The Charlottesville 29

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

New Belmont Eatery Planned

Belmont

Palladio’s Melissa Close-Hart, the area’s most decorated chef, has earned four James Beard semi-finalist nominations for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic, more than all other Charlottesville area chefs combined.  Imagine the delight, then, of restaurateur Adam Frazier, when Close-Hart agreed to leave Palladio to become Executive Chef of a restaurant he plans to open next year.  For fourteen years, no one else could lure Close-Hart away from the area’s premiere fine dining Italian restaurant, at Barboursville Vineyards.  Until Frazier.

Frazier is founder and owner of Belmont’s The Local, where Close-Hart’s husband Matthew has been head chef since its opening in 2008.  Frazier’s yet-to-be-named new restaurant will be right across the street from The Local, in a historic building at the corner of Monticello Road and Douglas Avenue.  “Historic,” in this case, means it has required a fair amount of renovation, which is well underway.  Still, Frazier is determined to preserve the original integrity of the building.  “The building is from the early 20th century,” said General Manager Michelle Lakrad, “and has a lot of character that [Frazier] has kept intact during the renovation process.”  For example, when they peeled away one of the walls, they found a brick wall decorated with a vintage Pepsi sign that is sure to become a signature of the new restaurant’s decor.

Pepsi

While Close-Hart was hesitant to leave her home of fourteen years, she is excited about the new venture. “Being given the opportunity to help open a new restaurant from the ground up was very intriguing to me,” said Close-Hart. “I look forward to working with Adam and Michelle.”

So: great chef, great location, and great restaurateur.  Beyond that, details are still in the works.  Even the type of food is not yet set it stone, but Close-Hart says it will be a sharp break from the Italian cuisine she has cooked for much of her career. With the opening still months away, there is still plenty of time to sort it all out.  The good news is that you can follow along as details emerge.  By liking the restaurant’s Facebook page, New Belmont Eatery, you can watch the new venture unfold.

Close-Hart Era at Palladio to End

Melissa

Photo by Jackson Smith.

There is a term in the corporate world – golden handcuffs – that describes conditions of employment considered so desirable that they discourage valued employees from leaving for another job.  Common examples are stock options and bonuses whose values depend upon length of employment.  The idea is to make remaining at the company far more attractive than any other opportunity.

For fourteen years, Melissa Close-Hart, chef of Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards, has enjoyed a chef’s equivalent of golden handcuffs.  Good compensation, a loving team, job security, a breathtaking setting, and a renowned vineyard that has provided a platform for Close-Hart to earn four James Beard semi-finalist nods and host countless nationally acclaimed chefs. Although fourteen years is an unusually long tenure for a chef to remain at one restaurant, it’s easy to understand why Close-Hart never jumped ship.  Where could she go that would be an improvement?

But, ultimately, most chefs dream one day of creating their own place. It’s why many of them are in the business in the first place  – to create their own vision, not execute someone else’s. And, as much as Close-Hart has loved being part of the Barboursville family, she too at times has felt that itch.

Time to scratch it.

Early next year, Close-Hart will leave Palladio to pursue a new opportunity.  “When you are a chef, you crave knowledge and adventure,” said Close-Hart.  “I feel that it is time for that new challenge.”  Of course, deciding to leave her home of fourteen years was not easy.  “I have learned so much from [winemaker] Luca [Paschina] and everyone who has ever worked with me at Palladio,” said Close-Hart. “All that knowledge made me the chef I am, and Palladio the destination it is today.”

Paschina echoed the sentiment. “It has been a great run,” he said. “Together we have established a great culinary destination, setting the standard for this flourishing wine and food region.”

That standard is likely to continue even after Close-Hart’s departure next March, as she will leave Palladio in the hands of her longtime sous chef Spencer Crawford. “I am ecstatic that the new chef will be Spencer,” said Close-Hart.  “Knowing Spencer’s abilities and talents leaves me confident that ‘my baby’ is still going to grow and flourish under someone who I know and respect.”  Crawford, who trained at Johson & Wales University, has already developed a reputation at Palladio, in particular for his charcuterie, which even wins praise from the likes of Roberto Donna, Esquire’s 2012 national chef of the year.

Palladio, then, will still be Palladio.  But, what’s next for Close-Hart?  After all this time in golden handcuffs, what could finally lure her away?  Details here.

 

Two for Tuesdays: Joe Harris

Joe Harris

Photo by Bob Leverone, AP Photo.

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.

Tuesdays during The Corner series feature two favorite Corner food items selected by a different University figure each week. Today’s picks come from basketball star Joe Harris, who last year led Virginia to the regular season and postseason ACC Championship, and was awarded ACC Tournament MVP. This Friday will mark the first time in 1,708 days that Virginia will play a game without Harris on its roster.  Harris now plays for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.  And, while he loves playing alongside the likes of teammate LeBron James, he still misses his favorite foods on The Corner. Harris’ picks:

1)  Funky Q Chicken Pizza with a Caesar Side Salad at Mellow Mushroom.  “It’s one of the few beloved franchise restaurants on the Corner and a hot spot for unique pies, beer specials, and trivia night. Their garlicky, cheesy, fresh crust is ‘the greatest.'”

2)  Any Sandwich at Take It Away. “I could literally swim in their house dressing. It is so good, and they have amazing bread.”