Taking flight: Wings and curry flee the Corner

While old stand-bys like the White Spot, the College Inn, The Virginian, and the Biltmore Grill give the Corner the illusion of stability, this neighborhood is actually as restless and in-flux as the rest of Charlottesville these days.

Take Elliewood Avenue, for instance. Just six months after opening, The Buffalo Wing Factory and Pub is already history. When I paid Elliewood a visit on Monday, February 21, the last of the kegs were being hauled out of the mostly empty building. Workers (one a former bartender at the pub) were busy dumping empties and preparing the space for what they've been told will be a new restaurant.

Though wing franchise owner Osama El-Attari did not return our calls by press time, former manager Kipp Anderson told Dish that the last wings were served on Saturday, February 12. [For more on El-Attari, see this issue's lead news story–editor.]

Anderson says he's hanging around only because Art Conroy, the current owner of the two buildings at 12 and 17 Elliewood Avenue, hired him to clean the place out and get it ready for whatever's coming next. Anderson was not aware of Conroy's plans for the buildings.

Rumors that Martha's Cafe will tag along for the ride into oblivion are unfounded.

"I believe that this building can be torn down only if it's condemned," says café owner Michael Payne of the bright blue house under an old elm tree. Payne– who's owned and operated Martha's Café with his wife, Carrie Payne, for the past seven years– says the rumor about a hotel taking over the entire block was just that: fiction.

Though the atmosphere at Martha's is cheerful and tranquil, the continual change going on next door has been jarring, to say the least.

"This will be our third spring in construction," Payne lamented, "and chainsaws don't exactly mix with our environment." Still, Payne says he's committed to Elliewood and will ride out the changes. Other business owners in the area say they look forward to moving away from the bars and broken bottles and setting up shop downtown.

Though Wertland Street is technically part of the Corner District, it lacks the visibility enjoyed by University Avenue and, to a lesser degree, 14th Street. In the shadow of a parking garage, the recently opened (April 2004) Maharaja restaurant closed for good a few weeks ago. Posted signs announce the imminent arrival of yet-another all-day breakfast joint: University Diner (not to be confused with the new Greek-owned University Grille on Ivy Road). Dmitris Tavampis, owner of the quintessential diner The White Spot, believes the Wertland location is too hidden to attract UVA students.

"They tell me they don't like to go back there because it's under a garage," he says.

The Wertland Marahaja was a more casual, less expensive version of the restaurant of the same name on Zan Road. Both were owned by the Durve family. Calls to the Zan Road location revealed that it is now under new ownership. Jonathan De Costa tells Dish he bought Maharaja from Arun Durve three months ago. Durve was apparently ready to retire, and his son, Amit Durve, who ran the Corner location, landed a job in DC.

De Costa is no stranger to Indian cuisine. This 27-year-old from Goa has been the chef at Maharaja for four years. Before that, he worked for the Taj hotels in India and also with Celebrity cruises. Durve discovered De Costa in Orlando and lured him to Charlottesville.

"I'd never be a restaurant owner if I'd stayed in Florida," he admits. "I was having too much fun there."

More on his plans next week.

Wings fly away, but Martha is here to stay.