FOOD- THE DISH- Veni, vidi, Ventana: Downtown Mall gets new Mexican

A seat for you?The Downtown Mall's new gourmet Mexican restaurant and late-night bar, Ventana, opened on April 11.

Ventana co-owner Michael Fitzgerald wants to get the word out that his new gourmet Mexican restaurant on the Mall debuted April 11 in the spot where Kiki Café used to be. While he says many of Kiki's customers returned, he emphasizes that Ventana is trying to be "more of a restaurant than a bar."

To that end, Ventana serves up high-end Mexican food not typically found elsewhere– "avant-garde Mexican," he calls it. And he reports that business has been brisk, describing a recent "wild weekend." As an added bonus, Fitzgerald says that Ventana will always be open during Pavilion events.

Madison Inn re-opens

About two years ago, Northern Virginia retiree Mike Riley sounded like a man on a mission when he talked about renovating and opening the Madison Inn in the former Beulah's space on Madison's Main Street.

"I plan to do this until I drop," Riley, 54, told the Hook. "We want to create a place for the community that will be here for years. That's what we're going to nurture."

However, last November Riley and his wife, Susan, closed the inn abruptly, unable to survive financially on the small town's main drag. Apparently, that was quite a blow to the Madison dining scene. According to an article in The Madison Eagle, the town's meal tax revenue dropped by 50 percent when the inn closed.

Well, it looks like Madisonites are having none of it. According to the same story in the Eagle, locals pressured the Rileys for months to re-open, even calling the couple at home to make mock reservations. So, with a new business plan (more catering, new hours), and a new chef, the Rileys reopened the Madison Inn on Thursday, April 24.

Riley just might be doing this until he drops.

Staunton Grocery's new menu, hours

There's a new seasonal menu at the "farm-to-table"–inspired restaurant called Staunton Grocery, and new hours. Some choice selections include apps like dandelion and mizuna salad, lamb ravioli, and entrees like house-made fettucini and braised rabbit. The complete menu is at 

The restaurant's open Tuesdays through Saturday, 5:30-9pm, and offers for Sunday supper a three-course prix fixe menu with seating times between 5 and 8pm.

Hook gets the hook at Panera

In mid-March we gave a shout out to Panera Bread for finally offering the Hook (and, by extension, our Dish column) in their restaurants at Barracks Road Shopping Center and Hollymead Town Center. Since opening in 2004, the two locations of the popular chain had offered customers the choice of only C-ville Weekly and Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine. What better way to enjoy our Dish column than with a tasty Fuji apple chicken salad or a hot chicken bacon dijon panini?

About two weeks ago, however, the Hook got the hook.

According to our circulation manger, Jeff Norford, managers at both stores, who had previously allowed him to place Hook racks in the cafés, were told by Panera's local management company, Blue Ridge Bread Inc., to remove them.

We called and emailed Panera's local marketing manager Lauren Kantruss about the decision. Kantraus emailed back and explained that the company has "very strict standards" and an approval process for all publications. She expressed interest in "working things out" and, later she reported that the eatery will be "re-evaluating soon."

Blue Ridge Bread's marketing director, Kelly Jackson, eventually provided the answer: "We only let papers we advertise in be in Panera."

Oh, well.

Fermentation Trap opens in Ruckersville

Charlottesville residents Randy Nunes and Bob Cuddeback are opening a supply store May 3 in Ruckersville called the Fermentation Trap (6420 Seminole Trail #12 in the Seminole Place Plaza) for home brewers and wine makers. May 3, which just happens to be National Homebrew Day, and the owners say they'll have the largest inventory of beer and wine making supplies and equipment in the area, plus a relaxing space to flip through beer and wine mags and recipe books.

They are also launching a newsletter, Grapes & Hops Raw Unedited Banter, to be filled with lots of fun facts, store specials, and a calendar of beer and wine events in the area.

"Our goal is to create an atmosphere of camaraderie," says Nunes, "sharing tips and stories while providing hobbyists with the equipment and supplies they need to make their experience fun and successful."

All this food news was first reported online. Check it out at