Clammed up: Awful Arthur's stows its shuckers

"Gone Fishin'... Forever".

Crab and oyster lovers must've been shocked out of their shells when they read these words on the door of Awful Arthur's Seafood Company on West Main Street in the first week of January. This generally popular fishy franchise owned by Todd Lancaster of Roanoke had occupied the historic site at 331-333 W. Main for exactly 11 years. That's one big ole fish in the restaurant sea of Charlottesville, so one can't help but wonder why it went under.

"Absentee ownership isn't the way to go," Lancaster tells Dish, in one of the boldest confessions on restaurant record. "It's my fault for not making Charlottesville one of my priorities."

Growing responsibilities in Roanoke began to take precedence over the West Main location about four years ago. These include Lancaster's soon-to-be-three Awful Arthur's in the Roanoke-Salem area and the soon-to-be-four members of his family (his wife is expecting their second child any day now).

"Charlottesville has so many great locally owned restaurants, and it really takes a passionate, involved person to make a place a success," says Lancaster. "My passion is here with my family now."

So can we expect a local restaurateur-entrepreneur to take Arthur's place? According to property manager Jack Darrell, the answer is yes.

"We're talking to several local people and expect to have an answer very soon," he told Dish in mid-January. Darrell is in the process of supervising a clean sweep of the restaurant, which boasts original features such as exposed brick walls, pine floors, and fireplaces.

Built in the 1840s, this building played a role in Charlottesville entertainment history by serving as the site of Charlottesville's first karaoke bar, Mingles, which opened in early 1991 and lasted about a year.

Perhaps the building's most pivotal role was the near century it spent as Inge's Grocery Store. Started by school teacher and civic leader George P. Inge in 1891, this store in the center of a growing, still segregated city, was once the only place in town to get fresh fish.

According to Porch Swings to Patios: an Oral History of Charlottesville's Neighborhoods, Inge's also supplied groceries to the entire Vinegar Hill/Ridge Street neighborhood as well as the Clermont and Gleason Hotels, the University Hospital, the Dolly Madison Inn, and boarding houses in the University area. Since boarding houses for blacks were scarce at the time, the Inges shared their home above the store with distinguished Charlottesville visitors such as Booker T. Washington.

The son of the original proprietors, Thomas Ferguson Inge Sr., took over the store in 1946 and ran it until 1978. According to Jack Darrell, City Councilor/contractor Blake Caravati bought and restored the building in 1983, then immediately sold it to Darrell's client. As for the future, Dish will keep you posted.


Salmon– still healthy?

 Speaking of fish, examination of the highly publicized study of farm-raised salmon that appeared in the January 9 issue of Science magazine is in order.

Alarming to many, annoying to others, the study discovered that farm-raised salmon have significantly higher levels of chlorinated pesticides (PCBs) than wild (Pacific) salmon. That's big news for Americans, whose craving for the pinkish, omega 3-rich fish has resulted in a 40-fold increase in farm-raised production over the past 20 years.

But is it a reason to switch to tuna or trout, considering that the wild variety won't be available until May 1? Not according to Chris Arsenault, owner of Seafood@West Main across the street from the Inge building.

"You should feel safe continuing your healthy diet of salmon," he says. "The PCB levels are too low to be concerned about. If there were a legitimate scientific basis, I wouldn't sell the fish."

While Arsenault says he hasn't noticed a significant decrease in salmon orders, he decided to cover his counter with information on the study, much of it presenting counter-arguments from a group called Salmon of the Americas.

FYI: Seafood@West Main gets its farm-raised salmon from Atlantic Salmon of Maine, which Arsenault says he picked because if its dedication to environmental issues.

One fish, gone fish.