The Charlottesville 29

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

It’s Time to Declare Victory: The Charlottesville Food Community Overcomes COVID-19

A year ago today, March 16, 2020, this site launched the Culture of Takeout. The premise was a simple win-win: help save Charlottesville restaurants while brightening lives of seclusion with a restaurant meal at home. At the time, and for every day since, our restaurants have faced an existential threat from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Will our food community survive?

One year later, we have our answer. For all its havoc, for all its devastation, for all its pain, this virus could not defeat the Charlottesville food community. Yes, we lost beloved institutions. Yes, our restaurants faced greater anguish than ever before. Tears. Heartbreak. But, no, COVID-19, you did not destroy us.

Why did the Charlottesville food community prevail? Among myriad reasons, surely the biggest is heart.

A common theme on this site over the years is the heart of the Charlottesville food community. It is a talented bunch. And driven. And passionate. But, to quote a 2017 article:

If you want to understand Charlottesville’s food community, you need to know its heart . . . No virtue stands out more.

In the Charlottesville food community, if one has a need others rush to fill it. While that has long been the case, we now know it remains true even as a pandemic threatens the community’s very existence. Though dangling by a thread themselves, restaurants still did everything they could to help their peers. They lifted them up, they celebrated them, and they lent whatever help they could. There are too many examples to mention, but one story from early in the pandemic captures it well.

It started when an anonymous philanthropist began purchasing $10K or $15K worth of $50 gift cards from area restaurants and giving them to deserving recipients like frontline workers and people in need. A brilliant win-win with a philosophy not unlike the Culture of Takeout, the campaign injected urgently needed cash flow into restaurants, while brightening lives.

Two restaurant owners, though, declined the gift certificate purchases. While the pandemic had devastated their businesses and while $15K would have gone a long way to help them weather the storm, they could not bring themselves to accept such a large cash outlay while others suffered more. “Thank you, we appreciate it,” they said. “But, while we are hurting, we are going to make it. We would rather this money go to a restaurant in greater peril.”

Culture of Takeout One Year Later

The virus is subsiding. Vaccinations grow by the day. Spring is almost here. And in sight is the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.

The coronavirus has been a formidable foe. We are battered, bruised, and, in some ways, changed forever. And, we pour one out for casualties lost along the way. But, COVID-19, the Charlottesville food community has a message for you: we win.

Charlottesville 2021 Best Food Truck/Stand: Basan

In 2020, the award for Best Food Truck/Stand went to Sussex Farm, run by Jen Naylor. This year, the honor goes to the food truck run by Naylor’s daughter Kelsey and her partner Anna Gardner: Basan.

As with Sussex Farm, Basan is all about love — a love of food, one another, and sharing food with others. After Naylor and Gardner each spent years cooking at some of Charlottesville’s top restaurants (Naylor at Public, L’etoile, TEN, The Alley Light; Gardner at Public, The Ivy Inn, Junction, Oakhurst Inn), their love of Japanese cuisine took them to a year abroad, where they lived in the small rural Japanese city Miyakonojo. There they found a close-knit and hospitable community eager to share their culture. One friendly local named Yuki invited Naylor to took cook at her local izakaya – an informal bar that serves small bites to enjoy with drinks. A crash course in Japanese cooking, Naylor loved it. And, her love of Japanese food only grew.

When Naylor and Gardner returned to Virginia, they initially opened a pizza business, Pye Dog Pizza, an instant smash that allowed them to explore their creativity. Despite its success, their passion for Japanese food beckoned. And so, in 2020, Basan was born. “Basan in a lot of ways is shaped by the meals we cooked in our apartment in Miyakonojo, for ourselves, for Yuki, and for other friends,” said Naylor.

The menu is built around ramen and Japanese-style nuggets of karaage and katsu.

As delicious as these staples are, though, it is the weekly specials that draw crowds lining up to get one before they are gone. The love really shows. “I started cooking to my taste, and my memories, and the taste of the people that I love,” said Naylor. “That’s where the specials come from. Does the idea of this make us feel something?”

Duck wing gyoza – duck wing flats stuffed with dumpling filling

Bacon stick with fish sauce caramel and pork floss.

Kurobuta Tonkatsu Tomahawk with ume bordelaise

Keeping the front of the house straight and cheerful is industry veteran Job Bray, who sometimes gets in on the cooking too, bringing some Filipino flair.

Pork and shrimp lumpia with garlic, ginger, scallion, and dates. Served with a jufran (banana ketchup) sweet and sour.

Charlottesville is blessed with many outstanding food trucks. Among a stellar group of finalists, the 2021 Best Food Truck/Stand is Basan.


%d bloggers like this: