Grillin': Farmington blaze blamed on creosote

Last week Dish traced the migration of a pizza oven from the former Espresso Royale Caffé on the Corner to its new home at Mona Lisa Pasta on Preston Avenue. Well, a pizza oven is in the news again this week­ this time as the probable source of a major restaurant fire.

About 6:30pm on Monday, November 3, fire erupted in the exhaust ducts above the kitchen of the Farmington Grill, the country club's casual dining spot. Although it's difficult to say for certain (several exhaust ducts merge into one that goes up a single chimney), the fire marshal suspects that creosote-­ a greasy substance produced by the restaurant's wood (and gas) burning pizza ovens­ was the source.

"It's strange that creosote would be the culprit because we have our hood thoroughly cleaned every three months, and the last cleaning was only about a month ago," Farmington GM Phil Kiester tells Dish.

Kiester described the damage to the ceiling and roof as "substantial," and smoke and water also penetrated the golf shop below. During the four to six months it will take to repair the damage and re-open the Grill, the club's catering facilities will be keep appetites satisfied in the main building.

"We're actually fortunate that the fire struck the newer part of the club and left the historic 200-year-old portion intact," Kiester says. They can also thank the unseasonably warm (75 degrees) weather: A member sitting outside the Grill saw the flames coming from the roof and notified the fire department. Since the fire was not immediately visible from inside the building, this early flame-spotting helped minimize the damage.


Fill 'er up! Fuel café opens

 It's probably a good thing that Fuel, the newly opened gas station, convenience store, and fine dining restaurant (as of December 1) is not equipped with a fire-prone wood-burning pizza oven. The prototype for Patricia Kluge's new national franchise, Fuel, opened on the corner of Market and 9th streets October 23.

When I pulled in at noon on Friday, November 7, the first thing that struck me was how such an auto-friendly place could lack auto-friendly parking. But Fuel's proximity to the Downtown Mall and businesses like SNL and Lexus/Nexus explains the diverse and apparently happy lunch crowd.

One young professional sounded like a regular as he described several dishes in the prepared foods case beneath the ample sandwich and salad menu– "You should try the Shepherd's pie," he advised a friend. "It's incredible."

Fuel is full of unexpected contrasts: Sleek chrome café tables and a cappuccino bar overlook full-service gas pumps; Coca-Cola shares cooler space with bottles of Kluge sparkling wine; humble Hershey's bars and Chips Ahoy cookies mingle with fine Perugina chocolates and Serge Torres' French pastries; pommes frites (french fries) and Po' boys can accompany your salmon cakes and salade Nicoise. You can pay for your espresso and STP brake fluid at the same register.

"Chips Ahoy is an American classic," Kluge tells Dish. "We hope our products will become classics, too."


Elliewood revival

 It was only a matter of time before an ambitious (not superstitious) restaurateur took over the former C.R.A.B. location on Elliewood. Osama El-Attari is so confident that he actually took on the two-story building next door as well.

El-Attari is currently converting both structures into his fifth Buffalo Wing Factory and Pub. The affordable ($6 average meal) restaurant and pub will feature 30 beers and 30 wing flavors in a primarily outdoor setting. El-Attari says they'll use radiant heat and awnings to make four -season drinking and dining possible.

In addition to 47 TVs, El-Attari announces they'll be hiring up to 150 people. "Enhancing the economic growth of Charlottesville is one of our main goals, as is improving the Corner for the university community," he says.

Plenty of sky over the Farmington Grill