Note: This post is part of our guest series, The Corner, by digital media students at The University of Virginia. Today’s student contributor is Hajung Yoo.
If you’ve been in Charlottesville for more than a week, chances are you have heard of The Virginian. Established in 1923 by University of Virginia Alums Billy Gooch and Ellis Brown, it is the oldest restaurant in Charlottesville.
Current owner Andy McClure took over shortly after graduating UVa Comm ’01. And, in running a restaurant that once had to convert to a soda fountain during prohibition, McClure has always been mindful of the need to strike a balance between preserving history and forging ahead.
Thus, while The Virginia is designed to be a modern, attractive bar, the décor looks to the past, evoking nostalgic feelings of all-American comfort. Dark vintage wooden booths and dim lights recall a low-key speakeasy, and the vintage photos and wall décor reinforce the visual throwback. The menu also skews to Americana, with comforting options like chicken, burgers, salads, crab cakes, pasta, and sandwiches. Modern touches include wine and draught beer lists that are exclusively Virginian.
With three other restaurants in town (The Biltmore, Citizen Burger Bar, and West Main), McClure is fiercely proud of Charlottesville. “I think Charlottesville is outrageously unique…we do a ridiculous job in terms of food options, the experience and quality of chefs and style.”
What to Order
The Virginian’s most popular menu item is the Stumble Down Mac N’ Cheese – creamy, cheesy pasta with pepper jack under a cheddar potato cake. It’s one of Dean Groves’ favorites, too, who also likes The Rachel, which is essentially a turkey Reuben. But, if you ask the expert what to get, McClure will tell you his favorite is the steak and cheese, with thinly sliced steak, grilled onions, and American cheese on a toasted sub roll. A close second, he says, is the gourmet grilled cheese, with cheddar, provolone, and Swiss, on sourdough, grilled to a golden brown.