Cafe Dish: The 2010 Menu

cover-chang-exterior0912For a time this year, Taste of China in the Albemarle Square Shopping center became the center of the culinary world.

2010 was an eventful year in the local food world, as restaurants have struggled to survive in an economic climate that continues to be stormy. There's no way Dish could mention all the news and events that tickled our taste buds this year, but here's a menu of some of the year's choicest dishes.  Bon appetit!

Chang chops
If you haven't had them, you'll be able to this coming February. Yes, Dish promised not to talk about him anymore.  But you know the story.  Just keep your eye on the space in the North Wing of the Barracks Road Shopping Center where Wild Greens used to be.

City Market Basket
All-you-can-eat local produce buffet. For nearly 20 years, the City has been telling vendors at the popular City Market in the city's parking lot on Water Street that it should be considered a temporary location, as it was a likely place for some high-end development. While vendors and market organizers like the location, they've grown tied of the development threat hanging over their heads. Market Central, a non-profit organization formed to preserve and enhance the City Market, wants to change this situation and find a permanent home for the Saturday morning extravaganza. It's an idea that City Council appears to support. The problem, of course, is finding a location. Now that the Ix building is coming down, could that be a place? And what about Oliver Kuttner's idea of closing off parts of Monticello Avenue for the Saturday market?

Evolutionary soup
With a mix of beef, gripes, and libertarian ideals, the trials and tribulations of Tom Slonaker, owner of the Forest Lakes Arby's, who has fought for the right to freely fly flags at his restaurant in violation of County zoning regulations, and serve homemade specialty items in violation of Arby's rules, culminated this year in a name change for the 11-year old establishment: A Patriot’s Place. For Slonaker, the decision appeared to be based on principle as much as business. “This country, this town is so divided,” says Slonaker in a distinctive radio announcer’s voice. “I hope this new concept conveys to people that we have to come together to fix the problems of this country.”

Jim Baldi just before the opening of Bel Rio. Where is he?

Baldi burger
A delicious bit of beef, but if you turn away, don't be surprised if it disappears from your plate. For years, bartender, freelance accountant and eventual restaurateur Jim Baldi was a familiar presence on the Downtown Mall, a lean, sharply dressed man who always seemed to be accompanied by a beautiful woman. When the C&O's Dave Simpson partnered with Baldi (who sometimes worked the bar at the C&O) and opened Bel Rio in Downtown Belmont, it appeared to be a wise move, bringing in a friend with a knack for accounting. However, the Belmont neighborhood was none too happy about the music–- read: noise–- scene.

Baldi himself stood before City City council to protest noise restrictions, but by then Bel Rio had become the late night bad guy, Simpson had bowed out, and Baldi was left to run the bistro on his own. Then one day he simply disappeared. Later, County police had a warrant for Baldi's arrest on embezzlement charges. Turns out Baldi may has been accused of pocketing tax payments from clients for whom he did accounting. Recently, an Albemarle County grand jury indicted Baldi, who is still on the lam, on two counts of embezzlement.

Dinner a la dime
A tasty and recession-friendly dish served with a side of charity. Following the success of Restaurant Week, which this newspaper launched in 2009, the Hook in October launched Dinner on a Dime based on the same principle: a full-course meal for one low price. Only this time we went even lower: $9.99.

Dust from the Amtrak parking lot.

Dust bowl stew
Restaurant owners along West Main Street have been stewing about the gravel parking lot around the Amtrak Station, which has been wafting dust on them for years. The owners of the private lot, Gabe Silverman and Alan Cadgene, have repeatedly promised to pave the lot, but have yet to follow through. Fed up, Maya Restaurant owner Peter Castiglione, along with several other West Main business owners, decided to threaten a lawsuit. That got the attention of the developers. They quickly applied a solution to the gravel meant to keep the dust down, but Castiglione says it hasn't worked. CvilleRail founder Meredith Richards isn't happy about the situation either, telling a group of UVA and County policymakers that the dusty lot could disrupt the plans by Amtrak and the state Rail Department to bolster the Cardinal service from three to seven days a week

Crozet pizza
Tasty news for the Crozet icon in 2010: USAToday named it one of the 51 greatest pizza parlors in the Country, and the best in Virginia. Remarkably, its not the first time the little place on Main Street has received national attention. National Geographic once dubbed their pizza the best in the world, and boxing great Muhammad Ali called it “the greatest.”

dish-visitdishHartman ribs
Fossett’s head chef Craig Hartman left the post this year to make BBQ instead, opening the BBQ Exchange in Gordonsville. “I think that 37 years in upscale kitchens can make you feel as if you know a few things,” said Hartman, “but what I learned is that I’m still a student of this trade, and I’m definitely humbled by this experience.”

C&O Cakes
Aged to perfection. C&O Restaurant owner Dave Simpson celebrated the Water Street restaurant's 30th birthday this year. Simpson offered some choice wisdom about running a restaurant: "Resist temptation, stay sober, and try to avoid complicated partnerships. There are no dues that you can pay today that will make you exempt from having to pay them again tomorrow. Every day it starts brand new."

Pat Kluge and Bill Moses dedicate a building at PVCC this year.

Kluge Reserve 2010
Not an especially good year. In August, Patricia Kluge's wine was served at Chelsea Clinton's wedding, but in October an announcement came that the upscale wine business she founded 11 years ago with her husband Bill Moses had gone bust. In December, 15,000 cases of the stuff were auctioned off on the cheap.

New dishes
Sweet Frog, Tony G's, The Downtown Hotdog Company, a new company called Mas Guapo Foods, Stonefire Kitchen, Barbeque Exchange, Fry’s Spring Service Station, Terrace Cafe @ Martha J, The Backyard, Brookville, Penne Lane Deli, Mykonos Caf©, Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, Marco & Luca’s (The Corner and Route 29), Dunkin Donuts (The Corner), Carlton’s (coming very soon), Little Sweden Cafe, Osaka III, Wings Over Charlottesville, A Patriot's Place, Greenhouse Coffee, El Jaripeo,The Inn at Willow Grove, Bangkok '99, Southern Way Cafe, Atlas Coffee (coming very soon), Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet. 

Updates: we forgot Semolina!

Ventana, Golden Corral Buffet & Grill, L’s Burrito and Juice Co., Brix Terrace Caf© (Pantops), L7, Cassis, The Upstairs, Cantina, Boston Market, Arirang Restaurant, Asia Specialty, Bel Rio, Zam Zam Kabob, Rivals Sports Bar & Grill, Arby's Forest Lakes, Royal Indian

(Is there a closing or opening you think we might have missed? Let us know in the comment section below!)

Dan Neumeister on his honeymoon this past summer.

And, finally, a  sad farewell

The local wine community suffered a tragic loss this year when Dan Neumeister, 31, an award-winning winemaker for Sugarleaf Vineyards in North Garden, whose 2008 Petit Manseng was served at the White House and at the 2010 Governor’s Ball, died when he was struck by an allegedly drunk driver while riding his motorcycle, leaving behind his wife of only one year, Adriane Allen. “Everybody would use the word ââ?¬Ë?passionate’ to describe him,” said Sarah Gorman at Cardinal Point Vineyard and Winery. “Dan didn’t have formal oenology training. He was an active learner who took the time to learn the chemistry and the details to make fine wine.”


Didn't Semolina open this year?

Was thinking the same thing Amber. And also agree that Brixx pizza is pretty bad.

1. Dr. Ho's
2. Crozet Pizza
3. Blue Mtn Brewery
4. Mellow Mushroom
5. Christians (?)

Maybe Crozet Pizza needs to employ a giant rat as their mascot too.

Crozet Pizza might have been worth the drive 25-30 years ago, but its fame today, even locally, is more inexplicable than that of Peter Chang. The grilled pizza that L'Avventura made was the best in town while it lasted. Mona Lisa Pasta rules today.

USA Today is the Walmart of newspapers so I guess they do have to consider the "tastes" of their readership. To people who grew up eating at Chuck E. Cheese's, Crozet Pizza probably is something memorable.

I didn't know there was such a thing as good pizza in Virginia. I've always felt that the only place in the country to get authentic pizza is in the northeast, or at least a pizza parlor run by somebody originally from the northast. If they're not from the northeast then fu ggedaboutit! (Hook's little "automatic censorship program" seems to think that fu ggedaboutit is a bad word, so I had to break it up in order to get it to go through. I hope your adult ears can handle hearing such a bad word.)

You know HAD good pizza in this town? Basil on the Corner. Excellent ZA!

"USAToday named it one of the 51 greatest pizza parlors in the County" wow, I knew that we had a lot of pizza coming to Charlottesville, but the fact that we got USA Today to pay attention to all our pizza joints and label them for us. How do you think Crozet Pizza would do if it went up against the rest of the country?

I think Dr Ho's is this area's best pizza it's the funky interior of Crozet that gives it all the hype to a pie that's good but not the best- IMHO

Well I was in C'ville for two days last week and I aways go to that MellowMushroom for one thing its my kind of place like the decore and the atmosphere and the peole and that spring water pizza crust is really light and airy and get a nice crispe out of the over very few pizza places have good crust or a crust that stands out needless to say the topping are wonderful and so is the sause

Despite BMOC's trainwreck review, I agree. Mellow Mushroom pizza is fantastic.
Brixx, not so much- it's some sort of par-baked disaster.