Best Thing I Ate All Year 2022: Charlottesville’s Food Community Name the Year’s Best

by Charlottesville29

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? Picks from prior years are here: 2021, 20202019201820172016 and 2015. And, below are this year’s picks in our food community’s annual tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty. Meanwhile, The Charlottesville 29 pick for 2022 Dish of the Year is here.

Jason Becton (MarieBette)

Chicken Confit at Birdhouse. “This past summer, Patrick and I had a date night every Thursday at Birdhouse. The food is delicious and made with care and intention. Liz and Tim are great hosts, and whenever we would go in we would just have Liz bring us a bottle of whatever she thought we should try which was always great. One standout on their menu for me, and probably the best thing I ate this year, is their chicken confit. It’s served on a thick piece of sourdough and mixed with white beans, fresh herbs, greens, onions and a some capers. It’s a great way to start the meal, and even my picky kids ask for more.”

Mitchell Beerens (Lampo)

Red Hot Blues with Danger Sauce and Wait a Minute Sauce at Continental Divide. “I’ve had this dish dozens of times but the first time I had it at the bar post-isolation really tugged on my heart strings. It was exactly the same as the time I had had it before. The last time was pre Covid lock downs, late 2019 I think. It was perfect. Precisely what I wanted. Precisely as I had remembered it. It impressed on me that things can get back to some kind of normal. The world had changed but Continental Divide hadn’t. I love them for that.”

Liz Broyles (Birdhouse)

Chopped Salad from Lampo2Go. “The classic combination of radicchio, piquillo peppers, provolone, salami, olives, marinated chickpeas, and pepperoncini is basically an antipasto with a bunch of romaine and an oregano red wine vinaigrette. Yum. Deliciously simple and always super fresh, this generous salad can be a meal all by itself, but I usually can’t help ordering the roasted vegetable sandwich too.”

Kate Collier (Feast!)

Celery and Olive Salad at Birdhouse. “I’m completely addicted to the Celery and Olive Salad with a side of grilled bread at Birdhouse.  The silky white bean tahini puree is intensely craveable, as is their chicken confit.  Birdhouse is our new go to takeout spot and our secret place to take good friends.”

Jose de Brito (Cafe Frank)

Charred Eggplant at Smyrna. “Now I never understood the deliciousness of eggplant until the day I sampled an eggplant dish at the restaurant of one of my favorite chefs, Mr. Joel Robuchon. Since this day almost 15 years ago, there is not one week I do not think about that eggplant. I have myself tried to do it. I am close but not the same: the sweetness, the smokiness, and the balance of spice do not match. The first time I ate at Smyrna, I ordered the eggplant. It tasted just like the eggplant of Robuchon, sweet with a background of smokiness and absolutely no bitterness and also spot-on with the seasoning. So I came a second time, and reordered it just to double check, and my opinion was the same. Now that is when I concluded that those guys can cook very well, and can cook eggplant admirably. But, I should have known, because Tarik, the chef of Smyrna, told me that he cooked in the kitchen of Joel Robuchon. That is the best dish of the year for me. Their bread is not too shabby either.”

Melissa Close-Hart (Mockingbird)

Super Smash Burger at Chickadee. “The best thing I ate this year was the smash burger at Chickadee. I watched with great anticipation as two great friends battled the obstacles of opening a restaurant during the pandemic. I was there at opening to try as many things as I could. But the smash burger stood out. It’s a blend of a diner burger with the sophisticated flair of a restaurant burger. A perfect balance.”

Photo by Chris Martin

Patrick Evans (MarieBette)

Fried Chicken with Sides from Underachiever Food. “Always a bit different but never to be missed. Right now I’m dreaming of a simple buttered rice that was heavenly and paired so well with perfectly seasoned spicy fried chicken. Their pork buns are also not to be missed.”

Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange, Champion Ice House)

Seared Scallops at Mockingbird. “The Sorghum Glazed Seared Scallops from Mockingbird hit the spot. The scallops were so fresh and cooked perfectly. The glaze was so complimentary and the whole dish just fit together so seamlessly. It was just happiness on a plate. You could tell that it was cooked with joy and not ego.”

Christian Kelly (Maya)

Cheese Pizza Slice from Mona Lisa. “My son goes to school right around the corner. We go at least twice a week. It’s a gamble because they run out, but it’s so good it’s worth taking the chance. The crust is perfect, light and crisp, crunchy, chewy. Quality cheese. Fugetaboutit.  Sneaky delicious like everything else in that store. Well done Jim and crew.”

Kathyrn Matthews (Iron Paffles & Coffee)

Love Train from Superfly Brewing Co.. “It’s hard to choose a beer in a city with an abundance of first class breweries. However, Super Fly’s Berliner Weisse blew me out of the water. It is the perfect balance of tart and wheat without being overly sour and heavy. I normally don’t do sours, but now, I’ll actively seek this beer when the brewery opens in the spring. It’s just that good.”

Michael McCarthy (Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie)

Coconut Pie from Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant & Bakery. “I realize this isn’t in Charlottesville but the coconut pie that Mrs. Rowe’s makes in Staunton is really out of this world. All the pies are good but this is my favorite.”

Loren Mendosa (Lampo)

Manti at Smyrna. “I went to Smryna with expectations of fine dining. And, while it is that in some respects, it is such a different take on it, with the Turkish and Mediterranean influence. The dish that stuck with me was the manti.”

Kelsey Naylor (Umma’s)

Oxtail Platter from Pearl Island. “Anything from Pearl Island is a go-to for me and Anna. Whether it’s curry tofu, plantains, or pulled pork, you really can’t go wrong. We had the oxtail platter for the first time a few months ago and I’m still dreaming about it. Truly delicious food made by really wonderful people.”

Wilson Richey (Ten Course Hospitality)

Pike Quenelles at Café Frank. “I had always read about pike quenelles, but never had them. They are a classic French dish from everything I have read, and people rave about them. When Jose put them on the menu at Café Frank I rushed in to try them. They far exceeded all expectations. People talk about putting love into their food, this was the essence of that notion. A beautiful, subtle white fish souffle-like quenelle warmed in the most rich and complex fish sauce I have ever tasted, the two parts working together perfectly. It was balance and harmony and a dish that lifts one out of themselves. That was the best dish I ate all year.”

PK Ross (Splendora’s Gelato)

Geng Tdai Plaa at Chimm. “Sinus-clearing spicy, but drops off enough that you can taste all the aromatics and acids in the curry. The umami and funk from the fish is as at home over noodles as it is jasmine rice, and the large vegetable pieces are little moments of sweetness in an overall spicy dish.”

Alicia Simmons (Tavola)

Pozole at Birdhouse. “The comfort and warmth of the soup and the heartiness of the chicken makes me wanting to come back for more. Paired with the lightness of the fresh herbs and keeping it classic with the hominy, this soup is one that hasn’t left my mind. Since first tasting it, I can’t wait to sit down in their cute quaint restaurant and have another bowl with family and friends.”

Susan Sweeney (Cake Bloom)

Oysters at Public Fish & Oyster. “I honestly haven’t eaten out much this past year as I’ve been in the kitchen pretty much 24/7, but my one moment of self-care is on Tuesday afternoons (my weekend) when my husband and I sit at the bar at Public for a dozen oysters. When you’re in the sugar business, there’s really nothing better than a briny, raw oyster, crispy, salty fries and a cold Belgian beer to keep things level. Public nails it every time.”

Angelo Vangelopoulos (The Ivy Inn)

Fried Green Tomatoes at Mockingbird. “Farrell and I had the pleasure of enjoying an anniversary meal at Mockingbird back in August. Melissa’s fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese is awesome. And, we were also blown away by her slow cooked green beans. I wasn’t expecting it, but the pinch of sugar in the beans really sent it over the top. It’s so great to see such a talented chef really in her wheel house now.”

Photo by Robinson Imagery of Do Me A Flavor

Julie Whitaker (Vu Noodles)

Apple Fritter from Baker No Bakery. “I don’t usually gravitate towards sweets, but Christina’s apple fritter is craveable. It’s a light donut, with a perfect amount of sugar glaze and apple and spice. Really good.”

Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)

Baklava Cheesecake at Smyrna. “I have had a couple great meals at Smyrna in the short time they’ve been our neighbors on Main Street. The octopus is always a great choice or their fluke crudo, but the baklava cheese cake really gets me. I’m not a sweets guy, but my wife is, so when she wanted to order this I rolled my eyes and figured it would be too sweet. But instead it was this beautifully delicate and balanced ride on the wild side. Lovely honey, pistachio and cheesecake. Nailed it, gang.”