FOOD- THE DISH- Mountain Brix: Monticello gets taste of Tuscany

Brix Market Place and Brix Terrace Café owner Karen Laetare has been chosen to run the café at the new Monticello Visitor Center.

Brix Market sat quietly for eight years out near Ash Lawn before a second venue opened on Pantops last April. Now the folks at Monticello have announced that Brix owner Karen Laetare has been chosen to run the café pavilion of the new Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith History Center (the new new $55 million, 42,000-sq.-ft. Monticello Visitors Center), scheduled to open this November. 

"It's a little overwhelming," says Laetare. "But it's a great opportunity. We've worked with Monticello in the past, and this seemed like a nice fit."

Laetare says they'll be serving sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries, box lunches, and beer, wine, and coffee at the new café (plus special offerings for kids), which will be a big improvement for victuals at Monticello.

For years, the popular tourist attraction hasn't exactly been a food destination: visitors had to take their chances at the Little Mountain Luncheonette, a small stand serving a limited menu of snacks and sandwiches– too bad, considering what a foodie TJ was. In fact, every time Dish visits Monticello, we get hungry walking through the dining room, the table set for a feast, imagining the yummy stuff that was carried through the tunnel to the kitchen. 

But alas, all that was available was a drab turkey sandwich!

Anyone familiar with the two existing Brix shops knows visitors are in for a treat. Known for her Mediterranean/California-style food (bruschetta, paninis, antipasti platters), as well as her homemade Italian pastries, Laetare is sure to raise the culinary bar at Monticello, a development that TJ himself would surely have applauded. 

"They certainly do a good lunch business from our employees," says Wayne Mogielnicki, Monticello's Director of Communications, who adds that the new café should be a vast improvement. "It's always been pretty primitive," he admits. 

Indeed, Laetare says she hopes locals will come by just to visit the café.

"Having a vendor like Brix providing food at the new center will make it even better," says the TJ Foundation's president, Daniel Jordan. "We're extremely pleased to have them on board."

But beware, Monticello. If the food at the visitors center is as good as it is at Brix, folks might never make it up the mountain!

Smoking bills get smoked 

A pack of bills– eight in all– designed to ban smoking in restaurants tried to make their way through the Virginia House last week, but they were unceremoniously snuffed out by the House General Laws subcommittee on ABC and Gaming. At the same time, four more bills were passed by the Virginia Senate, but they must be reviewed by the same subcommittee. A similar effort by House anti-smoking politicos was attempted last year, with the same result. 

Since taking office, Governor Tim Kaine has been a strong advocate of a smoking ban in public places. "The governor thinks the bill he was proposing... was a good bill," a Kaine spokesperson told the Roanoke Times. "It was good for the Commonwealth and good for people's health. The Senate bills are still alive, so there's always hope."

Political observers, however, say the bills are unlikely to pass. Lest we forget, Philip Morris (now known as Altria) is based in Richmond.

Folks supporting the bills cited a poll completed in January showing that 75 percent of Virginia voters favored a smoking ban in public places. But opponents argued that it shouldn't be up to the government to decide where people can smoke. Besides, they argued, many Virginia restaurants were already moving in the non-smoking direction anyway.

Indeed, some local restaurants have already banned smoking, most notably the Downtown Grille on the Mall, which last year told its regular bar smokers to stop lighting up. Increasingly, new places are opening up around town sans the smoking option, such as Olivaté and enoteca, and places like Zocalo have shown that sending smokers outside doesn't necessarily kill the bar scene. 

Still, Charlottesville without a smoky bar or two? It would be hard to imagine, perhaps even a little sad.   


Zinc takes on lunch, again

Last week, Zinc on West Main began serving up lunch again. And according to chef/owner Thomas Leroy, this time it's for good. 

"We have a few more months under our belt, and I think we're better prepared this time," he says, indicating the last run may have been a little hair-raising. 

And as usual, especially on Saturdays, they'll be showing rugby games and English soccer on the telly. So pop in for a coq au vin or fish and chips and enjoy the game, mate!