The Charlottesville 29

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

Edwards Dry Cured Lamb is Stunning

Lamb

This is one of those very rare occasions where I was almost tempted not to write about a food because I want it all for myself.   Edwards Virginia Smokehouse has just released Dry Cured Lamb, and it is extraordinary.  Heavy on the smoke, loaded with umami, and a finish for days.

But, it’s the texture that is so stunning.  Close my eyes and I’d almost believe it’s smoked tuna, or even mojama. I bought a crusty roll to go with it from Albemarle Baking Co., but quickly decided that it was best to alternate between bites of bread and lamb.  Eating them together prevented full appreciation of the lamb’s silky mouthfeel.  Alternating bites, meanwhile, broke up the lamb’s richness and enhanced enjoyment of the next bite.

A delicacy of colonial America and reportedly a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, “lamb ham” is experiencing a revival thanks to the teamwork of two great Virginians: curemaster Sam Edwards and shepherd Craig Rogers of Border Springs Farm.

At more than $40 per pound, it may sound expensive, but a little goes a long way.  The quarter pound I bought was just $10, and more than enough for lunch.  No wonder the guy who sliced it for me at Feast! said: “this is my favorite thing in the world right now.” OK, but please save some for me.

 

 

 

Food Truck Takeover

Cider Week

If you don’t have plans this Sunday evening, you might want to snag tickets to the first ever Food Truck Takeover.  How often do a bunch of award-winning chefs get together to cook whatever they feel like in a food truck?  Two of the chefs, Curtis Shaver and Tucker Yoder, were named C-VILLE Rising Stars for their potential to be join Charlottesville’s next generation of Mt. Rushmore Chefs. The other two, Caleb Shriver and Phillip Perrow, were nominees for Food & Wine Magazine’s People’s Best New Chef in the Mid-Atlantic. They will all be taking over food trucks South Fork, Spiked, and Blue Ridge Pizza Co..  And, as part of Cider Week, great cider will be on hand to wash it all down, including Blue Bee, Albemarle Ciderworks, Potter’s Craft, and Foggy Ridge.

Among the many great dishes, Yoder plans Fried Braised Fall Squash, with turnip and apple chow-chow, smoked cornbread, and buttermilk dressing.  And, for dessert, an Apple Hoe Cake with cider bourbon syrup.

Top it all off with bluegrass by Ben Hernandez, and you’ve got a pretty solid fall Sunday evening.  $65 gets you all the food and drink you want, and, best of all, proceeds benefit the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville.  Sunday from 5-8pm at Adventure Farm.  Buy tickets here.

Bloody Brilliant Bloody Brilliant

Large Tomato

For the spectacular oyster roast that has long been a November tradition in my wife’s family, I am tasked with the Bloody Mary bar.  Years ago, when I first began making my own Bloody Marys, I spent hours researching what makes a great one.  After lots of reading and experimenting, I reached a firm conclusion: the key to a good Bloody Mary is good tomato juice.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, a Bloody Mary is mostly tomato juice.  Just as good water makes good coffee, good tomato juice makes good Bloody Marys. But, for whatever reason, a myth has grown that other mysterious, secret ingredients are essential to a great Bloody Mary.  Classic 80s sitcoms did nothing to quash the myth, like the Cheers episodes about Bloody Mary contests against Gary’s Old Towne Tavern.

In my view, all you need for a great Bloody Mary is great tomato juice and decent Vodka.  After that, it’s just a matter of personal taste.  Do you like it heavy on the umami?  Add extra Worcestershire sauce, or something more exotic like anchovies, beef consomme, soy sauce, or fish sauce. Perhaps you like spice. Then add your favorite hot sauce, cayenne pepper, and/or lots of horseradish or even wasabi.  And, finally, if you’re like me, you’ll want a healthy dose of lemon or lime juice for some acidity to thin it out and liven the flavors.  Season to taste.

But, all those things are beside the point unless you start with great tomato juice. This is one reason that I’ve never found a bottled Bloody Mary mix that rivals the ones we make at home.  They’re doomed from the start.

Until now.

Bloody Brilliant is just that.  It’s a mix from a new company called Back Pocket Provisions, founded by former The Rock Barn employee Will Gray and his sister. “To make a better Bloody Mary mix, you need a better tomato,” touts their website, speaking my language. Thus, they start with pressed locally grown Virginia tomatoes.  Partners from the 2015 growing season include Critzer Family Farm, Dodd’s Acres Farm, Double H Farm, Shady Lane Family Farm, The Local Food Hub, and Virginia Food Works.

Sure, they’ve got some other ingredients in there, like horseradish, anchovies, and cayenne pepper. But, the local tomatoes are the stars of the show.

I served it at the oyster roast last weekend, and what a hit.  Raves all around. Guest after guest asked about it. Keeping the pitcher full seemed a task for poor Ali Sard.  The faster he fills it, the faster he empties it.

Look for it at Ivy Provisions, Feast!, and Timbercreek Market.  Or, order it online from Relay Foods.  Or, if you don’t want to pour your own, buy one at Rapture and The Ivy Inn.  But, whatever you do, try it.