FOOD- THE DISH- Maya of life: A renaissance on West Main?
Almost a year ago (May 11 to be exact), we waved good-bye to Southern Culture on West Main and waxed nostalgic about the nightlife in that section of the city when Southern, the Blue Bird Café, the old Blue Ridge Brewing Company (now Starr Hill), and Continental Divide were in their mid-'90s heyday. We recalled throngs skipping from one bar to the next, Elvis sightings, crowds three-deep at the Blue Ridge bar on UVA game days, and the Brewery's famous trout won-tons.
In recent years, that part of West Main seems to have lost its focus as a destination, what with Southern, the Blue Bird, and the Blue Moon Diner all closing (temporarily in the Blue Moon's case– it's now a hoppin' spot again), and Starr Hill becoming more of a concert venue than a place to tie one on on game day. Of course, it didn't help that the Downtown Mall began to see an explosion in popularity, and that successful bars and eateries began popping up in lots of other places in town.
Well, get ready West Main! A new watering hole in an old favorite spot just might light up the night again. After nearly a year of renovations, the former Southern Culture spot on West Main is set to re-open the week of May 7 as Maya.
According to co-owner Peter Castiglione, he and his partner Christian Kelly and their LLC Upstream & Associates have spent three times what they expected to spend on the place. Indeed, last year they paid $725,000 for just the 1,840-square-foot, two-story building– which incidentally sold for $37,800 in 1980. But they aren't complaining.
"We're in it for the long haul," says Castiglione. "We're going to be here a while, and we hope to help make this part of West Main a destination again."
To that end, the duo have finished the renovation– Castiglione refers to it as a "restoration"– that they say just has to be seen. "I can't even begin to explain the changes," he says. "People won't even recognize the place."
Conceived from a design by local architecture firm Wolf Ackerman, the space has "a contemporary, modern edge, but cozy."
As for the name, Castiglone waxes spiritual, pointing out that "Maya" in Hindu and Buddhist traditions means the "beautiful, yet impermanent nature of life." Of course, it also happens to be the name of partner Kelly's daughter, but Castiglione says it serves as a philosophy the restaurant hopes to embrace. "Our arms are open wide, open to the 'maya' of life," he says, "and we're just happy we got this opportunity."
As for the food, Castiglione calls it "older Southern kitchen," inspired by the gospel church across the street, and made fresh with a modern concern for local and organic produce. Look for protein-infused entrées, and a rotating selection of seasonal sides.
"It's not really like we're opening something new," says Castiglione, who helped open Zocolo, while Kelly was a former executive chef at the Clifton Inn. "We're just carrying on what we've done so far."
One of the hardest working men in the pizza business, Christian Tamm, who has turned his Downtown gourmet Italian pie factory into a local institution, is about to work even harder. Tamm tells Dish he has finally decided to open two more Christian's Pizzas, one beside the Giant on Pantops, and one up 29 North at Forest Lakes.
The satellite pizza shops will be smaller, says Tamm, "a simplified version of the Downtown store," and will offer only the 12 most popular pizzas, including his top four: fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato; sausage and pepperoni; avocado and feta; and spinach and feta.
"I've been thinking about it for along time," he says. "You know, it's so much work just having one store, but then I decided to give it a shot."
So when can we expect Christian's to multiply?
"I have no idea... when they're ready," he says with a weary laugh. "They will open around the same time, probably in a couple of months."
Get your kitchen to go
Noelle Parent and her fiancée, Austin Yount, are both true locals, born and raised here, and over the years they've seen their hometown grow more than they could have imagined as children.
"We've also seen the traffic grow," says Parent, "and we don't think that everyone should have to race each other down 29 to get a good meal for lunch."
Enter the couple's new venture, Curbside Catering Company, a mobile restaurant that brings not only lunch– they bring the whole kitchen!
"We have pre-made and made-to-order food," says Parent, "and we also have a hot line that people can call to order food so that it's ready when we arrive." For now, Parent says they only have scheduled stops for businesses along 29 North, but may soon be pulling up next to events and businesses in the City.
"A lot of employees we serve only have a half-hour for lunch," says Parent. "And this gives them time to take a real break."
Their catering truck was made in California, where mobile kitchens are more common, especially for use on movie sets. The 16-feet long truck has sides that open up and an entire kitchen inside, including deep friers and a grill.
"We've been in business for only about two weeks so far," says Parent, "but, trust me, you'll be seeing us around town and at plenty of local events."
Bringing Maya to life: Peter Castiglione and Christian Kelly hope to make West Main Street a destination again.
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER
Curb appeal: Noelle Parent and Austin Yount, with their daughter, Alexis, have a cure for the half-hour lunch.
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER