The Charlottesville 29

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

Category: Introductions

Introducing ooey gooey crispy: Elevated Grilled Cheese from a Chef and a Cheesemonger

This one has been a long time coming.

Ever since we heard that food super-couple Carolyn Stromberg Leasure and Zack Leasure were relocating from D.C. to Charlottesville, we have eagerly awaited what they might do here. In D.C., Carolyn ran Righteous Cheese, the acclaimed artisanal cheese shop in Union Market, while Zack was Executive Sous Chef of Tail Up Goat, helping it earn a Michelin star and nod as one of the country’s best new restaurants. Both were favorite stops on D.C. visits.

After arriving in Charlottesville in 2017, they dabbled in the idea of a cheese food truck, Carolyn did pop-up cheese tastings, and Zack spent time at several restaurants and also served as Executive Chef of Big Kitchen Hospitality Group. All the while, though, we hoped that they might join forces for their own place in Charlottesville. Next month, they will do just that, when their grilled cheese shop ooey gooey crispy opens in CODE.

It is a product of two great passions: food and Charlottesville.

A Passion For Food

After working in restaurants in high school and college, Carolyn tried the normal job thing, but couldn’t shake the lure of the food industry. She worked in several fine dining restaurants before embracing her true passion: cheese, which was the very first word she said as a child. Opened in 2012, her artisanal cheese shop and wine bar Righteous Cheese offered 100+ cut-to-order artisanal cheeses and flights of wine and beer pairings. She also made grilled cheeses so good that USA Today called them among the nation’s best

Zack’s entry to the food world was Charlottesville’s Vivace before he set off for D.C.. There he found a job at one of the city’s most influential restaurants, Komi, which was consistently ranked the #1 restaurant in the city during his tenure. “What I learned there forever shaped my sensibilities on food and, even more so, on hospitality,” said Zack. Next, Zack was Sous Chef at Red Apron Butchery and Osteria Morini before joining a team of Komi veterans to open Tail Up Goat, a restaurant devoted to whole animal butchery, bread baking, pasta making, and preservation.

A Passion for Charlottesville

Even before they moved to Charlottesville in 2017, Carolyn and Zack had been set on it as their forever home. “We had visited Charlottesville many times, both to see family and to enjoy the outdoors, and had met many people in the food scene,” said Carolyn. “We were so welcomed and really felt the community of what it would be like to live here.” Another plus was family life, with two young boys. “We wanted our kids to enjoy the same kind of outdoor freedom that we had growing up – just exploring the woods,” said Carolyn. “Now that we’ve been here several years, we feel totally enmeshed in the community and our kids definitely spend their days in the outdoors.”

From their first day in Charlottesville, Carolyn and Zach immersed themselves. “We are completely committed to both being a part of the community and doing our part to contribute to it,” said Carolyn.

Introducing ooey gooey cripsy

And, what will their contribution be?

Grilled cheese. “It is the ultimate comfort food,” said Carolyn. “We eat it all the time and, though anyone can make grilled cheese, we believe it deserves the same level of thoughtful attention as the dishes we crafted for years in our fine dining backgrounds.” That attention especially took off when Carolyn would bring home amazing cheeses from Righteous Cheese, and she and Zack would make grilled cheese sandwiches, experimenting with flavors and textures. 

Years of trial-and-error from two talented and passionate food artisans is about to pay off for Charlottesville.

“It starts with ingredients,” said Zack. Sourdough bread from Albemarle Baking Company, high-quality cheeses from sustainable farms, and local and sustainable meats. “From there, it’s all about the extra attention and love,” said Zack. Buttering the bread all the way to the edges to ensure uniform color and crispiness; shredding rather than slicing the cheese to achieve the right gooey interior at the same moment the outside is shatteringly crisp; allowing the grilled cheese to rest before cutting so that the cheese comes together just so. “These are details that may seem inconsequential, but have been tried and tested in our kitchen,” Zack said. 

At ooey gooey crispy, guests will be able to create their own custom grilled cheeses from a menu of select ingredients. Choose your cheese from Fontina Val d’Aosta, cheddar, gruyère, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or brie. Choose butter from classic, sage butter, parm butter, or truffle butter. And choose toppings from crushed potato chips, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, bacon marmalade, picnic ham, or Mike’s hot honey.

Better yet is a menu of house favorite combinations, like brie, truffle butter, and crushed potato chips, or Zack’s favorite, Fontina and sage butter.  “We use traditional Fontina Val d’Aosta, which is robust and funky, but when it melts, it changes a bit – mellows out and gets buttery too,” said Zack. “The classic Italian alpine cheese paired with the woodsy herbaceousness of the sage butter exemplifies the northern Italian flavors I love dearly. Plus it’s just so damn good.”

For lighter meals, there is also a menu of “big salads,” such as Carolyn’s favorite, the Blustery Fall Salad, with roasted celery root, arugula, celery hearts, lemon-soaked currants, toasted hazelnuts, brie, and sherry vinaigrette. “With those bites of brie, toasted hazelnut, and currants, it takes it from sad-salad-lunch to something super luscious and indulgent without being heavy,” said Carolyn, who likes to pair the salad with Creamy Tomato Soup. “It’s the best tomato soup I’ve ever had, and it has the added bonus of being vegan,” said Carolyn.

Ooey gooey crispy opens in November. Meanwhile, you can visit here to learn more about the project, help them get off the ground, and win rewards like their own cookbook, free grilled cheese, and more.

Introducing Taste Shack: Smoked’s Justin van der Linde Brings His Attention to Detail to Classic Sandwiches and Familiar Favorites

Nearly a decade has passed since Justin van der Linde began selling barbecue from a cart on the downtown mall. The crowds that flocked to his cart only grew when, in 2016, he opened a brick and mortar home for Smoked. Even certified barbecue judges heaped praise.

All the while, as passionate as van der Linde was about barbecue, the culinary school graduate could not shake the urge to make other foods he loves. “I get this itch every once in a while to do something new,” said van der Linde. And so, van der Linde has sold his beloved Smoked, to turn all of his attention to a new venture: Taste Shack, which opens next week on 29N.

For van der Lind, “something new” never means reinvent the wheel. That’s not his M.O. Rather, he takes classic foods he loves, like barbecue, and applies obsessive attention to detail. “I am not the great inventor,” said van der Linde. “But, I do like to make a run at it.”

With Taste Shack, he is making a run at a menu of classic sandwiches and other familiar favorites, where the simple names bely the effort behind them. For “Chips and Dip,” for example, van der Linde first slices and soaks Russet potatoes. He then deep fries the sliced potatoes and, while they are still hot and ready to absorb flavor, tosses them in a house-made “red-salt,” which he likens to a dry rub. The dip for the chips is van der Linde’s take on a classic game day bacon-and-onion dip, but requires a lot more care than opening a pouch of powder. Van der Linde roasts onions in butter, which he chops together with cherry-wood smoked bacon, and blends with beef broth, sour cream, and minced chives.

Fans of Carving Board, the sandwich shop he ran with his wife, will be thrilled to know that sandwiches are a focus of Taste Shack, again with van der Linde’s signature attention to detail. For a Steak and Cheese, he says, the cut of beef is crucial. Too fatty and the fat won’t have time to render on the flat-top. Too lean, and the meat will dry out as it sears. That’s why he calls rib-eye the “king of the cut” for the sandwich. “You get that good mouth feel,” said van der Linde, “and there’s enough marbling that you get that good sear before it dries out.”

For the sandwich, Van der Linde starts with whole rib eye, which he trims to an eighth of an inch of fat. He freezes it briefly to firm up before shaving off thin slices. The shaved beef stays raw until order when it is seared on the flat-top and topped with a choice of cheese and toppings. The whole thing is stuffed into an Amoroso roll, which van der Linde re-bakes at the restaurant, yielding a crisp exterior and soft interior.

As good as the Steak and Cheese sounds, van der Linde’s personal favorite is the Country Gentleman, a nostalgic tribute to a childhood favorite from a sandwich shop called Chubb’s, where his father would take him on Sundays. Van der Linde starts with whole turkey breasts, which he de-bones in house. “This ensures the highest quality whole muscle product,” said van der Linde. “Nothing extruded like you would find in most deli turkey.” He brines the turkey breast for 48 hours in 50/50 sugar and salt, rubs it in salt and pepper, and then roasts it whole, adding honey towards the end of the roast time, to bring a touch of sweetness without burning.

For the sandwich, he piles the turkey with Kite’s country ham, Southern style slaw of green cabbage, and a choice of cheese (he recommends Swiss). Next comes the key, van der Linde says. A house-made Russian dressing that he likes so much that he is tight-lipped about its preparation. While all sandwiches come on a choice of bread, van der Linde says grilled rye is the way to go for the Country Gentleman.

And for those cutting carbs, sandwiches can also be ordered over greens instead of on bread. It’s all made from scratch. House-brined corned beef for Reubens. House-brined and house-smoked pastrami. And a smash-burger inspired by the 2017 Dish of the Year.

A Happy, Hometown Place

The COVID-19 pandemic weighed heavily in van der Linde’s planning of Taste Shack. For guests, the pandemic changed the ways many people want to dine, he said: faster, easier, and often on the run, whether from Apps or instore kiosks.

But, it’s not just ease people seek, van der Linde says. More than ever, people crave a happy escape. And so, his aim with Taste Shack is to create what he calls a “hometown place with hometown service,” where everyone feels welcome and happy. Like The Tavern back in the day. “It’s a shack,” he said, “so come as you are. Bring your kids in muddy cleats and shin guards falling out.”

The pandemic’s lessons extend to staff, too. “I am hearing what the industry is saying,” said van der Linde about restaurant workers fleeing the industry. “Message heard loud and clear. Our staff is just as important as the customer.” In addition to “top pay” and a positive environment, the father of two plans for hours that allow staff a quality life outside work: Monday through Friday, 11am – 7pm.

Taste Shack is located on 29N at 2291 Seminole Lane. Check back for an opening date.

 

Introducing Crush Pad Wines: Wine Bar and Shop from Vincent Derquenne and Co.

Vincent Derquenne’s love of wine is well-known around Charlottesville. When industry folks get together to share wines, Derquenne often shows up with bottles that blow away even the most serious oenophiles. While he seems to have encyclopedic knowledge and a knack for finding special wines, to enjoy them you have to be lucky enough to attend one of the private gatherings with Derquenne.

Enter Crush Pad Wines, a new wine bar and shop that brings some of Derquenne’s favorites to the masses. And it’s not just Derquenne. His wine team includes GM and Certified Sommelier Rachel Gendreau, as well industry veterans Tom Walters (Foods of All Nations) and Wes McCullen (DS Trading Co.).

Directly across the Downtown Mall from Bizou, the former home to J. Fenton Gifts has been transformed into a sleek and comfortable space for drinking and shopping. A long bar with green leather stools lines one side of the room, while shelves of wine bottles line the other.

There will be food, too.  With Tim Burgess, Derquenne is one half of the trailblazing duo whose Metropolitain restaurant transformed Charlottesville dining. They now own Bizou, Bang!, Luce, and The Space. Crush Pad Wines will offer a menu of small plates and other bites designed to enjoy with wine, including another Derquenne specialty, house-made charcuterie.

The retail shop is now open, with food and beverage service starting later this month.

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