W by SW: New venues heat up Crozet

Things are buzzing west of town. Let's start our tour in the little hamlet of Ivy, home to Duner's and to the slowly transforming general store, Toddsbury of Ivy.

Owned by the dynamic duo of Bruce and Bonnie Kirtley for the past nine years, Toddsbury is the kind of place where you can talk about everything from John Kerry's nomination speech to this season's persistent rain as you eat, sip, or wait for your take-out order. Not only can you count on finding a vintage wine (both Kirtleys are wine biz veterans) as well as an impressive selection of old-fashioned (baked-fried chicken, pizza) and new-fangled lunch items (Bonnie is constantly experimenting with flavor combinations for her savory sandwiches and soups), but you can now start your day with a pleasant coffee buzz at Toddsbury's new espresso bar.

Grab a cup of Guatemalan or a frothy cappuccino and, for contrast, a breakfast biscuit, and you're good to go. Seating is limited to a few benches (a couch is coming), but as we're learning, it's more Italian to stand up. Could gelato be next?

Next stop: Crozet. Turn left at the stop sign after the town's original "destination restaurant," Crozet Pizza, and you'll be greeted by two bright and busy new venues­ one a full-service café hosting live music in the evenings, and the other an upbeat Southwestern eatery. Though only the first is named after the ancient god of music and fertility– flute-playing Kokopelli– it's clear his Southwestern spirit is shining down on both.

Music lovers Tammy and Chris Scot designed Kokopelli's Café, which opened on July 18, to be the kind of place they'd want to hang out in. Ready for a change (both have backgrounds in education), the Scots bought the 100-year-old building at 5793 "The Square" (aka the block of historic buildings off Crozet Avenue) earlier this year and proceeded to perform extensive, ambience-altering renovations.

Former Mountain View Grill regulars will have a hard time recognizing the building's new inhabitant with its high ceilings, long white bar, cheerfully painted walls, and an interior "courtyard" complete with a faux window, a pergola and twinkling lights (for music "under the stars").

Obviously infused with a sense of humor, the abundant café menu, created by the Scots and their chef, Larry Chappa, features wraps, sandwiches, panini, and salads with names like "Running for the Border" (grilled chicken, black beans, corn salsa, jack cheese, chipotle dressing on a wrap), and "California Dreaming" (turkey, melted brie, and spiced chutney on Albemarle Baking Co. bread).

The appetizer menu, which is actually written on LPs– stars "Love me Tenders," "Nacho Nacho Man," and "I Only Have Eyes Fondue." For breakfast, there's a full coffee bar with everything from muffin tops (yes, there are actual specialty pans for baking these!), Agnes' Very Very (organic) bagel sandwiches, and frittata (Italian omelet), and expanding specials like French toast with fruit and raspberry yogurt fondue.

The response? "Every day," says Tammy, "at least five different people thank us for opening." Kokopelli's opens each morning at 7:30 and features an eclectic mix of live music acts (acoustic, young artists, folk, rock) Thursday­Sunday evenings.

Judging from the crowds swarming in and around La Cocina del Sol one recent eve, Crozet seems to be thanking Alex Montiel for his much-awaited Southwestern restaurant opened in late June. A Crozet restaurant packed­ with families, couples, singles at the bar– by 6pm on a Wednesday? And without even a sign out front?

Yellow inside and out with an open, airy and fresh Southwestern feel (lots of glass, yellow and white walls, an open kitchen), La Cocina is like a spritz of lemon for Crozet, and perhaps a destination restaurant in its own right.

La Cocina del Sol