All in the family: Willow Coffee joins Magnolia

Dish hopes you're all familiar with Magnolia by now– chef Howie Velie's southern-inspired restaurant that blew into Scottsville's dining scene last year like a warm, fragrant breeze. Now, exactly one year after Magnolia's debut, another member of the Velie family ­ Howie's mom, Barbara ­ is preparing to bring her talents to this little riverside town.

While her son was busy preparing dishes like roasted sweet potato soup with country ham crisp and fried sage leaf, and a Granny Smith-manchego cheese ice for a wine dinner on Friday, November 19, Barbara became the official new owner of Laurel's Early Light Café, on the other side of Valley Street. Barbara, who just moved to Virginia from Poughkeepsie, New York, is calling her soon-to-open (any day now) new venture, Willow Coffee.

 "Howie's Magnolia, so we figured we'd stick with the trees," Barbara tells Dish. She clearly has a sense of humor, a quality which– combined with a loving but no-nonsense approach to food ("a grilled cheese is just a grilled cheese," she says when I mention panini)– is perfect proprietor material for a classic coffee shop/café.

Willow Coffee will focus on good coffee at a good price, pre-made specialty sandwiches, salads, and soups.

"Everything will be homemade (by the Magnolia chef team) and as organic as possible," Barbara says. "We want to offer people things they can't get at the IGA." The Velie team will use products from local growers– including Dave Matthews' nearby Maple Hill Farm.

The café's retail section will include olive oils, wines, cheeses, and dry goods that are difficult to find "on the frontier." Scottsville is known for sleepy Mondays, but Barbara, a self-described workaholic, plans to keep Willow Coffee open every day of the week.


Italian food with a Brazilian flair

 What better follow-up to turkey and stuffing than a Sicilian pizza or a bowl of spicy penne puttanesca? While an Italian might think to take advantage of the long holiday weekend with a few extra days of rest, the Brazilian owners of Mamma Mia decided to open their new Grady Avenue restaurant on the day after Thanksgiving. Now that's confidence!

After a long month of interior renovations and planning, Sandro Silva and Rodgrigo Dimas were clearly eager to share the fruits of their labor with Charlottesvillians and university students. Freshly painted walls, curtained windows, tables with cloths and candlelight, and a re-design of the once domineering bar (into two smaller side bars), have transformed the the former site of El Girasol in the Monticello Dairy building into a place of casual elegance.

The ample menu– everything from pizza and subs to pasta and seafood entrees­ is also very student-friendly. Open every day for lunch and dinner, Mamma Mia offers free delivery in certain areas. I don't know about the background music, but if you happen to hear a foreign language while dining here, it's probably soft, melodic Portuguese.


Panera Bread Bursts into Barracks

 Well, come Sunday, December 5, Barracks Road shoppers will no longer need to peer into the windows of Panera Bread Co., because the doors will be officially open.

When Dish dropped in on Monday, November 29, the large, artfully designed café was already fully stocked with a cornucopia of fresh-baked goods– bagels, cookies, as well as artisan, specialty, and lower-carb breads. Enthusiastic employees were busy with their "realistic training," baking, memorizing the extensive menu and making sure they could distinguish sesame semolina from sunflower, ciabatta from focaccia.

This store will be the first "G2" model (the largest, most upscale) in a new Panera franchise called Blue Ridge Bread, passionately headed by Rick Postle, former president of Panera Bread Corp.

"Rick is the epitome of Panera," says general manager Janice Carr. "When he walks in the door, he gives me a hug first, then he talks business."

Barbara Viele