Stars of Starr: New crew brews treats
Did you say Betelnut?
My ears pricked up as soon as Michael Keaveny, the new director of operations for Coran Caphshaw's restaurant group, named San Francisco's Betelnut as one of his favorite restaurants. Modeled after a Chinese peiji-wu, or beer house, this ever-popular eatery on San Francisco's trendy Union Street serves up glasses of cool draft beer and plates of fresh, generally spicy "street food" such as wok-tossed peanuts with chilis and garlic, Singapore black-pepper jumbo prawns, and scallion hotcakes. (Can you tell it's one of Dish's top picks, too?)
The beer-house genre happens to be very relevant to the Charlottesville restaurant/brewery scene and to Keaveny's place in it. This Culinary Institute of America grad with 20 years of coast-to-coast cooking experience moved to Charlottesville from Napa Valley to be closer to family.
He responded to an ad last fall but didn't realize who his potential boss would be until he noticed several Dave Matthews Band posters on the walls of Seven Oaks Farm, the site of his preliminary interview.
"My job is basically that of making good restaurants even better," he tells Dish. In addition to overseeing things at Mas, Blue Light Grill, and– as of last week– Mono Loco, Keaveny's first major assignment was polishing Starr Hill. The goal was to create a tavern-style menu that would complement and showcase brew master Mark Thompson's award-winning beers and also appeal to a diverse group of diners: concert-goers, vegetarians, students, professionals, couples, and even foodies like me.
After a few months of kitchen experiments with Starr Hill's young executive chef, Sean Walsh, Keaveny and Co. unveiled the new dinner menu just last week.
Not only does the menu pair each entree with a Starr Hill beer (new wines by the glass also tempt), but many of the dishes actually list beer as an inspirational ingredient: Amber Ale bread, Mojo "Peel & Eat" shrimp, lager-battered onion rings, stout-marinated skirt steak, salads drizzled with stout vinaigrette, and for dessert a surprising concoction called "beeramisu" (the brainchild of former chef Mike Ketola).
Breweries tend to favor meat-eaters, but the new Starr Hill treats vegetarians as first-class diners with hearty salads, tofu vegetable pot pie, white cheddar "mac & cheese" with roasted zucchini gratin, and a mock steak 'n cheese sandwich (made with grilled seitan).
As for the new shine on service, Keaveny credits new General Manager Brad Burke with the improvements. Non-smokers will be glad to know that the elegantly spare Gallery@Starr Hill space (adjacent to the main bar/dining room) is now open to Starr Hill diners and may also be rented for private parties.
When Starr Hill moves its brewing operation entirely to Crozet, the room up front that currently houses several shiny tanks could become another dining or private function room. As Keaveny says, "A restaurant is always a work in progress." If Starr Hill is any sign, we can expect lots of "progress" at Mono Loco in the months ahead.
Walk-ins welcomed at Crozet Pizza
Crozet Pizza had a mandatory reservations-only policy for so many years that even The Hook had trouble remembering that the new owners are making some big changes. As owner Mike Alexander reminded us, the beloved little pizzeria now welcomes the reservation-less with open arms.
"We try to keep at least three of our eight tables free for walk-ins," he says. "We're trying to change the image of Crozet Pizza as a place that turns you away or makes you wait two hours for a pie," he adds.
The maximum wait is now about an hour, Alexander says. As for the menu, they've introduced four new salads and are contemplating a kitchen expansion that will allow them to add a few entrees (and wine) to the menu. Crozet Pizza is open for take-out and eat-in from 3-10pm Mon-Fri, 11am-10pm Sat and 1-8pm Sunday.
Starr Hill's New Trio: (from left) Michael Keaveny, Sean Walsh, and Brad Burke
PHOTO BY CHRISTINA BALL