The Charlottesville 29

If there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29?

Five Finds on Friday: Della Bennett

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Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Della Bennett of the personal chef service P L E N T Y, which offers weekly meal preparation, grazing boards, and intimate catering. Ask about her services at plentycville@gmail.com, sign up for her weekly menu at P L E N T Y’s website, and browse her culinary creations on Instagram at @plentycville. Bennett’s picks:

1) The Boss Wings with celery, Ranch, AND Blue Cheese at Wild Wing Cafe. “You can take the girl out of the wing joint, but you can’t take the wing joint out of the girl. To this day, The Boss wings are the only wings I’ll ever love, from the first job I ever had. At just shy of 5 feet tall, barely 18, ex-hostess turned only girl in the kitchen, I was slinging wings from the expo station. I think it was there that I learned to speak up and ask for what I wanted in life, which turns out, was equal parts boss wings on the fly AND respect from all the male cooks I looked up to. The Boss Wings are unlike any other wing you’ll find at WWC: marinated first, fried at least once, and then tossed in a top-secret spice blend while they’re still piping hot. That’s it. No sauce. A wing with no sauce? Trust me on this one. And I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or what, but I’ve always liked the ranch and blue cheese here.”

2) Cavoletti Di Bruxelles at Lampo“So, I guess I’m the girl who prefers the green over everyone’s favorite pizza. I’ve tried to recreate the Lampo salads for my clients but nothing quite compares to the real thing. The Brussels sprout salad is my pick: shaved Brussels and fennel, perfectly dressed, and then piled high with a lot of fluffy pecorino and the perfect amount of crunchy hazelnuts. Dreamy. And while I’m at it, I’ll also have the kale one that has all the crispity crunchity things on top (I know, they’re parsnips). Double INSALATE, hold the PIZZE, and a high five for every single person working there because they’re some of the coolest in town and make me feel all warm and fuzzy from the moment I walk in.”

3) Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls at Feast!. “I don’t always get the chocolate covered peanut butter balls when I go to Feast!, but when I do, I get the 6-pack. Okay, and that first part was a lie. I always always always get them. Every single time. They’re made with love, with the perfect chocolate to peanut butter ratio, by my friend, Natalie. (aka @zoonybug) and they’re ONLY available at Feast!, unless you are lucky enough to run into her at a dinner party because she always brings them and no one is ever mad about it.”

4) Panang Curry at Tara Thai. “This is the only time that tofu is my protein of choice – maybe it’s because my girlfriend is vegetarian and I don’t have a choice, maybe because it’s fried, but most likely because it is the best, most absorbent vehicle for the SAUCE. The sauce in this dish literally makes me weak in the knees and I am not too good to turn the bowl up and slurp it. Beautiful as it is creamy, a coconut milk-based broth with fresh basil and tiny pieces of peanut and bell pepper. If I’m being honest, the tofu/veggies/rice are just for looks.”

5) Charred Carrots at Oakhart Social. “Maybe it’s the fourth Smokey Rose talking, but this dish is my #1, my ride or die. It’s as if ‘carrots + ranch’ came back to school after summer break, and now they’re all grown up, with a deep voice, and a rather sophisticated mustache. From the craggy bits of charred stem (newsflash, you need to be eating this part of the carrot if you aren’t already) down to the tender sweet carrot, perfectly charred and caramelized in the wood-burning oven. If you’re dining with me, I probably already helped myself to all of the candied pecans. My bad. Another set of high fives to the overall vibe here. They get it.”

Five Finds on Friday: Gisela Carradero Rivera

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Today’s Five Find on Friday come from Gisela Carradero Rivera, Chef de Cuisine of Oakhurst Inn Cafe and Espresso Bar, where she has just introduced new fall menus. For breakfast, there are pumpkin waffles with whipped cream cheese, spiced rum syrup, and candied pumpkin seeds. But, don’t worry, the coconut grits are still there, too, though now they come with house smoked maple glazed pork belly and baked apples. For lunch, there’s a sandwich de pernil, with local braised pork, salsa criolla, and avocado aioli on an olive oil baguette. And, a harvest greens salad, with butternut squash, apples, fried Caromont Farm chevre, and lemon vinaigrette. See the full menus here. Rivera’s picks:

1) Aburi Salmon at Now & Zen. “A former chef of mine introduced me to Now & Zen back in my Keswick days and I can’t seem to stop going back, definitely a go to. The Aburi Salmon was on of his favorites and my husband and I always get it. Never changes and it is always delicious.”

2) Num Tok and Thai Tea at Monsoon Siam. “Can’t ever go wrong with cilantro, red onions, basil and all of the amazing ingredients in the Num Tok dish. Or any dish at the restaurant. Definitely my favorite Thai spot in town.”

3) House Sausage Pizza at Oakhart Social. “Let’s be honest, I love every dish I’ve ever had at that place. I think they do an amazing job! But the one thing I always get is the house sausage pizza. Love it.”

4) Mary Lou Mule at The Alley Light. “I love Mules, but the Mule at The Alley Light has been number one for me since the first time I drank it.”

5) Chocolate Praline Crunch Cake at Albemarle Baking Company. “It’s amazing. I find any reason to try and buy it for someone’s birthday although I try to eat it by myself.”

Introducing Charli: A Spirit for Charlottesville

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In tribute to The Charlottesville 29 and Lampo, the label for the new spirit Charli includes a road sign and a lightening bolt.

When Ivar Aass moved to Charlottesville six years ago, he had one purpose in mind: distill high quality spirits. And, at Spirit Lab Distilling, the distillery he runs with his wife, he does just that. From a bare bones warehouse facility on 6th SE, Aass distills tiny batches of spirits that already have a following not just here in Charlottesville, but beyond. With characteristics of both Scotch and traditional American whiskey, for example, his flagship Single Malt Whiskey forges a new style: American Single Malt. Bottles of it and other creations have earned spots in the bars of acclaimed D.C. restaurants like The Dabney and Rose’s Luxury.

As much as Aass loves distilling, though, he has fallen hard for another crush during his time here: Charlottesville itself. In 2012, Aass and his wife had grown weary of life in New York, and were ready for a change. At the suggestion of a friend, they visited Charlottesville. After just a weekend here, Aass and his wife were smitten. So smitten that they signed a lease two weeks later and have been here ever since. “I am continually blown away by how awesome Charlottesville is,” says Aass, citing a combination of small town benefits with the cultural amenities of a big city. The “coolest part,” Aass says, is how nice everyone is. “It’s kind of easy to be a nice person in Charlottesville,” Aass says.

His latest spirit, then, is a tribute to Charlottesville: a bitter apertivo called Charli, similar to Campari. The idea came from Lampo’s Andrew Cole. Aass says a great aspect of brewing in such small batches in a city like Charlottesville is the opportunity to respond to specific, local demand. Aass enjoys sitting with local bartenders, learning of needs and ideas.

In this case, Aass was at the bar at Lampo one afternoon when Cole suggested creating a local apertivo that would revive the use of crushed cochineal beetles as a coloring agent. For decades, this was how the beloved Italian apertivo Campari got its distinctive red color, before switching to artificial coloring in 2006. Aass loved the idea, and set out to make Charli, his homage to Charlottesville.

Aass started with his own neutral spirit made from wheat malt and sugar. To that, he added botanicals like bitter orange, bergamot peel, and gentian, among others. Some he added during distilling, while others he added to the completed spirit afterwards as a maceration. Determining when to add each, Aass said, was part of the learning process, trial and error. Finally, he added the crushed cochineal beetles.

The result is an apertivo that Aass likes best with nothing but a little soda water and a lemon twist. He also suggests it as a substitute for Campari in cocktails like negronis, and hopes that Charlottesville residents will be proud to invent their own creations using a spirit named for their hometown. In tribute to its inspiration, Charli’s label features a lightning bolt similar to Lampo’s logo, as well as the shape of a road sign, a nod, Aass says, to The Charlottesville 29 (Thank You!). Yes, at The Charlottesville 29 there is no shortage of love for both Charlottesville and negronis.

Charli will be released this month. Look for it at the distillery itself, or order it through your ABC store. Check back here for release date info, or follow along on Spirit Lab Distilling’s Facebook page.