North stars: Forest Lakes awash in eateries

As the new Hollymead Town Center­ already home to mega-store Target, a Starbucks and Harris Teeter– continues to take shape (Sakura Japanese Restaurant recently reserved a 6,000-square-foot spot), the Forest Lakes Shopping Center across the street has already spawned several new eateries.

Quick and friendly Martin's Grill was one of the first to establish its presence in this emerging "neighborhood" in November 2004. This year brought a slew of new food establishments to the plazas behind Martin's– Baggby's Gourmet Sandwiches and End Zone Pizza filed in next to Food Lion.

More recently, Riverside North, a more sizeable clone of Riverside Lunch downtown, took the corner spot in the adjacent plaza, officially opening on April 21. Though initially concerned about competition from Martin's, Riverside owner Buster Taylor says there seem to be enough burger-lovers in Forest Lakes to support both businesses. [See news story, page xx–editor.]

Owned and operated by Benny Chen and family of Fujing, China, Shun Xing Chinese Restaurant opened three months ago next door to Riverside. This bright new eat-in, take-out restaurant offers Szechuan, Hunan, and Cantonese style lunch and dinner options and, like Riverside, is open seven days a week.

But it's the spot next door to Shun Xing that caught my eye. From Scratch Baking Co. is an innovative gourmet food shop opening Monday, September 26, with a "soft opening" Friday, September 23.. Owners Erica Hall and Josh Short bring impressive urban résumés to Charlottesville's newest suburb. Both attended the New England Culinary Institute in Montpellier, Vermont.

A native of Charlottesville, 29-year-old Hall was eager to return home and become her own boss after working under celebrity chefs like Daniel Boulud (Restaurant Daniel, New York City), Master Chef Christian Tetedoie in Lyon, France, and Jean Joho (Everest Room, Chicago). As From Scratch's Chef, Hall will focus on gourmet meals made with produce from local farms like Planet Earth Diversified and coffee roasted locally by Shenandoah Joe's.

"It's important to support local and regional farmers, growers, and producers who work very hard to bring us the best year round," Hall says. Hall's gourmet dinners-to-go include chicken cordon bleu, jumbo lump crab cakes with a red pepper rouille, and a vegetable napoleon with fresh herbs, vine-ripened tomatoes, eggplant, and Iron Rod chèvre.

Lunch crowds can enjoy From Scratch's sandwich menu (albacore tuna salad, Angus beef, three-cheese "caprese," peanut butter and banana with local honey) as well as homemade salads and soups. Her catering menu includes hors d'oeuvres like smoked salmon canapes, grilled chicken in phyllo, and crispy butternut risotto croquettes.

Pastry Chef Josh Short keeps an apartment in D.C., where he recently worked as executive pastry chef for Red Sage and Zola restaurants, following a stint in Las Vegas at Le Cirque and Bellagio.

At From Scratch, Short will be baking French and American-style pastries (croissants, muffins, and desserts for take-out and catering daily six days a week). His cake menu takes up about four pages, and includes tantalizing creations like Chocolate Chambord, Gianduja Crunch, Lemon Chiffon and birthday-friendly cakes like the Princess Cake (shaped like a ballroom gown) and The Race Car. Short also designs and makes custom wedding cakes from his list of flavors, frostings, fillings and decorations.

For now, From Scratch is take-out only, but the owners tell me they have "first refusal" on the space next door. If all goes well, a seating area could be in the works for the near future. I, for one, will plan my next trip to Target around lunch or dinnertime, in order to take full advantage of this new crop of shopper-friendly eateries.

Erica Hall and Josh Short at From Scratch in Forest Lakes