FOOD- THE DISH- Deli duel? Pacino's ups the Corner ante

"Pacino's my nickname," says Jim George, who recently opened Pacino's Deli & Catering on the Corner, "because everyone says I look like Al Pacino."

Indeed, once George mentions it, you can see the resemblance– the infectious smile of Col. Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman the slightly menacing, lazy eyes à la Michael Corleone In fact, it's tempting to ask George to revise that famous Pacino line from Scarface, "Say hello to my leetle deli..."

In early December, George said hello to Charlottesville when he took over the old Bambina's Pizza spot at 1329 West Main. After running a deli for 25 years in the D.C. suburb of Sterling, George (who says he's half Italian, and originally from New Jersey) had considered retiring, perhaps to a sleepy Southern town. He and his family– he owns the deli with his son– had visited Charlottesville many times over the years, and when the Bambina's space became available, he jumped on it. Lucky for us, he decided not to retire.

"We're already getting a good reputation," says George. "A columnist for the UVA paper just called us the 'best deli ever.'" Indeed, Cavalier Daily columnist Ed Cao dished out the praise just two weeks ago.

Pacino's may not know it yet, but this could be the beginning of a battle for the hearts and minds– and late-night substance-induded munchie cravings– of the student hordes who've worshipped at Littlejohn's deli for years. Of course, Cao's "discovery" of Pacino's is telling– despite Charlottesville's growth in recent years, it appears that anything beyond the 14th Street bridge remains a mysterious frontier for many UVA students. 

Still, as the fragrant bouquet of chicken parmesan on fresh-toasted sub roll, or a hot gryo wafts across the bridge after 2am on a Saturday might, there could be more converts like Cao.

Damon's ditched

As you may have noticed, a big white blanket of a sign was draped over the old Damon's sign in early January announcing the arrival of the First Place Grille. According to hostess Alexandria Andrysczwk, the owners of the Holiday Inn on Emmet Street have decided to drop the Damon's franchise restaurant in the hotel and open their own place. 

No word on exactly why the change, but Andrysczwk suggests the owners got tired of dealing with the franchise. However, don't look for much of a departure from Damon's menu, as Andrysczwk says the First Place Grille will be serving up similar American fare like steaks and ribs, soups and sandwiches, a daily lunch special, and, of course, a family-friendly kid's menu.

New star at L'etoile

L'etoile's Mark Gresge tells Dish that he's hired a new chef, Birmingham native Brian Wilkinson. "He says he was born and raised on deep-south cooking traditions," says Gresge. "And the proof is in the pudding. His shrimp and grits are fantastic!" As some of you might already know, L'etoile has started delivering lunch platters. And according to Gresge, Wilkinson's yummy shrimp and grits are on that menu.

Going once, going twice...

If you've ever dreamed of opening a restaurant, now may be the time to take the plunge, as a few high-profile offerings recently went on the market. Downtown, Monsoon at 113 West Market Street can be yours for $175,000. On Emmet Street, Superstars Pizza is on the block for $75,000. And out in Crozet, you can take over Ombra's Café for $185,000. 

Elemental change

White Orchid at 420 West Main appears to be out of business. Dish hears that Bizou and Bang manager Thomas Leroy and Cassis' Vu Nguyen will be opening a restaurant there called Zinc.

Take a look at the new Nook

Last September, restaurateur/realtor Stu Rifkin cleverly predicted that the New Nook on the Downtown Mall would be open "after Labor Day." He and partner Mark Mascotte bought the old Nook, which opened under that name in 1951, last August and have been taking their time renovating the space. In addition to beautiful wood and glass partitions, the New Nook sports a sleek art moderne bar back and promises of the "coldest beer" and the "tallest piece of lemon meringue pie" in town. Now you can find out for yourself, as Rifkin tells Dish that the make-over is finished and the Nook (we'll stop calling it the New Nook now) is open for business.  

Pacino's Deli owner Jim George wants to make you an offer you can't refuse– real Italian deli food!