FOOD-THE DISH- Improvable feast: Montiel opens new brasserie

Dinner At Home owner Ashley Hightower may not have her own place, but she just might turn yours into a perfect "night out" venue.

Given the fact that the panorama of local eateries includes cafés, bistros, wine bars, gastropubs, and even a tea bazaar, Dish has always wondered why no one has opened a "brasserie," that iconic mainstay of the French streetscape where a passerby can not only sit casually and have a café crème or a demi, but can also order a filet mignon with haricots verts, pommes frites, and a fine bottle of wine from an attentive waiter. 

Beginning this weekend, Charlottesville will have its first brasserie, as chef Alex Montiel, who recently opened his second Cocina del Sol (the first is still in Crozet) in the old Rococo's space, plans to inaugurate his Brasserie Montiel & Coffee House on the first floor of the restaurant on Commonwealth Drive. 

"It will be a completely different culture than the restaurant downstairs," says Montiel, referring to Cocina del Sol, which will occupy the basement level. Although Montiel didn't reveal specifics, if it's anything like the French brasseries Dish recalls, imagine informal power lunches, fat cats dining alone, a healthy dose of café regulars, and an evening bar atmosphere perfect for enjoying a fine meal. "It should be a lot of fun," he adds. 

Montiel says he's busy searching for baristas and servers for the new venture, and plans to be open for breakfast and lunch the first two weeks before offering dinner. He also mentions gourmet-to-go dishes. 

Free cheese!

If you're in the habit of reading the Dish the minute the Hook hits the stands, your interest could pay off in the form of some free gourmet cheese and wine at Feast! in the West Main Market. If it's Thursday, August 23– or better yet, late Wednesday, August 22– you still have time to catch a free cheese tasting and a discussion of the local food movement with renowned food writer Jeff Roberts, author of The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese.

The local food movement has been gaining steam in Central Virginia, and Feast! is often at the center of the activity. Apparently it's a big deal that Roberts chose little Charlottesville as a stop on his book tour.

"We're delighted to host such a prominent author and advocate for artisan food production," says Feast! co-owner Kate Collier. "Our area's growing network of family food producers and cheese makers is evidence of the commitment to the local food movement that Jeff chronicles in his book."

The tasting and discussion starts at 6pm, and signed copies of Roberts' book will be available afterwards. Collier also mentions that the tasting portion of the event will include contributions by local cheese maker Gail Hobbs-Page from Caromont Farm and wine maker Gabriele Rausse from Gabriele Rausse Winery.

Hightower's cooking class parties 

Local chef Ashley Hightower's business, Dinner At Home, may exist only in cyberspace, at, but give her a call and you may find that your own kitchen has become the perfect place for a night out. In addition to offering smaller plated dinner catering, Hightower offers what she calls "cooking class parties." 

"My food focus is on fish, pasta, salads," says Hightower, "with an emphasis on yummy weeknight dinners you can create in half an hour." Like the folks at Feast!, Hightower says she tends to focus on local food when she can, and to promote the local food movement in general.

Originally from Tulsa, Hightower graduated from UVA with a degree in economics, then headed to Somerset, England to attend cooking school at the Cookery at the Grange. Since then, she's worked at the Ivy Inn, what used to be Magnolia in Scottsville, and at the renowned Clifton Inn. She says she started her catering and cooking class business about four years ago, and currently teaches a variety of cooking classes at the Seasonal Cook in the West Main Market. 

The parties last for over two hours and cost around $70 per person with a six-person minimum. You just select the menu, invite the guests, and Hightower brings the food and the know-how.