Best Thing I Ate All Year 2020: Charlottesville’s food community names the year’s best

Each December we celebrate the Charlottesville food year by asking chefs and others in the industry: what was the best thing you ate all year? Here are picks from 2019, 201820172016 and 2015. And, below are this year’s picks in our food community’s annual tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty. Meanwhile, check back soon for The Charlottesville 29 pick for 2020 Dish of the Year.

Dylan Allwood (Tavola)

Wonton Soup from Chimm. “The shrimp wontons are light and delicious, but the depth of flavor in the broth is amazing.”

Jason Becton (MarieBette)

Grilled Pork appetizer from Chimm. “I keep wanting to ask Jay Pun for the marinade recipe, but I’m too embarrassed to ask.”

Mitchell Beerens (Lampo)

Food from Local Farmers, Local Artisans, and Local Restaurants. “There is no restaurant industry, at least not the way we know it in Charlottesville, to go back to when we come out the other end of this pandemic without our local artisans and farmers. I choose these three, as a group, as the best thing I ate all year: local farmers, local artisans, and the restaurants that choose to support them no matter how big or small.”

Jose de Brito (Fleurie)

Bread from Brasserie Saison. “I suppose like most people this year we did not dine out much. Once was at Brasserie Saison and we were served a slice of bread that reminded me of Poilane bakery back in France; and although the French metaphor ‘long comme un jour sans pain’ (long as a day without bread) is now for me a memory of the past, I to this day have the highest respect for bread and breadmaking. I am not sure who made this bread, but if he/she reads this note, your bread is excellent.”
Note: the bread is made by Rachel De Jong of Cou Cou Rachou.

Ryan Collins (Little Star)

Dumpling Soup from Sussex Farm. “That soup is perfect.  Simple broth and dumpling.  All the sauces and condiments please.”

Patrick Evans (MarieBette)

Spicy Ramen from Sussex Farm. “I look forward to Saturdays for this. The perfect COVID-ready meal to take home and heat up when you want it. Jennifer Naylor’s broth is so rich and flavorful, and the spicy ramen leaves you feeling warm and satisfied. If this ramen is too spicy for you, try the delicious dumpling soup, a full bodied bone broth soup, with delicious bite-sized dumplings–perfect to share with the whole family.”

Laura Galgano (Blue Moon Diner)

Cavolo Nero from Lampo. “Half of my family lives in Harrisonburg. The other half in Richmond. This makes Charlottesville the natural meeting place, and this year, we gathered for my father’s birthday in the safest way we could figure: we ordered from Lampo, and ate from our own boxes on the Diner’s rooftop. In true Italian family fashion, I ordered an enormous amount of food, and was lucky enough to have an extra shredded kale salad at the end. This salad is the most delightful balance of textures and flavors that completely coats your taste buds, from sweet to savory, with a hint of heat. It’s the perfect size for a side dish, but I could quite easily see myself eating a giant bowl of it. Lampo excels at highlighting the glory of good ingredients, and simple Italian cooking.”

Craig Hartman (The BBQ Exchange)

Coconut Cake from C&O. “We did a lot of take out this year, and I can’t get past the coconut cake from C&O. Dean did not get a PPP loan and literally did everything for takeout with a very small team. We were blown away by so many of the meals we received from the likes of MAS Tapas, Conmole, Palladio, and more, but that darn coconut cake. So perfectly prepared and so delicious.”

Brian Helleberg

The Captain with Cold Brew from Corner Juice. “We didn’t get out much this year but the best thing I enjoyed regularly was The Captain with cold brew at Corner Juice. Corner Juice has been my go-to this year and I am impressed every time.”

Kathryn Matthews (Iron Paffles & Coffee)

Bánh Mì from Vu Noodles. “While in Vietnam, I tried phenomenal bánh mì sandwiches, and the fact that Julie can surpass them using tofu is nothing other than extraordinary. Complete with crisp baguette, creamy mayonnaise, pickled vegetables, and fresh cucumber, it’s absolute perfection. I recommend ordering two (I always do) and try an iced mango green tea while you’re at it.”

Dean Maupin (C&O)

Beef Tartare at The Alley Light. “I also had the dealer’s choice that night, a cocktail I can’t remember the name of, but it had a egg white floater and was garnished with grapefruit. It was really remarkable.”

Robin McDaniel (The Alley Light)

Croque Monsieur at Belle. “Prosciutto cotto, eggs, crusty bread, and Mornay sauce all work in harmony in a classic but difficult to execute dish. However, my favorite addition is the salad which features two of my favorite greens: little gem and watercress. The salad is lightly dressed with a delicious roasted garlic dressing. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the cinnamon brioche, which is another favorite of mine. In addition to a great menu, the staff at Belle is always extremely friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable.  They go above and beyond the Covid-19 protocols too. It’s the perfect patio for a brunch experience in Belmont.”

Jennifer Naylor (Sussex Farm)

Sourdough English Muffin from Belle. “When I was first introduced of this sourdough English muffin, I was absolutely amazed. It was the most delicious English muffin I have ever tried. I recently got some more, and I’ve been eating one just about everyday with kimchi and egg. So so good.”

Kelsey Naylor (Basan)

Za’atar Croissants from Bowerbird Bakeshop. “I love every single thing I’ve ever eaten from Bowerbird Bakeshop, but most recently they gifted us with their za’atar croissants, and they were ridiculously good. Perfect flake and butter-to-breadiness ratio. For a staff meal we turned them into sandwiches with some things we had hanging around and 10/10 would absolutely eat again. Seriously though, you could put anything on one of these and it would be the best sandwich you’ve eaten all year.”

Jennifer Peterson (Paradox Pastry)

Scott Shanesy’s Polenta Pullman Loaf from Belle. “We buy one each week, cut it in half, flip it on end, and leave it on the cutting board until it’s gone. Toast, slather with butter, drizzle with honey . . . swoon.”

Sober Pierre (Pearl Island Cafe)

Classic Croissant Breakfast Sandwich from Bowerbird Bakeshop. “Pretty much any egg and name it combination.”

Wilson Richey (Ten Course Hospitality)

Cassoulet at The Alley Light. “We didn’t get out that much this year, but there is always a dish that stands out. For me, the dish that stands out in my head from the entire year is the cassoulet at The Alley Light. Robin McDaniel has made this a signature dish for the Charlottesville experience. It is warm and comforting, complex and extremely flavorful. Perhaps this year I needed a lot more ‘comfort’ in my life and the cassoulet at Alley Light was the warm hug that has gotten me through. I also love that it is a sharing dish — there is  something special about an amazing meal that is meant to be shared.”

John Shanesy (Belle)

Chicken Barbacoa from Conmole. “The sauce was outstanding, and I was impressed at how perfectly cooked the chicken was. The rice was perfect, too, with warm tortillas and plenty of them. This chicken was so good that I went and washed my hands and emailed you immediately before I finished my first of three plates. I placed my order subsequently three more times over the next few weeks. I miss it like I miss live music. I couldn’t have gotten more lucky having Benos as a neighbor either. We worked together back in 2011 at Mas and he was so kind to me then and we immediately picked back up the same jokes we ran back then.”

Susan Sweeney (Cake Bloom)

Capesante ai Ferri from Tavola. “We celebrated our first anniversary in Charlottesville at Tavola and every course was outstanding, but what really sticks out in my memory was the capesante ai ferri. Perfectly seasoned and caramelized, the seared scallops sat on a bed of brilliant red beet risotto for creamy, earthy perfection in every bite.”

Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)

Produce from Mooring Farm. “Jonathan and Mariana are great friends and their veg is really great. Each summer they also always grow some new weird things to try out, which is always fun for us. All year they have generously donated produce to Oakhart and Little Star which is truly an amazing gift.”