Double Spot: Corner dining choices multiply
Don't be deceived by the seeming lack of traffic on University Avenue during these (blissfully) quiet summer months. Significant changes are brewing inside several Corner eateries. Could it be that the just-opened, always-buzzing Bodo's is having some sort of cataclysmic effect on the Corner's gastronomic microclimate?
First off, University's Ave's most famous food-related landmark, The White Spot, will soon be doubling in size. And that's welcome news, considering how tiny the original, railcar-sized diner is!
Shortly after popping up from a hatch in the floor, owner and local personality Dmitris Tavampis confirmed that he now holds the keys to the space next door, formerly occupied by Coyote gift shop.
Dancing around my battery of questions, he was teasingly vague about specific plans for the oddly shaped adjacent space, making me think he's still trying to figure things out himself. He'll surely keep the shop's sky-painted ceiling (reminds him of his native Greek isle), take out the red walls, restore the original floors, and put in tables and chairs.
Beyond that, his lips are sealed until September, the target opening date. What the new spot won't be is an exact replica of the current White Spot.
"Two hundred people ask me every day for something different," Tavampis says, "so next door I'm going to have something different." What he would say is that the space will function as an extra dining room with a potential retail element and that it will not involve alcohol ("I don't want trouble!"). The only alteration to the White Spot will be a new doorway linking the two rooms.
Just around the corner, on 14th Street, Frank's Pizza, which closed suddenly at the end of June, is being transformed into Basil, a new Mediterranean bistro owned and operated by Raif Antar.
Antar says he was looking for someone to buy his friend Frank Benincasa's popular business as a favor when suddenly a light went on, and he decided to buy it himself. "I've been planning Basil's menu and design for years," he explains, "and this seemed like the perfect opportunity."
A former sales rep for Ferraro Foods with over 18 years in the restaurant biz, Antar, a native of Lebanon, is in the process of completely remodeling the former no-nonsense pizzeria into what will likely be one of the Corner's most artful, exotic eateries (along with the Ethiopian food coming soon to the University Diner/Maharaja space on Wertland).
When I stopped by last week, the walls were being painted bright yellow. Doors were already a contrasting deep blue. Moroccan lanterns, Matisse posters, and stacks of colorful, mismatched ceramic plates had just arrived and wine consultant Christine Iezzi was perusing Basil's international wine and beer list with Antar.
The bistro's menu combines traditional Lebanese, Greek, Turkish, and Israeli dishes chicken shawarma, falafel, hummus, house-made lamb gyro, Israeli couscous– with more familiar (or less "adventurous") Italian and American eats– burgers, pizza, pasta, subs, sandwiches. Prices are sure to appeal to students and staff alike. Antar's aiming for an August 1 opening.
Vacant for almost a year, the Cheseapeake Bagel spot on University Ave has a new tenant. Managers at the Red Roof Inn confirm that owners of a Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches franchise are planning an October opening following significant renovations to the former bagelria that closed its two locations (Corner and Barracks Road) last summer. Joining Blacksburg and Alexandria, Charlottesville will mark the third Virginia location for this franchise, which has its corporate headquarters in the university town of Champaign, Illinois.
Though it's not located on the Corner, Sloan's was certainly popular with university students. The restaurant and sports bar, which has been around in one form or another since 1983, closed its doors on June 30.
Kevin Haag, who purchased Sloan's in 2001, cites the economy and the overall world political situation as reasons for the slow, post-9/11 decline of his business. He's currently looking for a buyer and says the landlord is willing to lease the Millmont Avenue space.
Raif Antar brings Basil to the Corner.
PHOTO BY CHRISTINA BALL
Dmitris' lips are sealed.
PHOTO BY CHRISTINA BALL