With Citizen Burger Bar, The Virginian, and The Biltmore all to his name, there is no doubting restaurateur Andy McClure’s knack for running successful restaurants. But, until Tavern & Grocery opened last year, one may have wondered whether that knack extends beyond traditional bar fare.
Wonder no more. Tavern & Grocery, McClure’s first foray into more sophisticated cuisine, is Charlottesville’s Best New Restaurant.
While the reasons are many, the biggest is the kitchen. David Morgan, a talented young chef, has been sous chef at acclaimed restaurants like Clifton Inn and Ian Boden’s Staunton Grocery (now closed). In his first stint as head chef, he has nailed it. His food is just familiar enough to appeal to the masses, while also showing the attention to detail to excite those of us with a passion for food. Case in point is the steak & fromage sandwich. If you’re inclined, scarf it down mindlessly, and it will hit the spot. But, it’s so well executed that it will also repay close scrutiny. After dry aging grass-fed rib-eye for four weeks, Morgan cold-smokes it, and then heaps seared thin slices onto a buttered Albemarle Baking Company baguette with brie, caramelized red onion, and garlic aioli. Other highlights are a dish of braised baby squid with a runny 62-degree duck egg, a burger that may be the best in town, and almost any special, where Morgan showcases his creativity.
But, don’t worry. This isn’t a froufrou place. It’s a tavern, warm and welcoming. The cozy space of brick and wood may inspire you to break out your phone and take a picture – just as alluring for an intimate drink as for a raucous meal with friends.
In fact, as others have observed, the setting and varied menu allow guests to make what they want of a visit to Tavern & Grocery. There are snacks for a light bite or sharing, sandwiches, and full entrees for those seeking a proper meal.
In addition to dinner seven nights was week, Sunday Brunch is already one of the area’s best, with the potential to bring back the party brunch. And, there is a serious beverage program, too, thanks to McClure’s brother Patrick, who also runs the downstairs speakeasy-style bar Lost Saint.
Service has the polish you’d expect from a place run by a serial restaurateur. Knowledgeable servers are passionate about the enterprise and seem genuinely to care about their guests’ experience.
Tavern & Grocery occupies a tricky location on West Main that was once home to McClure’s restaurant West Main. On neither the mall nor The Corner, it has always been a tough nut to crack. Here’s hoping that others agree Tavern & Grocery warrants breaking old habits and starting new ones. While the other finalists are worthy, Tavern & Grocery is 2017’s Best New Restaurant.