The Charlottesville 29

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

Category: Introductions

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.

Café Frank is Here! A look at the menu and interior of Jose De Brito’s new restaurant

“A dream come true” is no hyperbole. Fans of Jose De Brito’s food have literally dreamt that he might one day open his own restaurant. While they may disagree where he reached his greatest heights — Ciboulette, The Alley Light, or Fleurie — none would dispute that the James Beard semifinalist is at his best when free to create whatever he wants. Like at his own restaurant.

Café Frank opens March 15 in the former home to Splendora’s on the downtown mall. By day, it offers De Brito’s grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, pot pies, and pastries. At 4 pm, Apertif Hour includes De Brito’s small bites served a la carte with champagne, wine, or a cocktail. And at night, the dinner menu, at long last, belongs completely to De Brito. While he plans to change it often, the opening menu features dishes like beef carpaccio with oyster tartar and caper mayonnaise; house-made fettuccini with shrimp Bolognese and lobster tail; and Steak Diane with mushroom & bourbon sauce and scalloped potatoes.

Take-home meal specials change by night of the week. Currently, Thursday is Choucroute Alsacienne – braised pork, sausage, potatoes and Pinot Blanc sauerkraut. Friday is Cassoulet – pork, duck, and Tarbais beans, cooked in aromatics with a condiment of roasted tomato. And, Saturday is Blanquette de Veau – veal stew with rice pilaf and spring vegetables. Advance ordering required.

Cassoulet

The new restaurant reunites De Brito with serial restaurateur Wilson Richey, who, in addition to The Alley Light, has launched The Whiskey Jar, The Pie Chest, The Bebedero, Brasserie Saison, Kama, and Milkman’s Bar.

As is his habit, Richey has assembled an experienced team. Managing is Johnny Frankenberger (MAS, Quality Pie, Rapture, Station, etc.). Overseeing the bar is Mike Stewart (Milkman’s Bar, Kama, and Commonwealth). Bar menu here.  And the design belongs to Stephanie Williams, whose previous projects include Lampo, Prime 109, and Kama. The interior already had “good bones,” said Williams, so she just reconfigured colors and space and uncovered an existing brick wall and chimney for a feel that is modern and sleek, but cozy and warm.

Located at 317 E. Main Street, Café Frank is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 am to 10 pm.

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