For a city of its size, Charlottesville has a remarkable variety of restaurants. Afghan, Bagels, Balkan, Barbecue, Beer Bars, Burger Bars, French Bistro, Indian, Korean, Moroccan, New American, Italian, Spanish, Szechuan, Thai, Spanish, Soup . . . Okay, we’ll stop. We could go on and on.
Yet, despite the variety, there remain a few gaps — a handful of types of restaurants that we have enjoyed in other cities but, for whatever reason, have yet to reach Charlottesville.
One of the most glaring gaps is a mezze restaurant. Mezze are sort of like Eastern Mediterranean tapas — small plates of food popular in places like Greece, Lebanon, and the Balkans, often enjoyed with wine. Admittedly, we might be particularly sensitive to this gap because of our fondness for Zaytinya, Jose Andres’ restaurant in Washington D.C. that for more than a decade has been one of the country’s mezze standard-bearers.
Who better to fill Charlottesville’s mezze void, then, than Justin Ross, the former Beverage Director and General Manager of Zaytinya? Later this year, at The Shops at Stonefield, Ross plans to open Parallel 38, a wine-centric restaurant built around mezze.
Just 32, Ross is a prodigy of sorts. He started working in a restaurant at just 14, was an assistant pastry chef by 16, and an assistant chef by 17. He then held several different jobs in beverage and restaurant management, developing a passion for wine, and a skill at pairing it with food, earning certificates from the Court of Master Sommeliers, American Guild of Sommeliers, and French and Spanish Wine Academies. He was not even 25 when he was recruited by Richard Hamilton, an Alain Ducasse protege, to run a 17,000 wine cellar at Tidewater Inn’s Restaurant Local, in Easton MD.
Ross’s tenure at Zaytinya began in 2007, as Wine Director. Before his two-and-a-half year stay was through, Ross would become the restaurant’s General Manager.
What, then, could bring Ross to Charlottesville – the virtual boondocks for a guy accustomed to city restaurant life? Romance, of course. Ross’s girlfriend, whom he met when they both worked at Zaytinya, was born and raised in Charlottesville. After she moved back several years ago, Ross began looking for restaurant opportunities here. Ross didn’t have much luck until a chance meeting at a wine tasting event last year at a Washington, D.C. tapas bar. One of the attendees was signing the praises of another tapas bar, our own Mas Tapas. Ross knew Mas from his visits to Charlottesville, and struck up a conversation. The attendee told Ross of a friend who was looking for someone to open a wine-centric restaurant at a new development being built in Charlottesville.
That friend turned out to be Richie Brandenburg, the Director of Culinary Strategy for EDEN’s, the real estate development company behind Stonefield, whose restaurants Brandenburg is responsible for developing. Ross knew Brandenburg well from their time working together for Jose Andres, and figured that EDEN’s must be a special company for a food-driven chef like Brandenburg to be lured from the kitchen to a corporate job. Ross soon confirmed his suspicion, as EDEN’s immediately impressed him. “It’s incredible how much thought and focus goes into what they do,” says Ross. Ross was in.
Parallel 38 is named after the circle of latitude that Ross says has been more conducive to good food and drink than any in human history. Some of the locations the northern parallel passes through include Athens, Greece; Alicante, Spain; Setubal, Portugal; Calabria, Italy; Napa Valley; and Mendocino County. It also happens to pass through Charlottesville. Ross plans to showcase wines from many of these regions, and will offer 38 by the glass, including several sparkling wines “on tap.” There will be about 100 more by the bottle.
As for the food, Ross allowed us a sneak peek at a trial menu, and there is much reason for excitement. As cephalopod fiends, we were thrilled to see no less than three octopus dishes, including Grilled Baby Octopus with jamon, cippolini onion, and pepperoncini. There will also be a selection of spreads with pita bread, including one called Habas y Almendras – fava beans, almonds, manchego, mint, and lemon. Meat-eaters should be happy with options like Kibbeh Nayah – a beef tartare, ground to order, with bulgar, radish, and mint oil. And, there are plenty of vegetarian choices, too, like Brussels Sprouts with pomegranate seeds, crispy shallots, preserved lemon, and labneh.
Parallel 38 is expected to open this Spring.