Elliewood evolution: Martha's departs, Cantina arises
For over three decades, the little blue house at 11 Elliewood Avenue had been home to Martha's Caf©, known for its signature crab cakes and laid-back atmosphere, but this summer one of the longest runs in local restaurant history has come to an end.
"It was a fantastic experience," says Carrie Payne, who had run the famous eatery with her husband, Mike Payne, for the last 11 years, "but we'd finally had enough."
With their children grown, and wanting more time to pursue their passions (Carrie is a painter, and Mike is a chef who no longer wanted the burden of running a restaurant), the Paynes decided to pass the baton, but not without a little sadness.
"We had such a great group of people working for us, and we made so many connection with people," says Payne, choking up as she speaks. "Its going to be tough missing that."
Still, there's one thing she won't miss. "No one will ask me if I'm Martha again," she says.
No, indeed, as that would be Martha Woodroof, who opened the place in 1977 with then-husband, and former Miller's owner Steve Tharp during what Woodroof recalls as "old hippie days on Elliewood."
Woodroof, who had a stint as editor of Albemarle magazine and now does news and interviews for NPR-affilated radio station WMRA, is taking the name-removal in stride.
"To tell you the truth," says Woodroof, "it seems about time. Times change."
Fortunately for Charlottesivlle, the blue house will continue to be a restaurant, as Cantina opened Monday, July 17.
Described as a "tacoria" by owner Elizabeth Manatab, Cantina will serve fish tacos, burritos, salads, nachos, burgers, and a whole host of Tex-Mex fare for lunch, brunch, and dinner. The new establishment also plans on featuring local musicians and, get this–- staying open until 4am on Fridays and Saturdays.
So far, Cantina appears to be rocking.
"Opening weekend was fabulous," says Manatab. "The patio was packed. We had people coming out our ears!"
Meanwhile, Payne welcomes a slower pace, content with her paint brushes and more than a decade of memories.
"We really appreciated everyone coming in and being so lovely to us, " she says. "That little blue house was like a home."