DISH- Italy on Main: Torino comes to town

Over the last three years, the Market on West Main has become a kind of Whole Foods on steroids, with a shot of Foods of All Nations thrown in. Years ago, who would have guessed the former car dealership would be painted purple and become a gourmet food mall?

Then again, who would have guessed the Woolworth's on the Downtown Mall would become an upscale Parisian paperie? Or that Advance Auto Parts would be come a popular nightclub? Or that our quaint music pavilion would become a miniature Sydney Opera House?

Like it or not, it appears this little southern college town wants to believe its own press– a "world-class city." So, what's next? A state-of-the-art streetcar system?

Still, if you like good food (and have a big wallet), the Market on West Main is one of the more enjoyable side effects of civic hubris. Fine chocolates, fresh flowers, croissants and baguettes, organic meats, cheeses from around the world, seafood, authentic French and Italian cuisine, cooking classes, gelato, espresso, ceramics, gourmet cookware– it's all at the Market on West Main, our purple oasis of Euro-culture.

It's a dynamic not lost on ex-Dish writer Christina Ball, whose company, Ecco Italy, operates as a kind of Italian language and culture center atop the Italian ceramics shop Verity Blue and the café Milano. Ball, a professor of Italian literature and culture, combines her language and cultural instruction with special food and wine events at the Seasonal Cook, featuring local chefs. Along with partner-chef Howie Velie, owner of Magnolia out in Scottsville, Ball's Ecco Cibo events explore Italian cooking and culture by serving up a great meal with a side order of language pointers and regional history. "People can even help out with the cooking if they want," says Velie "Or just sit back with a glass of wine and watch."

Ball also holds 'Bella' events that she says are like "cultural cocktail parties." "It's part party, part classroom," she says. "You not only taste phenomenal foods and wines, but you also learn about them from expert scholars, chefs, and winemakers." Look out for Ecco Italy's Bella Torino event on February 23 to celebrate the region in Italy where the Winter Olympics are being held this year.

"At Bella Torino," says Ball, "pasta master Angelo Vangelopoulos from the Ivy Inn will be the guest chef, and wines will be introduced by Francesco Baravalle– a winemaker who's actually from Alba in Piemonte."

For Ball and for other Market on West Mainophiles, the space is more than just a food court– it's a cultural theme park.

"The Main Street Market is the perfect location for Ecco Italy because it recreates so many Italian flavors and feelings," says Ball. "The fact that my language students can pick up a cappuccino at Milano before walking up the stairs to class, or that they can buy some prosciutto di Parma and gorgonzola at Feast before heading home makes for a great educational-gourmet experience."

More of what's around

Recently, Dish touted Dave Matthews' Best of What's Around Farm and its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, a nationwide movement that provides farm produce to people who pledge financial support– and a little physical labor– to a local farm in advance.

Well, it looks like Dave's isn't the only community-farming gig in town. Ploughshares Farm out in Louisa will be offering fresh produce this year, its first season as a CSA. Like Best of What's Around, Ploughshares Farm offers vegetables, herbs, and flowers from early spring to late fall, with pick-up available at the farm or at drop spots in town.

Unlike Best of What's Around, Ploughshares will offer whole organic free-range chickens and eggs. (For $70 subscribers get a dozen organic eggs every week for 20 weeks, and the free-range chickens are $11 each.) It's also cheaper– only $500– for a season of veggies, flowers, and herbs compared to What's Around's $675.

On the other hand, Ploughshares doesn't offer a work share program like What's Around does, which lowers the cost if you're willing to get your hands dirty a few hours a week. For more information about Ploughshare Farm's CSA program, call Anthony Lagana at 540-832-5962.

Magnolia owner, Howie Velie, and Ecco Italy owner, Christina Ball serve up Italian cuisine and brain food at the Seasonal Cook