Gods-to-go: Ambrosia comes to Nellysford
As soon as I walked in the door of the new Ambrosia Bakery and Deli in Nellysford, I knew my post-holiday fast was foiled. I followed the smells of honey and garlic and the sounds of Persian music to owner Lisa Eslambolchi's divine display of sweets and other eats. Muffins, scones, cakes, croissants, and plump triangles of baklava shared case space with homemade baba ganouj, hummus, and tzatziki sauces. A table loaded with Greenberry's coffees stood ready to serve.
Above the counter, a blackboard listed Ambrosia's specialty sandwiches, many bearing the names of Greek gods. I was particularly tempted by Apollo (smoked turkey, provolone, avocado, bacon, lettuce, tomato with pesto mayo in a tortilla wrap), Zeus (roast beef, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion with horseradish mustard on onion kaiser roll), and Athena (spicy hummus with cukes, tomatoes, red onion and green pepper topped with tzatziki in a wrap).
A medley of soups, salads, and quiches filled out the ample menu board, which is quite a contrast to the much simpler fare of the Blue Ridge Pig, Ambrosia's famous next door neighbor. Also distinguishing this new bakery-deli from the local food scene, which includes the whimsical French wine and cheese shop Basic Necessities just a few yards away, and the sleek MC2 restaurant and catering located just a minute's drive away down Route 151, is that it specializes in take-out vs. eat-in. Perfect for picnics, hikes, or Sunday drives.
Even in restaurant-laden Charlottesville, Middle-Eastern flavors are difficult to find, so Ambrosia, which is more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern, is surely a welcome addition to the rural, yet resort-y community of Nellysford/Wintergreen.
"We really wanted to provide products that are otherwise absent in this area," says Eslambolchi, who lives in Afton, "and the reception from the community has been overwhelmingly positive."
A self-taught cook and baker who's been making Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods for 25 years (cheered on by her Persian husband), Eslambolchi gained local notoriety as a sort of cheesecake goddess: her previous business, Afton Delights Bakery, made and sold an epic 150 varieties of cheesecake to restaurants in Charlottesville, Staunton and Waynesboro.
Her cheesecakes proudly wear the "Virginia's Finest" label. The product of a collaboration between the state and its $25 billion per year agri-business, the Virginia's Finest program lauds Virginia products that demonstrate a "commitment to excellence." (Since the program's inception in 1989, peanuts, ham, and wine as well as products you might not expect like trout, gouda cheese, cut roses, and– most controversially– spit-free tobacco lozenges have all earned the Finest label.
"Lisa has customers driving over 60 miles to buy her cakes," says husband, Saeed Eslambolchi.
From Chi Chi's to Cheeseburgers?
Abandoned and overgrown since the company went bankrupt last year, Chi Chi's on Seminole Trail/29N could soon take on a new life as Cheeseburger in Paradise, an island-themed restaurant chain owned by Outback Steakhouse, Inc.
Back in August, 2004, Outback was the successful $42.5 million bidder in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court's auction of designation rights for 76 properties belonging to Chi Chi's, Inc. and its affiliates– which basically means they bought the assets (furniture, equipment, liquor licenses) but not the defunct business itself.
Outback spokesperson Stephanie Amberg could not confirm that Cheeseburger in Paradise would be taking the place of the Chi Chi's in Charlottesville (a few i's need to be dotted, t's crossed), but the preliminary agenda for a January 11 meeting of the Charlottesville Planning Commission does list site plans and renovation to a "Cheeseburger in Paradise" at "1101 Seminole Trail (Old Chi Chi's)."
Lisa Eslambolchi is the goddess behind Ambrosia Bakery and Deli in Nellysford.
PHOTO BY CHRISTINA BALL