Belmont: The Key West of Charlottesville?

What does Belmont have in common with the relaxed, margarita- and music-laced isle of Key West? At least the last time I checked, Charlottesville's trendiest neighborhood lacked palm trees, piers, famous literary hangouts, turquoise water (though my Belmont basement has been known to flood to wading height) and pink sunsets.

But according to Michelle Easter, owner– together with The Happy Cook's Tammye Van Clief– of the late-summer opening Cayo Hueso ("Key West" in Spanish) café in downtown Belmont, the two share a certain sensibility. "I've always loved Key West," she tells Dish, "and I also think Belmont is a jewel of a neighborhood. To me, they both have the same sort of village feel."

I can see that, especially on a warm evening when Mas's patio is packed and neighborhood front porches rock to life.

Michelle and her husband, Jeff Easter, (of award-winning Jeff Easter Remodeling) purchased the vast brick and stucco warehouse-retail building at 823 Monticello Road (recent home of Patrick's Furniture) about five months ago and improvements-­ such as those to the eye-catching Florentine-yellow façade-­ were immediately visible. The Easters plan to move their kitchen cabinet remodeling shop into the building and several other tenants (among them, perhaps, a restaurant and a caterer) are hoping to occupy the prime spot soon.

But one thing is definite: Belmont will soon have a café of its very own.

Inspired by Key West and nearby Cuba, Cayo Hueso will occupy a cozy 500 sq. ft. space on the extreme left side (facing front) of the building. There will be tables and umbrellas outside, and the inside will be decorated in bright island colors and sporting a combination of the custom-designed (cabinets, of course) and the found. Easter says they plan to serve breakfast (cafe con leche, claro!) and lunch (Cuban sandwiches, soups, key lime and banana pies), then re-open for the evenings, after a little siesta.

In order to encourage that neighborhood feel, they'll likely offer discounts for people who stroll or bike to the cayo. (My flip-flops are ready.) Other details (i.e. exact hours) will evolve over time, and with the changing needs of this changing Belmont community. "Whatever anybody wants, we'll do," says the easy-going Easter.

Cayo Hueso should be open by late August, but that's certainly no guarantee. "We're on island time, after all." Easter adds.


Gaynor's gamble

 Since 1999, City Centro served up soups, wraps, and salads. But the 32-year-old owner, Andreas Gaynor, felt pigeonholed by the compact location at the base of the former SNL Financial building.

"For five years," says Gaynor, "I struggled to get away from the 'coffee guy' moniker."

Now, he's getting away in a big way– but he's not going far. By July 1, he hopes to open his newest project right across the pedestrian Mall: Fusion Restaurant and Delicatessen.

The new concept will be located in what used to be called the "Downtown Mini-Mall." A mish-mash of trinket sellers and food stands, the Mini-Mall was adorned with flimsy wooden trellis material to diffuse its ubiquitous fluorescent lights.

Although the cheesy decor left in a dump truck, and the building has been rechristened "The 414 Building," the cheese quotient may come the form of Philadelphia cheese-steak and other sandwiches as well as breakfast from 7am to 8pm.

"I just have to say I'm a lucky guy," says Gaynor, 32, standing at the front of his work-in-progress. "Look at this floor– it's oak."

His renovations also uncovered a brick wall that, along with a beaded-wood ceiling, will become hallmarks of the space that will seat 48 inside and 40 outside on the Mall.

Andrea Gaynor: "I'm a lucky guy."