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.