming hole.An hour from C-ville, White Oak Canyon is all around wonderful. The drive through Madison County countryside is worth the trip. The pay-lot is $8 per person. The land the parking lot is on is leased from the Graves family. 0.2 miles from the trailhead is the border of Shenandoah Nat'l Park. It's 3 miles to the top of the upper falls. It took us three hours to go up and back at a brisk pace with a break for lunch. Despite the name, there are many species of oaks and a fair number of hickory nuts littering the trail. There are the ever present tulip poplars and a few sycamores. We were warned about rattlesnakes, but all we saw were centipedes and butterflys. This hike is a must for any Charlottesvillian.

To get there take 29 north to Madison. Drive through downtown Madison. After town bear left onto 231 North. Turn Left on Route 670 at Banco. Take Route 643 in Syria to Route 600. Bear left and follow the signs to White Oak Canyon parking area.

Bonnie Prince Billy - 8/09/08

BPB rolled into the Gravity Lounge last night. Since this was a Satellite Ballroom Presents show, I assume that it was originally intended for the old Corner digs. To accomodate the crowds at the smaller Gravity Lounge, Mr Billy played a 7 and 10PM show. I can't help but think that the 7PM show was for old people like myself. Even if the band was saving up for the 10PM show, it was an amazing performance. BPB, who sounds just like Will Oldham, is touring with his brother and band The Onamoanan. They shared the stage evenly for most of the set. Sarah White came on stage for three of the songs and she sounded great. The show was so good I moved Guatemalan Handshake to the top of my Netflix queue.

Raphine, VA

Just west of I-81 exit 205 lies the hamlet of Raphine, VA. About an hour from C-ville, we hit the agritourism trio of Wade’s Mill, Orchardside Farm, and Rockbridge Winery. Each place was more bucolic than the last.

Wheat Berries!

Wade’s Mill was founded in 1750. The flour is stone ground and largely unadulterated. There is a water wheel that can run one set of stones, but there are two run by electricity. We were assured by the woman running the shop that the process still hews closely to how it was done a hundred years ago: no heating, no bleaching, no chemicals. The winter wheat and yellow corn comes from the Shenandoah Valley, the white corn from Nebraska, and the buckwheat from Canada. According to the shopkeeper, business is picking up. This has been helped in part by a recent decision by W&L to buy more local food.

We bought three 5-lb. bags or wheat flour. This is in addition to the 1-lb. bag of buckwheat I bought from Foods of all Nations. I’ve been using it to make buckwheat oatmeal bread. If you call Wade’s ahead of your arrival, they’ll fill a 25-lb. bag for you. In the freezer the flour will last 6 months. The shelf life is otherwise shorter than other store bought wheat because there are less preservatives.

Orchardside Farm is just a little further down the road. There is a thornless blackberry orchard and a butterfly garden. On the same property is a small house which serves as a yarn store. Women were sitting around a large wooden table knitting and talking about their children. Dogs ran in and out. There is a wide selection of reasonably priced yarn and the women were quick to help and offer their advice.

Closer to the highway is the Rockbridge Vineyard. This winery includes 18 acres of grapes and looks more like a farm than other wineries in the area. Overall it was an impressive selection of wines. We ended up taking home a couple bottles of Tuscarora Red ($10) and a bottle of Norton. The latter is a candidate for our 100 mile Thanksgiving.

Before heading back to Charlottesville, we ate lunch at the Fairfield Diner at the recommendation of our wine pourer. After lunch we enjoyed a short hike at the St. Mary’s Wilderness Area.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Pizza Roundup

Here's a survey of Charlottesville's cheese pizza slices, for when you're not looking for a whole pie.

1. Anna’s #9

The Slice: thin crust, equal proportions crust and sauce/cheese. Doughy crust with flour dusting.

Price: $2.02

The Place: Amidst the shops at Fontaine, the old shopping center with a drycleaner, Chinese restaurant, and Laundromat. There is plenty of character to go around. The interior clearly has not been renovated since the 70’s (?).

Waste: 1. Best on a reused plastic plate. 2. Unadulterated white paper plate. 3. If not specified, you’ll be thwarted by a Styrofoam box.

Crowd: Locals, Students, Little league teams.

2. Christian’s – Corner

The Slice: thin crust, right amount of cheese and sauce all the way to the edge of the crust. This place is made for pizza by the slice and they excel. They have readily accessible, though chained to the wall, oregano, parmesan, and red pepper flake shakers.

Price: $2 (downtown is $2.50)

The Place: On the east side of 14th St. near the train bridge. There is outdoor seating and plenty of room indoors at high chaired tables. It’s a shiny bright place.

Waste: white paper plate coated with waxy covering on top, all paper below.

Crowd: students.

3. Bolli’s

The Slice: Not outfitted for single slices but accommodating requests, Bolli slices look like shredded cheese from a store-bought pack was sprinkled on top. Things get a little thick on top and these are clearly not high quality ingredients. It’s recognizable as a slice of cheese, just not the ideal.

Price: $1.93

The Place: Classic West Main Street in an old house with a still recognizable old carriageway.

Waste: If you’re eating it there, they’ll serve it on a parquet plate with plasticware.

Crowd: Randoms, deliverymen

4. Christian’s Downtown

The Slice: so variable sometimes, layered with fluorescent orange grease and goopy cheese or aged to perfection. At its best, this is the best slice around.

Price: $2.00

The Place: A corner on the mall really can’t be beat. The exposed brick interior, outdoor seating, fishbowl spots facing the mall make this place fun to visit.

Waste: Same as the other Christian’s

Crowd: As variable as the slice. During the week there are mall regulars, the people who have had their mugs painted by the artists in residence in front of the regal cinemas, and on the weekend there are families and teenage couples.

5. Casella’s

The Slice: Casella’s is set up for the walk-in slice, but most people sit down or take out whole pies. The cheese slice tastes more like New York pizza than most. It’s a little thick for my liking. The taste isn’t sufficient enough to overcome the price and locale.

Price: $2.67

The Place: Barracks Road Shopping Center. Along with outlet malls, places like this belong in their own level of hell.

Waste: served on a top-coated paper plate if to go or it can be eaten there waste-free.

Crowd: hungry shoppers (Charging through Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft, and Talbot’s is exhausting), suburban families, teenie boppers.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Box

For about a month The Box has been serving asian noodle dishes and other asian fare. It takes the place of Atomic Burrito in the same building as Live Arts on Second Street SE. The name is a little rough, but the food makes up for it. Build your own box or bowl by selecting a noodle, a sauce (yeah panang curry), a skewer (a meat, veggie, or tofu), and add-ons. Cilantro and chopped peanuts are good choices. There’s also asian slaw, which can’t ever measure up to good southern slaw, but it’s good, nonetheless. Scallion pancakes were a good way to start Chase it all down with a choice selection of bottled beers.

Currently Second Street is a bit of a wreck with the gutted façade and demolition of the Boxer Learning building making way for a future nine story hotel. With the Box’s doors opening onto the sidewalk, it’s a bright spot on an otherwise desolate short block. It was our server’s second day but she was rocking the place. A giant Mr. Miyagi portrait looms over the bar. He clearly kicks ass.

The prices are incredible: $5.50 for a small box and $7.50 for a large box. But even without the food, it’s a good place to get drinks without dealing with a crowd.

109 2nd St SE
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Next to the railroad tracks, formerly the tea room café, L’etoile is serving up the French name. This place has an exposed downstairs but some more quaint upstairs rooms with original wood floors. Full windows face the sidewalk downstairs and a deck overlooks the tracks. In the winter the front room can get drafty.

This restaurant stands at the western end of the restaurant mile. This evening they offered a salad l’etoile, mixed greens, roasted beets, Roquefort bleu cheese, red onion, pine nuts, and balsamic vinaigrette. The vegetarian entrée option was Lyonnaise Potato Pierogis, tomato salad over local arugala with lemon-chive crème fraiche. For dessert there was a Pot d’crème or a coconut cake.

Two beers were on tap: a red nectar and St. George’s golden ale. The selected wine was a burgundy. The food was delicious, but didn’t seem up to the pretense.

In the dark light of one of the upper rooms, the rough-cut sugar cubes looked like croutons. That led to a surprise.

817 W. Main Street
Charlottesville, VA 22903

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

What Remains

With groundbreaking beginning on April 12, over three weeks of demolition have left only an elevator shaft and one brick wall still standing. A couple large Southern Magnolias did not withstand the powers of disassembly either. But it's hard to argue that what will replace the West parking garage won't be a gift to UVA and the state. The Emily Couric Cancer Center is slated to open in 2011. Here's to three years of another construction project.

Check out the Charlottesville Tomorrow Blog for descriptions of three other upcoming hospital construction projects.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Water plans

As the population here grows and knowing that droughts will occur again like that in 2002, the City and County are awaiting approval of a plan to expand the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. This decision was vetted through numerous public meetings in which four feasible options were presented.

1. Dredge the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir
2. Build a pipeline to the James River.
3. Build a four-foot crest to raise the height of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.
4. Expand the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

A recent Nature Conservancy letter, dated April 30, 2008, stated that organization’s reasons for support of Option #4. “Because dredging the South Fork did not satisfy the water supply needs, the James River pipeline imported water from outside the watershed, and expanding the South Fork threatened the habitat of an endangered species, the Conservancy worked to refine the fourth option.” #1 lost because dredging would need to continue indefinitely. #2 went outside the watershed – a no-no. #4 would allow for the restoration of “natural flows…to the Moorman’s River,” which the Conservancy is a bag fan of. has emerged as a vocal proponent of #1, despite the fact #4 is almost a done deal. According to the website, the Sierra Club has thrown its weight into their corner. The Hook seems to run an article every other week in support of dredging and has featured the group behind the website. Since this was the only side I had read I was in support of dredging but the Conservancy letter seems a little more grounded. They also have bought some land abutting the Reservoir that will continue to serve as forest habitat to migrating water birds. The biggest red flag for expanding the reservoir is its proposed expansion beneath I-64. This doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dr. Ho's Humble Pie

Feeding North Garden and C-ville for a few years, Dr. Ho’s makes some excellent pies. About 9 miles south of Charlottesville along 29, Ho’s sits on the left at the intersection with Plank Road Rt. 692. The shop anchors a white two story shopping center called The Crossroads Store. The décor is hippie, random trinkets and pothead cliches, quite a contrast to the polished exterior of the building. Even with Mellow Mushroom on the Corner, there is enough room in this town for two nexi of drug culture and pizza.

Currently pitchers of Red Hook IPA Long Hammer are on draught for $9. They only have one draught beer but plenty of bottles, Sierra Nevada if you want to join the table reminiscing about Phish tours of yore. Having gone years ago, when the place was under previous ownership, I reckoned a Humble Pie seemed appropriate. A smorgasbord with sweet peppers, onions, mushrooms, Italian sausage, pepperoni, mozzarella, cheddar, a humble pie will do much to dampen that beer buzz. No one leaves underfed. Criticized by some for being topping heavy, this is part of the charm of Ho Pie. As a pit stop to or from points south of Charlottesville, Dr. Ho will not disappoint those craving some good old hippie pizza.

3586 Monacan Trail Rd
North Garden, VA 22959
(434) 245-0000

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day?

The April 15-21 C-ville ("Picking through your curbside recycling") ran a short article about where the materials collected by the RWSA and City of Charlottesville really end up. It turns out that once a day a truck heads to Richmond where the items are sorted and either discarded or sold in bulk, sometimes to as far away as China. Aw shit! The website doesn't provide much more information about where all the stuff goes. It only addresses how easy it is to contract with TFC. A 19News story gave more of an idea where the trash ends up. For county recyclers, here's the RWSA site. We're moving in the right direction, but it's not perfect yet.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Changes at the Anderson Bros. Building

The Cavalier Daily confirmed some rumors today. (see article) It was only a matter of time for Plan 9 on the corner to meet its demise, but Just Curry, Satellite Ballroom, and Higher Grounds are all viable. Having hosted a number of awesome shows in the last three years under the pressed tin ceiling, Satellite Ballroom will be unlikely to reproduce a similar atmosphere elsewhere in town. I think the warehouse next to Atlantic Futon on Commerce Street could be a good spot. It looks empty whenever I've looked in the windows. Just Curry is going to do well in the new transit center location and it sounds like another Corner location may eventually happen. Higher Grounds makes so much money in the hospitals, it may want to just concentrate its efforts, but more coffee places are always a good thing.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Making Room

There are numerous construction projects going on around town. Some of the more notable ones include the South Lawn Project, demolition of the former Boxer/Central Fidelity Bank building, and demolition of a hospital parking garage to make way for the Emily Couric Cancer Center (which began this last weekend). A trip to NYC a week ago showed that some construction trends are unlikely to catch on here, such as building on top of another building (9th Ave in the 50's) or tearing the back off a church to both save the facade and erect a high-rise apartment building behind it (East Village).

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pete's Park -n- Eat

Heading to the Northeast from C-ville often takes one on Route 29 at least as far as Interstate 66. The largest town along this road is Culpeper but pulling that far off the Seminole Trail to find food isn't the best option when trying to make good time. As an alternative to the fast food chains lining the four-lane byway, Pete's Park-n-eat in Opal, Virginia offers the same items as the McDonald's across the street, burgers, fries, and shakes, as they were meant to be served.The fries were fryer crisp, the best part of the road snack. The burger was a thin wafer of bland meat substance that left a bad taste afterward. Waiting longer than at a fast-food restaurant creates anticipation, but the burger was a real disappointment. The milkshakes are much better than the chemical ooze McDonald's dispenses. The selection at Pete's is amazing, from pizza and subs to shrimp baskets and burgers. Plus, there are some overgrown little-shop-of-horrors tropical plants standing watch inside the fifty year old building. With all this character, it's worth stopping once, but there are enough other options to and from Charlottesville to keep me hunting for the perfect food stop on James Madison Highway. Bavarian Chef? Madison Pig 'N Steak? Next time.

Pete's Park-N-Eat
Intersection of 29 and 17
10088 James Madison Highway, Bealeton
phone (540) 439-8928

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Charlottesville CSA's

The April 1-7 C-ville Weekly featured an article about area CSA's. The article provided some excellent background information on the growing number of community supported agriculture organizations. I recommend reading it. I had not before heard of the hard times that befell the Best of What's Around (BOWA) last summer. It turns out "members were offered refunds because of a hitch in production, and a large percentage...left the CSA." Of those with workshares, most of them stayed. Perhaps with more invested in time, those with workshares understood the difficulty of keeping up production. Unlike a few of the other featured farms, BOWA still has some shares available this summer.

The article within the article ("Trouble in paradise: Controversy grows over Horse & Buggy Produce", p. 22) discussed Horse & Buggy, which technically isn't a CSA. The title makes it sounds as if there is a controversy. The bottom line is that CSA people are upset because Horse & Buggy takes customers that would otherwise join a CSA. Brett Wilson, an effusive and energetic overalls-wearing man, runs the outfit. He buys produce in wholesale lots, a majority coming from Mennonite farmers near Dayton, VA. Some food may come from as far away as Pennsylvania. Therefore, the food isn't exactly local, but it's better than food from California or Chile. Second, some of the farmers use pesticides. Not mentioned in the article, but something that struck me as counter to the aims of the local, spray-free movement, was that the lettuce is grown hydroponically. Does hydroponic lettuce from Virginia have less of a carbon footprint than organic lettuce from CA? Maybe. So, Horse & Buggy is not a CSA and it's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction. Plus they have excellent bread, granola, chickens, apples, cucumbers, and eggs.

The winner in my mind is Appalachia Star farm. It's family run and there are 2-3 acres in production providing 50 shareholders 40 different varieties of vegetables for 22 weeks for $328. Keep an eye out of them at the downtown market.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Local

Eating and nightlife options are multiplying in downtown belmont. Joining Mas, La Taza, Saxx, Belmont BBQ, and Crush wine store (their Friday wine tasting qualifies as nightlife), The Local opened a couple weeks ago and hasn't had any trouble generating buzz. Last night at 8 there was an hour and a half wait for two. The place was so busy or unprepared, chairs had to be borrowed from Saxx across the street.

The sleek brick building with interior brick walls and wood floors and ceilings had a months-long renovation documented in installments by the C-ville and Hook. The result is impressively world-class. If that weren't enough, a roof-top deck is promised once warmer weather arrives. Following the bistro or tratorrio model, the pricing is reasonable. The name is suposed to reflect that locals can afford it and local ingredients are favored when available.

It's probably not fair to judge a restaurant's service and food in the first month, especially one that is borrowing chairs from another restaurant. That being said, the waitstaff were spread a little thin and some of the food had cooled by the time it arrived. Those who chose the steak frites were disappointed by the sauce and the french fries (a little too cooked and soggy). However, the vegetarian pasta special and mussels were good, and the booze selection top-notch. When it comes down to it, I like the building and the scene too much to give up yet.

Reservations accepted.
824 Hinton Ave.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

City Market

The Progress Plus! shows up every week or so. Usually it's promptly slipped into the recycling pile, but once in a while there is some article of interest inside. This week an article by Brian McNeill comments on the economics of the Charlottesville City Market.

- Transporting the food to the market over the 30 weeks it's open consumes a calculated 180,000-kilowatt hours. This is the same amount of power consumed by 18 homes annually. This number came from research done by fourth-year UVA student Lauren Doucette.
- The average vendor travels 60 miles to the market.
- There were 311 registered vendors last year.
- "In a conventional grocery store, the average distance that fresh fruit and vegetables have traveled is around 1,600 miles." I'm not sure where this number comes from, but it's outrageous.
- $955,788 were spent at the Water Street market last year.

The market opens in a couple weekends. April can't come soon enough. But then again, it is the cruelest month.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tip Top Restaurant

Near the top of Pantops Mountain is a diner that predates the car dealerships and shopping centers around it. It fits in more with the days of motor courts and earnest weekend trips to Luray Caverns (because now they're all ironic). A recent renovation has greatly expanded the space and on a recent Saturday morning the place was ba-jumpin'. For watered down syrup, loud church groups, and an inexpensive food coma, haul your ass up the big hill called a mountain. The prices are as low as this place is high. It is not the place to take relatives if you want to show off Charlottesville, but it's perfect the morning after a late Dionysian Friday or Saturday night.

Is this a placemat or a promotion from 1950's Virginia Department of tourism? At Tip Top, it's a placemat.

1420 Richmond Rd
Charlottesville, VA 22911
(434) 244-3424

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Highland County Maple Syrup

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Highland County Maple Festival. It began last weekend and continues this coming weekend. Highland County is just west of Augusta County but it's a world away from Staunton and the valley. With only 2500 people, it's Virginia's least populous county. The directions are easier than the actual driving over the mountains. Just take 64 west from Charlottesville to Staunton and then continue on 250 from there. After about an hour and a half of driving, McDowell appears around the bend. A full parking lot beside the Stonewall Ruritan Building heralds the countywide festivities. After the drive this place seems the most appropriate to eat the buckwheat pancakes and homemade sausages available at multiple venues. After filling up on the $7 meal, it's time for the real reason to make the trek. By continuing on 250 W through Monterey, eventually there is a sign pointing toward the maple tree farms. There are two in this area. The first is Rexrode's sugar orchard. The farm features some maple trees over 200 years old. There they use the old fashioned "open pan" system of evaporation with miles of plastic tubing collecting from the trees on the property. A supply of maple syrup is available in one of the buildings. Farther up 637 is Puffenbarger's sugar orchard. Prior to a fire in late February this place used reverse osmosis and oil-fired evaporators to produce its syrup. In the fire they lost about 700 gallons. Even so, they are still offereing maple syrup doughnuts. I never thought a pastry could be too sweet until I tried this dessert. It hasn't stopped the Puffenbargers from selling lots of the doughnuts.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

3rd St. NE is nearing completion. At least the block is passable but not without stepping on black tarps and over bricks. The sand-set bricks differ from the mortared bricks on the mall, the ones that are ailing. The difference begs the question whether there is any plan for uniformity in the city's herringbone walkways.

Botique Hotel Rising

The construction walls and chain link fence have gone up around the former Boxer Learning / Central Fidelity Bank building. After years of different developers considering the site for a botique hotel, Minor Family Hotels plans to build a nine-story hotel after a $350,000 demolition. The black granite facade along the mall and eight feet of ugly brick down 2nd Street will remain. The $30 million hotel project is slated to take 16 months.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Spry's Closed

The lights have been out for a couple weeks in the old Northern Exposure building. Within the last week the Spry's signs came down. Read the earlier post here written soon after it opened in September. The doors are now closed for good. A sign on the door says they closed due to the owner's health concerns. There is a number to call with questions and concerns. Now the dark building, stripped of signage, seems even smaller in front of the UVA parking garage that looms over it. The only permanent change to the building is the now white wall that used to be covered by a cartoonish mural of NYC.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Valentine's Day (really the day after) seemed like as good a time as any to visit the fanciest and most expensive restaurant in Charlottesville. Oxo is a close second. (The Barboursville restaruant is outside the city.) Tucked into one of the side streets of the downtown mall on 3rd St. NE, Fleurie has been hosting "special occasion" dinners since 2001. In the home of a former pottery shop, it fills a small space split in two by a divider. The north wall is lined with comfy booths. A bar fills the southeast corner. Small tables are neatly spaced along the front window and along the pale yellow walls.

Upon seating we were offered champagne but passed. The wine list is extensive and all the wait staff seem to know it well. We opted for a lower end Burgundy, but lower end is $40. A prix fixe menu included around five choices each for appetizer, main course, and dessert. The meal started with an amuse-bouche (this place is French after all) of a piece of salmon over a parsley puree. The lobster bisque was less creamy than I expected but excellent. The meal never let up after the amuse-bouche. For the main entrees, there were scallops over green couscous, amazing, and flounder over white beans with a caviar garnish, splendid. We opted for the blueberry souffle with homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert. Just thinking about how good it was makes me want to swear. After that came some tiny pastry treats from the pastry chef: truffles, lemon meringue, and some sort of sweet bread. Settling the tab enforced that the price is steep, but the meal was certainly memorable. Dinner for two was $200 so it's not the place to go when your reason for dining out is that you don't want to have to clean up the kitchen after dinner.

Fleurie Restaurant‎
108 3rd St NE, Charlottesville, VA
(434) 971-7800‎

Monday – Thursday 5:30pm to 9:00pm
Friday – Saturday 5:30pm to 10:00pm

Unfortunately, Fleurie is on the street that's been torn up since late summer. The mess and construction machinery in front of the restaurant is amusing to me, but can't be for the people whose businesses are here.

A conspiracist might suggest that someone at city hall is carrying out a vendetta by trying to shut down a business on the street. The likely explanation is an underprepared contractor. Regardless, I doubt that patrons of Fleurie are deterred.

West Main

If you're in the mood for southern comfort food in a bar, and Miller's is just a little too smoky, West Main is probably a good place to try. Anchoring the old southwest corner of the Vinegar Hill neighboorhood, with heaps of food at reasonable prices, leaving hungry is not an option. As the first restaurant west of the downtown mall, it's a short walk from there. The historic corner building, old brick and incandescent light, makes it a natural place for a restaurant. The inside bar and upstairs dining areas are decorated with historic pictures of Charlottesville, among them some from Holsinger's studio around the turn of the century. Downstairs there is a larger bar area with a stage that serves as a small-time venue. Unfortunately the place is more appealing than the food.

The burger, a half-pounder with fries, can't possibly be eaten without causing a stomach ache. The entrees come with two sides and a small biscuit. Opting for the Virginia crabcakes seemed appropriate. They come with a spicy sauce, and have their fair share of onions, garlic, and green peppers. At least, I think that what's the green flecks were. The hushpuppies were too crispy. The macaroni and cheese was the best part, thick fusili pasta in a creamy cheese sauce served in a ramekin. The draft beers were flat, the Guinness stale. Since the food isn't the draw, it would be nice to stop by for a drink, but even that isn't desirable.

333 W Main St
Charlottesville, VA 22903
(434) 293-2605

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Moore's Creek and Woolen Mills

A portion of the Rivanna Trail can be accessed from the back of Quarry Park. From the website:

    Quarry Park to the Woolen Mills
    (1.64 miles, 19.55 from mile 0, difficult)
    The trail hugs Moore's Creek as it makes its way to the Rivanna River. Be prepared to scramble over rocks, trample through sand, and see a variety of wildlife, exposed rock cliffs, the livestock market, and historic mill buildings. We plan to build a footcrossing of Moore’s Creek near the old Woolen Mills.
This portion of the trail offers a glance at Charlottesville's underbelly and history.
Walking toward Woolen Mills, the trail follows Moore's Creek and skirts sanitation ponds. Eventually the stench leads to the above outflow into Moore's Creek. Upon reaching Woolen Mills there is the old plant across the creek still used by Allied for storage. From there the train bridge is visible. By hiking up the stone embankment, the tracks can be reached, and to the east, there are the ruins of the Charlottesville and Albemarle Railway Company power plant. This old power plant was under construction in 1913 at the time of the lower photograph.
Now its overgrown and a venue for grafitti. The statue of liberty stencil looks like the work of Banksy.

The C. and A. Ry. Co. (its lettering formed in bricks on the power plant building) was a streetcar company that in powering its cars also powered Charlottesville. According to the billboard C. & A. "keeps your home bright".In addition to the sewage treatment plant and some ruins, this stretch of trail serves as the address for a number of squatter camps. There were many visible from the trail with tents, mattresses, and pants hanging over branches to mark them. One at the end of long dry culvert, in the center of an on-ramp, looked just lived in. A bar of soap still teetered on a log. Having been in this area before, the profusion of such camps seem to indicate an economic downturn. The area along Moore's Creek may never have known good economic times. Just this week the Moore's Creek Restaurant was burglarized. This included a full-sized arcade game. (see story)

Photos thanks to Rufus Holsinger and the University of Virginia.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fiery Furnaces - 01/26/08

The Satellite Ballroom became a tropical icey on Saturday night: the Fiery Furnaces with Ki:Theory and Tapeworms warmed the hearts of a medium-sized crowd. Matthew Friedberger sported a shorter haircut than usual and Eleanor rocked it in some sort of 70's-ish outfit. For whatever reason you like the Furnaces - there are a lot - they were on full display Saturday. Mix moments of math rock, a hyperkinetic sultry singer, and a chord change jamboree, and someone will show up. The band played many of the songs off the new album "Widow City" and then took requests at the end. Chief Inspector Blancheflower and Tropical Iceland tied for first in a tally of hand-scrawled paper scraps. Mr. Friedberger calls this "derocmacy". Rock on.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Blue Mountain Brewery and Hops Farm

Lovers of craft beer and artisanal breweries have had recent reason to rejoice. Opening to the public in October 2007, Blue Mountain Brewery joined the ranks of South Street and Starr Hill. As Starr Hill nears the big time with its recent Anheuser contract, Blue Mountain replaces it as a local brewery content with a local following, at least for now. The beers have started appearing around town since the fall. Draughts of the Rockfish Wheat are served at the Blue Moon Diner and six-packs are sold at Harris Teeter. At least for now, the beer is also on tap at Mellow Mushroom, Michael's Bistro, and Beer Run and bottled beer is available at Wine Warehouse, Whole Foods, Market Street Wine Shops, and Continental Divide.

To get to the brewery from C-ville take 64 West. At exit 107, follow 250 West about 6 miles. Turn left on 151 South (Critzer's Shop Road). The brewery is on the left, 1.3 miles down the road.

The now dormant rows of hops are in front of the barn-like building and down the hill. The building includes the brewing operations and the tasting room. The facilities allow production of 3500 barrels a year. According to a December 7, 2007 article in the Nelson County Times, the brewery is already running at capacity and five weeks into operation had to pull back from distribution in Richmond and Roanoke. Large glass windows divide the brewing tanks from the bar and the tasting room. The large room reminded me of the Veritas tasting room. A small kitchen serves some appetizers with local ingredients.

Of the beers, the classic Lager, the Continental-style lager with more bitterness (hops) than an American lager, would please anyone who doesn't hate beer. These are the six packs I keep taking home from Harris Teeter. To try all the beers, there is a 6 beer sampler for 5 bucks. They are all excellent, tasty, well-balanced beers. Their website gives a better description of them than I could (link below). On the the heels of the movement to eat local, Blue Mountain Brewery makes it easier and enjoyable to drink local. Bring it home in six-packs or fill a half gallon growler for $10.

Blue Mountain Brewery and Hops Farm
519 Critzers Shop Road
Afton, VA 22920

Check out the local beer scene.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Crabtree Falls

About 55 miles from Charlottesville is the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi. A cascading waterfall, with a total drop of 1,200 feet and single fall of 400, Crabtree Falls backs up into the Blue Ridge Mountains. To get there take 29 South just past Lovingston. Take a right on 56 W and continue for 19 miles. There are signs as you get closer. The parking lot entrance will sneak up on your left.

In the summer crowds flock. Colder weather keeps many people away. Crabtree Falls offers something different and equally amazing in every season. In times of extended cold, the falls can freeze over entirely and sustain ice climbing. The day we went there was plenty of ice but the falls were still flowing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Starr Hill Brewing Co. and Tasting Room

Starr Hill Brewery, founded in 1999 in the now papered up Charlottesville location, moved to the old Con Agra building in Crozet in 2005. The grand opening of the new tasting room was July 21 of last year. Viscerally preferring beer to the more intellectual wine, even though they're both so damn good, making the drive west on 250 to 240 had been a long time coming. Heading west, the parking lot is on the left after passing the plant. A short ramp leads to a small side door which enters a storage room for kegs. From there you get a glimpse of the tasting area and the bottling machinery (pic above). The place was busy but it's only open for tours and tastings from noon to five on Saturday. The four staples (Amber, Jomo, Dark Starr, Pale Ale) were on tap, as well as a couple seasonal brews. The six packs are on sale, cheaper than retail, and they'll fill up a growler for $7. That's the real deal. I prefer the Jomo but there's something for everyone. Overall, I expect more taste from a craft beer. Starr Hill's a winner alright: there's a six-pack in my fridge. It's not clear what's missing. Blue Mountain Brewery hits closer to what I want and expect from a microbrewery. (future post to come)

Half of the appeal of the place is the industrial digs. West Main Starr Hill could brew 1,500 Barrels annually. The Crozet home can make 10,000 barrels a year with room for expansion. Help with that expansion will come in part from a distribution deal recently signed with Anheuser Busch. This news, the marriage with Big Beer, and the large shiny plant make it hard to think of Starr Hill as a microbrewery. The amazing thing is that the brand has only existed for nine years. In nine more years it might be the next Sierra Nevada as founder Mark Thompson hopes.

The Con Agra plant has a history that involves one of my favorite subjects, the Albemarle Pippin. The Crozet Gazzette, Feb 2007 edition, which is available online, offered a history of the cold-storage plant, and an article about Starr Hill. Crozet is a small place after all.

Cold storage warehouses on the site go back as far as the first decade of the 20th Century. It rose out of the need to store all the surplus apples coming out of western Albemarle County, such as all the ugly Pippins. Apple storage evolved into slicing and packaging in 1946, but by this time the large-scale apple growers were a thing of the past. A savior for the building and local workers came with the arrival of Morton Frozen Foods in 1953. In 1965, Morton was bought by Continental Baking. At that time there were 1,600 employees and it was Albemarle's largest employer. In 1981, it was sold to tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds. In 1982, it became a unit of RJR's San Francisco-based Del Monte. It joined Con Agra in 1986. Still in 1994 with 732 employees, the plant had the capability to produce 15,000 pounds per hour of pot pie filling and 25,000 pounds per hour of gravy and pasta sauce. Corporate cuts closed the food processing operations in 2000.

A sign next to the tasting room bathroom brings back the old days.

Starr Hill Brewing Co
5391 Three Notched Road
Crozet, VA 22932

Some more info on the local beer scene.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Situated on the corner of 2nd Street SW and South Street, the little brick house called Bang! touts its cocktails. Besides its inner red glow, little else from the outside of this place resembles a restaurant. Having won Artini!, drinks are good place to start. There are real winners like Wisteria Lane, all raspberry and sweet, and the Bangarita. In lieu of a 'tini, there are some wines ($8 and up) and bottled beers. No draughts. The Dogfish 60 Minute IPA is always excellent. The beverages can be enjoyed at the small wrap around bar, the tables, in booths, or on couches. In warmer seasons, there's an outdoor patio.

It may be best to stop at the drinks. The food is good, rich, spicy, but just misses. The serving sizes will leave you hungry or ill. If visited as a cocktail/appetizer first stop on a night out, then Bang! will have found a purpose in the busy downtown restaurant scene.

For a completely different dining experience, try South Street Brewery next door. For more info about Bang! including menu and directions check out the website.

213 2nd St SW
Charlottesville, VA 22902
(434) 984-2264