FOOD- DISH- On the move: Crazy dogs and spicy curry
Looks like the old L'avventura space next to Vinegar Hill Theatre has found a taker after being for sale since January. In fact, new owner Brian Helleberg says Il Cani Pazzo (the crazy dog) could be open this weekend or early next week.
Helleberg, who owns Fleurie and Petite Pois on the Downtown Mall, says he wasn't really looking for a new restaurant, but he is friends with former L'avventura employees.
"The restaurant really had a good reputation," says Helleberg, "and the people who worked there were so eager to come back."
One of those people was the former executive chef of L'avventura, Howard Griffin. "Brian has a real commitment to putting out a quality product," says Griffin. "When I looked over the menu, that's when I decided."
Helleberg says he'll be keeping much of the old menu, which consists of authentic Italian dishes (with an emphasis on seasonal fare, says Griffin, which allows him to use the freshest vegetables and spices, something he thinks is key to Italian cooking) and working with Griffin to add new items.
Helleberg also plans to employ the services of Kiki's Michael Fitzgerald, who'll be whipping up a specialty drink menu.
So what about that name, Il Cani Pazzo? Sounds like a movie that might play at Vinegar Hill.
Helleberg laughs. "A friend of mine, who knows a little Italian, and I were just goofing around and we came up with it," he says.
However, the name choice may say more about Helleberg's new venture, or at least the spirit of it, than he realizes. "I have dogs I bring to work with me, one of which I didn't think I was going to keep, but I still have him," he says. "I wasn't looking for a new restaurant, it just sort of happened, and when I told people about the name, they thought it was funny and it just stuck."
If Helleberg is as successful with the "crazy dog" as he's been with his French twins (not identical, of course), we could be happy to be stuck with it.
Just around The Corner
Alex George's former job as a private chef for a local family sent him around the world. Just imagine! Of course, we can assume the family had considerable means, but out of respect and loyalty to his former employer George prefers to keep the family's name to himself. (Fgures. Now Dish is even more curious!) Anyway, one wealthy family's loss appears to be our gain. On August 16, George opened Just Curry behind the Satellite Ballroom on The Corner.
"My true love is curries," says George, a native of the South American nation of Guyana, who characterizes his food as French, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Indian, with an emphasis on the Caribbean. "Red beans and rice, things like that. I also make my own pepper sauce with special wiri-wiri peppers imported from Guyana. I can't find them anywhere else.
"We have vegetable, chicken, and beef curries, and something we affectionately call ‘butter chicken,'" he says. According to George, his butter chicken (murgh makhani is its traditional Indian name) is marinated in yogurt, chili spices, turmeric, and paprika, cooked in tandoori fashion, and served with a curry crème and butter sauce.
"We'll definitely try to excite your palate," says George.
The Chickpea factor
Dish read an interesting article in the Staunton News-Leader recently describing the restaurant boom in Waynesboro. According to Meghan Williamson, Waynesboro's director of economic development, spending on restaurants in the area has shot up 68 percent since 2002, from $25 million to $40 million, and most of that business is coming from people in Charlottesville.
As a result, restaurateurs from Charlottesville are also looking at Waynesboro as the new culinary frontier. In fact, the article announced the arrival of Chickpea in Downtown Waynesboro. That's the little biz that began serving up sandwiches on fresh-baked pitas, souvlaki, and falafels in the Lucky Seven on Market Street here in Charlottesville last February. At the time, owner Mário Rodrigues was relieved to have a place at all anywhere near the Downtown Mall. Six months later, he's apparently decided to pack it in and head for Waynesboro. The reason? Landlords take note.
"Charlottesville is crowded. Too many restaurants," he told the News-Leader. "They want way too much for rent."
According to the landlord who leased Rodrigues his new restaurant space across Afton mountain, over 90 percent of the inquires for the space came from Charlottesville.
Indeed, restaurant space, real estate, gas, food and just about everything else turns out to be a good deal cheaper just over the hill. Add a few nice restaurants, a new shopping center, a trendy bar or two, and what's to keep us all from packing up and heading west?
Insert here: Il Cani Pazzo will replace L'avventura as Vinegar Hill Theater's sidekick .
PHOTO BY DAVE MCNAIR