By Lucy Robbins
Whatever you do, don’t take your cheatin’ heart to Hamiltons’ for an intimate tete-a-tete and think your wife won’t hear about it. There will always be someone you know or at least know of: David Toscano, local filmmaker Paul Wagner, local publishers, and certainly, women whose kids go to school with yours.
It’s the latter that I have to watch out for. I was sitting outside Hamiltons’ with Yolande having a lengthy discussion about the most obnoxious mother at our children’s school, and damned if the woman didn’t come walking by. For that reason, it may be better to sit inside to limit the number of surprise attacks that can come your way. Also, indoors has a little more cachet than out on the Mall, an experience you can savor elsewhere at much lower prices than Hamiltons’.
Because ultimately it’s the food that accounts for Hamiltons’ phenomenal popularity. Take my lunch with Yolande. Even with only seven entrees on the menu, deciding what to order was harder than ever because the menu looks better than ever, if such a thing is possible.
For instance, there was rigatoni with spicy Italian sausage, sweet red peppers, crimini mushrooms, fresh ricotta basil and pinenuts for the heartier appetites. I also was tempted by the smoked trout on watercress greens with a creamy tomato-horseradish dressing, grilled red onion, Granny Smith apple and applewood smoked bacon.
And I really wanted Yolande to order the Vietnamese rice stir fry with grilled marinated flank steak, shrimp, cured tofu, bok choy, sweet peppers and scallions so I could sample it, but she went for the mixed green salad with cornmeal, crusted goat cheese, toasted pinenuts, sun dried tomatoes, and ancho chili vinaigrette ($7.95), which in my opinion was the weakest choice on the menu.
I decide in favor of my old fall back, the $7.95 vegetarian platter, probably the best deal at Hamiltons’. Certainly it took me several visits to order it, because of course I was imagining rabbit food with a lot of tofu tossed in. The vegetarian special usually has at least five separate items, and each is so sophisticated, you don’t even think of it as being vegetarian.
The best items this particular day are the legume salad with three types of beans, lentils being the only one I recognize, and a killer zucchini stuffed with tomatoes and basil (it had some sort of fancy French name that I can’t remember, one of the hazards of having servers recite specials of the day to their short-attention span patrons). There are greens that are always simple and scrumptious, some sort of duded up potato cake, and an artichoke-hearts-with-mozzarella salad.
Yolande and I start our lunch with Bloody Marys, which she needs as she tells me about her harrowing visit to the gynecologist. “Either I’m pregnant, I’m going to be divorced, or I’m going to die,” she recounts of some mysterious symptoms. We grimly sip our Bloody Marys. Fortunately, it was none of the above, but still… We take another sip of our drinks.
Our Bloodies are followed with the butternut squash soup. The soup has a dark swirl of caramelized bourbon-spiked pumpkin seed oil, which is very impressive, although I would have preferred a less sweet soup.
Yolande says she’s going to have the warm apple dumpling stuffed with walnuts and currants served with vanilla bourbon sauce and cinnamon ice cream for dessert. I’m amazed, because she had about four slices of the admittedly yummy fresh bread before lunch, but I think, you go girl. She probably needs some pay off after ordering that goat cheese salad– or maybe she is pregnant. But by the time our server checks in with us again, the mood has passed. And that can happen when you’re stranded out in the middle of the Mall without a server in sight.
What Yolande really wants is a cigarette and there she runs into Hamiltons’ Californication of Charlottesville. That’s when an eating establishment puts tables and chairs on a public sidewalk, strings a chain around it and declares it a no smoking zone. And yet, there’s a homeless guy sitting on a bench two feet away who can smoke with impunity.
Another friend of mine was sitting outside Hamiltons’ smoking one evening with no one else around, and her server came to tell her that smoking isn’t allowed inside the Hamiltons’ chained off seating area on an otherwise public Mall. Naturally, my friend ignored her.
So my point is, you don’t go to Hamiltons’ to smoke, you go to eat, and eat well. And afterward, you stand outside the chained off seating area and blow smoke freely.
Hamiltons’ at First & Main
101 West Main Street
11:30am to 3pm Monday-Saturday
5:30 to 10 pm Monday-Saturday