FOOD- THE DISH- Shipwrecked? Kluge's Fuel Co. still looking for crew

After 16 months, Fuel Co.'s abandoned pumps and papered windows have people wondering when it will ever re-open.

Are we the only ones wondering if Fuel Co., that distinctive gourmet fill-up station on the corner of East Market and Avon, will ever re-open? Its been over 16 months since the designer gas station and food emporium closed and went up for sale, but so far its owner, winemaker Patricia Kluge, has found no takers. So what's the deal?



"We're conscious of its location," Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard's Kristin Moses Murray told the Hook back in April, "and in addition to being the right offer, dollar wise, it has to be the right offer for the town."


Seven months later, however, that right offer appears to be elusive.


"We've had a number of interested buyers– it's been close a few times," says Murray.  "But with today's economic climate even the most enthusiastic buyers can't necessarily get bank financing."


Hmm... sounds strangely similar to the Landmark Hotel situation, which became public when owner Halsey Minor and his partner, developer Lee Danielson, had a falling out over bank financing for the project. Minor eventually fired Danielson, and the hotel project appears to be limping along.


Murray isn't saying who has made offers, but she says the owners are holding out for "any sort of operation that serves as a good anchor for that part of town."


Until then, the white sails over Fuel Co.'s pumps remain furled, awaiting a crew.


Uncorked market? Group plans international "experience"


We, the Dish, love it when locals make New Year's resolutions to try new experiences and educate themselves about food and wine. If this is not on your list yet, it's a good year to add it.


The International Food and Wine Experience of Charlottesville takes place January 23-25, 2009. (For Dish, this is the time when the "get in shape" resolution disappears, and the winter slump sets in.)


It's the festival's inaugural year, and the lineup of guest chefs, participating wineries, local restaurants, and seminar topics is impressive. And, whether you're a connoisseur or an amateur, the experience will meet you at your level— wine will be paired with French cuisine and fried chicken over the course of the weekend.


Timothy O'Brien, who was named President of the organization in September, is excited. "While I think the entire event will be fun, the Sideways showing, along with the Pinot Noir tastings, promises to be the most fun event. This concept is really out-of-the-box and innovative."


O'Brien was tapped for leadership by George Benford of Siips Wine & Champagne Bar on the Downtown Mall. He hatched the idea of an east coast food and wine festival in a new market— New York and South Beach held annual festivals in October and February 2008, respectively.


When O'Brien and a team of local players in the food and wine industries started making phone calls, O'Brien reports the response was one of excitement, as ours is "an untapped market for many of these wineries."


 Paul Coleman, owner of Crush Wine Shop in Belmont, says he's been hearing about it through the grapevine (specifically, distributors, other wine shop owners, advertising, and Benford himself).  


"My initial impression is that it has been modeled after several other successful events around the country, so it certainly has the potential to be successful," Coleman says, citing interesting programming and strong participation from wineries around the world. "My only concern would be that it's a brand new event, so it may take a couple of years to gain a reputation. However, I hope they are very successful, as it will certainly help the wine and food industry in this area."


Events take place all day and start at $35 for individual tickets. An ever-growing list of wineries will participate in a Grand Tasting on Friday, January 23 at the Omni Hotel. Tickets are $125.


"What we want to do is raise the Virginia wine industry— give it further exposure and opportunity for growth," O'Brien says.


Individual event tickets and packages are on sale at



Scottsville blues


Deep Palate, our Dish correspondent in Scottsville, says he's hungry, real hungry. That's because he says that almost everything in Scottsville is up for sale, including the old Dew Drop Inn space, the former Magnolia and 330 Valley space, which was at one time going to be the Horseshoe Bend Tavern– and even Donna's Place. [CORRECTION: First of all, our heartfelt apologies to John Keaton, owner of 330 Valley Street in Scottsville, for reporting in this column that his restaurant was up for sale. It's not. We mistakenly assumed that that 330 Valley Street occupied the former Magnolia space, which is up for sale as a turn-key operation. The real estate at 330 Valley was up for sale late last year, and Keaton says he purchased the property in December from his former partner in the business. See our column in the January 8, 2009 issue for a more detailed update. Updated January 6, 2009]


"Subway is doing fine. It provides consistent food at a consistent price," says DP. "Sadly, all the other newcomers are not catering to the local population and don't provide the quality food that would attract guests from Charlottesville like the old Cafe Bocce did, or the first two restaurants that were at the site of the late Magnolia's."


Indeed, with so many good restaurants in Charlottesville, Scottsville would need to land a delicious beauty to get people to make the trek. 


"Thank god we have a new Food Lion," say DP, "so I can stock up my kitchen."