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

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Spaghetti and Meatballs

If the meal calls for spaghetti and meatballs, then have spaghetti and meatballs.
This dessert was provided by a promising local pastry chef.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sugar Hollow

Down Sugar Hollow Road is one of the more popular Albemarle County hiking spots. With parking outside the park proper, there aren't those pesky fees encountered upon entering Skyline Drive. Winter keeps the crowds away. Mild January weather still makes it a great place to hike.

Getting there is easy. Take Barracks Road/Garth Road west all the way to White Hall. At the curve to the right bear left onto Sugar Hollow Road. The road will turn to gravel just beyond the reservoir dam. There is parking along the road and space at the end. The trail heads north from there along the North Fork of the Moorman's River. Just beyond the trailhead, the National Park begins and continues for three miles along the river. There are multiple creek crossings and canyon views with icicles in winter. High water may make some of the crossings more treacherous.

As for the Reservoir, it's not full as the below picture attests. This has accounted for the recent drought warning signs around town. According to the recent C-ville Weekly, the RWSA has downgraded the drought warning to a drought watch. Check out some more about the water situation.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

JPJ: Welcome to the Present

Not all might agree that this is humorous, but I think it is. The JPJ seems to be basking in past glories. It's 2008, right?

Beta House No More

Discussed in multiple recent articles (here's one from The Hook with pre-wrecking ball photo), the Beta or Compton House did come down despite concerns and a few protests from community preservationists. Now there is room for a planned graduate student center. The wheels of progress?
Check out some more pre- and post-destruction pics here.

Holiday Clean-up

With the holidays winding down, the Recycling Center on McIntire Road is accepting trees. Check the link below for other locations. After sawing down a tree at a Christmas Tree farm, enjoying it for a few weeks, and dropping it off at McIntire, it will now be mulched. It's just one big cycle with the help of a few gallons of petroleum. Mulch pick-up February 1.

Here's what the county's saying about it.

Monsoon Building

Monsoon at 113 West Market Street operates in a the Velle House, a building remarked upon in the original Historic Landmark Survey. The converted two story house and its surrounding wall are composed of vermiculated block. Built in 1908 by R.T. Seabrook, the house represents no identifiable style. A string course divides the two floors; a terra cotta frieze lies under the eaves. The second floor facade is unusual for its asymmetric windows.

Department of Community Development Historic Landmark Study, Charlottesville Virginia. The Michie Co. 1976.

Read more about eating there.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

South Street Brewery

Where do you get a good pub burger downtown? This may be the answer. Miller's is a little too greasy spoon; Horse and Hound is a little too fancy. The Nook? West Main?

A singles bar (by design?) with areas for large groups (seating by the fire is best), South Street Brewery brews its own beers behind one of the longest bars downtown. Their beers all have the taste of being unrefined but this is part of their appeal. The Sahti is made like one of beer's progenitors, poured over juniper boughs with the taste of juniper berries. The beer lacks hops which gives it quite a distinctive taste. Their lightest beer is the Hogwaller Kolsch. The J.P. Ale follows in the microbrewery pale ale tradition. Read more about beers brewed locally.

For dinner there is the burger, a carnivore's delight. Satay without the tuna or chicken offers an excellent vegetarian option. The salads are fresh lettuce and veggies and there is a good selection of appetizers.

Along the backwall a playful mural looks down on the booths of diners and the circles of chatting quaffers.

106 W South St
Charlottesville, VA 22902
(434) 293-6550

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Pocosin Cabin

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains a number of cabins within Shenandoah National Park and on its own lands. (see map) Pocosin Cabin lies within the Park along Skyline Drive just north of the entrance on State Road 33.As mentioned on the website, the cabins have rudimentary supplies, utensils, plates, a woodstove, bunks, but food, water, sleeping bags, and light must be packed in. Fortunately or unfortunately, Pocosin Cabin is right off the road, so this is hardly a backcountry experience. Without electricity or running water, time is spent cutting and splitting wood, collecting and purifying water, building fires and cooking dinner. Some of the available cabins once belonged to settlers, which lends some authenticity to the experience. Pocosin Cabin was built by a CCC work crew in the 30's.

The woodstove easily heated up the small one room cabin, so going in December wasn't uncomfortable. Inclement weather closing the parkway is the only seasonal hazard. If this is the case, the cabin can be reached from outside the park, which is about a four mile hike. PATC publishes an excellent map series (#10 - Central District) that makes it easy. I didn't make it but the Pocosin Mission ruins aren't far from the cabin.

As we left, clouds rolled into the hollows.

First Night and Day and Night Again

Happy New Year!

It was a big green apple.