No more leisurely weekend breakfasts at the Tavern, as the iconic diner calls it quits.
The view from the new "Skybar" on the Downtown Mall.
File photo by Dave McNair
The past year was a rough one economically, but that didn't stop some brave souls from opening up restaurants and eateries. We counted 28 new places that opened this past year, while 15 places closed. However, one restaurant, Carlton's, opened and closed this year, giving us some indication of the high-wire act restaurateurs must perform in these tough times and in this increasingly demanding foodie town.
And speaking of foodie towns. Back in May, Forbes had a story with lots of props for RelayFoods.com, the new Charlottesville-based grocery-gathering business which seems to be holding its own in a field littered with start-up corpses, but the real shocker was a casually inserted shout out to Charlottesville as the "locavore capital of the world."
Indeed, in the last five years, area chefs and grocers have taken the use of local produce to a new level. It used to be that chefs had a hard time finding enough volume of locally produced food, but thanks to ventures like the Local Food Hub and a growing number of producers we're in the midst of a local food explosion.
So, as we head into 2012, here are few memories from the past year.
Peter Chang chooses Charlottesville
The elusive Chinese chef once featured in the New Yorker, and the subject of a Hook cover story, brings his famous brand of Szechwanese cuisine to town with much fanfare as he opens his own restaurant March 1 at Barracks Road.
Someone finally buys Fuel Co.
After sitting vacant for four years, Pat Kluge's gourmet gas station Fuel Co., like everything the former heiress owned, went on the auction block. A little known convenience store owner beat out developers Keith Woodard and David Sutton with a winning bid of $580,000. So far, nothing has been done with the place, but hopefully in 2012 it won't be a haunted gas station anymore.
In June, agents with department of health showed up at the Batesville Store and cited the operators for running a restaurant without a permit, basically shutting down the little country store that had become a popular restaurant, gathering place, and music venue known for early evening concerts. Indeed, according to owner Cid Scallet, he was told by County officials that the Store was a "model" of how to save country stores. There was just one problem: as a "convenience store" under the watch of the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, they were only allowed to have 15 seats.
For years, they'd had well over 40 seats and officials just looked the other way.
The store's fans were outraged, launched a Save the Batesville Store Facebook group, and Scallet received 400 emails expressing sympathy and support. All the local media jumped on the story, with headlines like "State shuts down Batesville Store" and "Customers fight to keep Batesville Store Open." Loyal customers contacted County officials and wrote letters to Governor Bob McDonnell and Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb asking them to intervene.
At one point, Scallet and his wife Liza said they were on the verge of re-opening, having worked things out with County zoning and health department officials, but in the end the couple decided to move on and find a new place.
Chew the Fat, Raw
In 2011, fancy head chef turned pit master Craig Hartman cooked up an "unscripted and raw" podcast interview series called Chew the Fat. He's been talking with talented chefs, winemakers, farmers, and other food artisans for a weekly podcast that is posted every Sunday night.
Then & Zen
On the morning of March 23, just hours after we went to press with the story of Now & Zen owner Toshi Sato's wait for word of the fate of his mother and other relatives, who'd been living in the family's home town of Kesennuma on the Northern coast of Japan, which was devastated by a tsunami, his sister telephoned with welcome news. She'd found their 75-year old mother alone in her house– shaken, but unharmed.
Sato has been lucky, too. His little sushi place on Second Street has recently expanded, and the future looks bright.
L'étoile goes hyper-local
This year, l'étoile chef/owner Mark Gresge had an interesting idea: take the local food movement to a new level and create menus using food from local garden plots.
The Tavern closes
After 30 years, the Emmet Street breakfast place where "students, tourists, and townpeople meet" announced its Christmas Eve closure following a struggle between the restaurant and the property owner over the lease.
Escafé closes, but will re-open
DOUBLE BREAKING NEWS–>The iconic Downtown restaurant and night spot, once also known as Eastern Standard– the place where Dave Matthews Band played its first regular weekly gig (and where Dave made his own first open-mic appearance), makes way for a new place called the Whiskey Jar, which will open next year.
But wait! Escafé owner Todd Howard tells the Hook that they will be re-opening in the long vacant former OXO space on Water Street!
As you read, the OXO space is undergoing preparations and dressed up to welcome Escafé in the New Year. According to Howard, artifacts familiar to many will be going with them, including the murals.
"The Escafé family is very much looking forward to our new home for our lively and intimate times at 215 West Water Street," says Howard.
The Downtown Mall's first rooftop bar/restaurant opens in the former A&N building, and quickly becomes a popular nightspot. Thanks to heaters on the roof, it also becomes the Mall's only outdoor venue to be open year-round.