Northern lure: Diners head to Gordonsville

The much-acclaimed French-Provencal restaurant, Pomme, has been luring diners from Charlottesville, Richmond, and beyond to the historic center of Gordonsville since January.

Well, this month a second new eatery could further enhance this town's profile as a dining destination: The Toliver House Restaurant. Located right on evolving Main Street in a renovated 130-year old building (a former general store, residence, and restaurant) that has been vacant for two years, the Toliver House will likely (ABC permit-pending) open this week.

Eager for a new challenge, co-owner and GM John Siver bought the building with his business partner, equestrian Vicky Castegren, in late March and has since overseen renovation of the potential-rich property. What was before a very traditional ambience (i.e. old photographs everywhere) has been freshened up and modernized to create an ambience both elegant and relaxed.

Light green, mauve, and claret shades of paint took the place of old wood paneling in the restaurant's three dining rooms. The wrap-around screened porch now sports new tables, ceiling fans, and a stereo.

New hardwood floors, cherry-stained furniture, and lighting fixtures seal the new deal, though history has been preserved in details like fireplaces and the foyer, which is still adorned with old photos of Gordonsville people and places.

Siver's had a fascinating career that belies his under-30 age– he's a former Navy S.E.A.L. and federal firefighter (to name just a few high-caliber jobs) who lived in Italy­ including the glamorous "Emerald Coast" of Sardinia- for four years before returning to his native upstate New York. When his friend Castegren, a Gordonsville resident, told him about the Toliver House opportunity, he couldn't resist. "I loved the idea of creating a restaurant from the ground up," he says.

Siver also clearly loves the drama and spontaneity of the biz. "To me dinner is like theater, and 5:30 is curtain call," he says.

What part does his military training play in restaurant management? It's apparently all in the details. "There's a little Martha Stewart in me, but the government really made me into a detail person," he says.

Chef Jonathan Hayward, formerly of the C&O and Escafé, is in charge of the restaurant's brand-new kitchen. The American/Continental menu, which Siver says is all about offering the best "bang for your buck," features starters like fried ginger-marinated calamari atop a scallion cream sauce and a salad of local tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. The entrée-acte stars an oven-roasted Virginia trout with Stitt's grits (grits with parmesan and butter, named after Birmingham restaurateur Frank Stitts), grilled chicken breast with fresh mango salsa, and a black angus NY strip steak with green peppercorn sauce.

Enjoying a pre-opening night out, Toliver House's Hayward and Siver were two of the many guests at the inaugural meeting of the Charlottesville Chefs' Supper Club, which took place at Fellini's #9 Monday, July 18. The brainchild of Fellini's new chef, Adam Beckel, this innovative, food-centered club is intended to bring chefs and serious foodies together at a different hosting restaurant once a month to push the culinary envelope, encourage collaboration, share purveyor info, make some money for charity and (for those not cooking) simply enjoy the pleasures of fine dining.

At this prototypical event, Beckel teamed up with Todd Grieger of Mono Loco to prepare a seven course meal that wouldn't quit­ calamari in chili butter with kalamata olives, capers, red grapes, and spinach; fricasseed quail in roasted red pepper crespelle with a Marsala tomato ragu.

Attendees included chefs Melissa Close of Palladio (host of the October club meeting), Denise Yetzer of Cavalier Produce, and representatives of the night's non-profit beneficiary, WorkSource, which provides job training and employment for people with disabilities. Interested chefs and foodies should contact Beckel or Fellini's owner Jackie Dunkle for more info on how to join the club.

John Siver at Toliver House

The Toliver House in Gordonsville