FOOD- THE DISH- Bye, bye little guys: La Cucina's sad farewell a portent?

Last time we spoke to La Cucina owners Franky and Meridith Benincasa, it was to say they'd defied the "curse" on the space they occupied. At the time, they were celebrating their third anniversary at 214 West Water Street. Still, as Meridith told Dish at the time, people continued to ask her how she and Franky were doing, as if it was only a matter of time. 

Unfortunately, on March 27, La Cucina served up their last order of homemade Calabrian-style sausage and joined the list of 214's former tenants, including Farruggio's, Petra, East-West, and– for you fans of 1980s gay culture– the Silver Fox.

While Benincasa chuckles at the irony, it's clear the "curse" had less to do with their space than with the space around them. As many know, architect Bill Atwood is building a 9-story condo complex, called Waterhouse, directly over and behind their building. Unlike many restaurant owners, the Benincasas were savvy enough to own the building, so when Atwood made an offer, they jumped at it.

"It was kind of a no-brainer," says Benincasa. "Franky's parents were getting ready to retire [the young couple will be taking over the Sheridan Livery Inn and restaurant in Lexington from his parents]. With all those condos going up right beside us, it would have been horrible, all the noise and dust."

Benincasa adds, "It was very, very sad to leave Charlottesville, but it's exciting too. We're looking forward to more free time and coming back to Charlottesville to enjoy it as regular people, not as restaurant owners."   

Benincasa says she thanks her customers for embracing their small, family-style restaurant idea and for giving them such a great send off. But she also had a few parting words of wisdom.

"Unfortunately, it's going to be hard for small restaurants to make it in Charlottesville in the next few years," she says. "Rents are so high, and buildings are so expensive, that only chains or restaurant groups can afford to move in. It's going to be an interesting few years for restaurants in Charlottesville."

Goin' Buggy

Now that spring has sprung, it's time to start thinking about fresh farm produce! As we reported last year, a number of local farms began offering subscriptions for delivery of their crops, including Dave Matthews' own Best of What's Around Farm. This year, Brett Wilson's popular Horse & Buggy Produce operation is already under way. 

Wilson offers spray-free fruits, veggies, trout, pasture-raised meats, and dairy products from over 100 small family farms in Central Virginia– most of the farmers are members of the area's Mennonite community, who have been farming the natural way for generations. 

If you want to get on the veggie buggy (Wilson also offers honey, apple butter, apple cider, and cut flowers), you better hurry. There are under 100 spots left for the 2007 season, which begins at the end of April. Subscription to the 28-week season requires three payments of $275.33 ($137.67 for a half share), but Wilson is willing to take post-dated checks for those with budget constraints. Check out his website at

Drop offs inlcude various spots around the town and county including 250 East, 250 West, downtown at Frank Ix, and even Crozet and 29 North figure into the mix.

"While many new things are occurring for 2007, one thing has remained the same," says Wilson. "Freckles will still be making the rounds with me." 

Alert readers will remember that noble dog's daring dash across Rt. 250 last year to aid a 91-year-old neighbor trapped under his tractor. Not only did she revive the man by licking his face, but she ran, Lassie style, for help ("What is it, girl? Timmy's stuck in the well?!"), and found someone who called the rescue squad. For her heroic efforts, Freckles won the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Hero Award at a banquet in Roanoke in February.

Franky and Meridith Benincasa call it quits at La Cucina, citing new opportunities and a mammoth development looming over Water Street.