Dairy doings: What's ahead for Preston Ave.?

Readers of last week's Dish will recall a story on the new inhabitant of the El Girasol spaceĀ­ a soon-to-open Brazilian-owned Italian eatery called Mamma Mia.

But what happened to El Girasol? First, a few words about the space, the old Monticello Dairy Building.

 According to oral histories of Charlottesville, that spot was a field in the neighborhood called Kellytown where circuses and other events took place. However, as far as my psychic powers can tell, the building, 946 Grady Avenue, is not haunted by wandering minstrels, circus performers, or even cottage cheese makers. But it is enchanted with restaurant possibilities.

I had been told that the owners were still in town, but was I surprised to find them on the other side of the Mamma Mia kitchen! Former Mexican restaurant owner Ignacio Yepez still runs a pool hall and snack bar in what used to be the Dairy's central showroom.

But as he told me from behind the tortilla chip and black bean-stocked counter, he won't be around long. Yepez says he sold the three-year-old El Girasol because he and his family plan to move back to Chicago next month. For the same reason, they're currently searching for a buyer for their pool hall business, including their several pool tables. Unfortunately, the Yepez family doesn't have any plans to open an El Girasol in the Windy City, but they won't rule out a return to Charlottesville someday.

As for the future occupant of the central space– with its original 1930s black-and-white hexagonal mosaic floor, shiny white tile walls, and arched window above the main door– a restaurant is likely. When I first walked in, I was actually tempted to sell my soul and start some sort of funky retro diner of my own.

But according to the person who currently holds the lease on this space, Gate Pratt of Limehouse Architects, someone may already have beaten me to it. Pratt, who rents both floors of the central building as part of a package deal (his studio is upstairs), says he's involved in serious discussions with a "new restaurant person" and expects resolution in a few months.


"Starry Nights" uncorked at Veritas

 Magic was in the air Saturday night, October 9, at Veritas Vineyards and Winery's last Starry Nights of 2004, and fans are already counting the days until 2005.

I'm quite accustomed to visiting Virginia vineyards during the day, picnic basket and corkscrew in tow, but thanks to Veritas, a family-run winery located in Afton, I now know how beautiful it can be to sip reserve chardonnay under the stars, with a bonfire nearby and the jazzy sounds of a live Caribbean band wafting from the torch-lit veranda.

Only a few years old, Veritas is already setting trends and raising the standards for enjoying wine.

"We were looking for an event that would put a stamp on our identity, while also promoting local food purveyors like Feast! and the Greenwood Market," says tasting room and event manager Edward Pelton.

Visitors pay a $10 admission fee (for the live music acts) and bring their own picnic goodies which they can enjoy outside at tables or on the lawn, along with a glass ($6) or bottle ($14.99-34.99) of Veritas wine.

If you can't wait until 2005, you can always visit Veritas's brand new tasting room (with high ceilings, a huge stone fireplace, leather couches) during the day. Or if you're a night owl, buy a ticket for the upcoming Opportunity Ball on November 26, a benefit for Nelson County Human Service Agencies featuring a dinner prepared by chef Gail Hobbes-Page and music by SPLAAAT.

Since Veritas boasts a full catering kitchen, we can likely expect a constellation of food-and-wine events to appear in the years ahead.

The old Dairy– enchanted or just well placed?