The Charlottesville 29

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

Category: Introductions

Introducing Wayland’s Crossing Tavern

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Beat cancer. Open a restaurant. It’s been quite a year for Bryan Sewell, the chef who next week will launch Wayland’s Crossing Tavern.

It was just over a year ago that Sewell was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that starts in the white blood cells and can spread throughout the body. He was head chef of Public West Pub & Oyster Bar at the time, and despite the shock of the diagnosis and the grueling treatment it required, did not miss a beat. “I honestly don’t know that he missed a single day of work despite chemo and regular doctor visits,” says Public West owner Daniel Kaufman. “Somehow, he kept the restaurant going without any loss of quality or consistency. His work-ethic was absolutely amazing.”

Sewell, now 28, says cooking helped him through. “Working my job allowed my mind to be taken off of what I was battling,” Sewell says, “and was one of the most effective therapies during my cancer treatment.”

All of that hard work paid off. Sewell entered remission in December, and, soon after, the chef who has worked in restaurants since age 16 received a shot at his dream. Kaufman offered him the restaurant. Ready to return attention full-time to his Charlottesville restaurant, Kaufman could think of no better use for the Public West space than for Sewell to start his own place. “In many ways it was already his,” says Kaufman. “No one spent more time there, and he never took his mind off the success and reputation of Public West.”

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Bryan Sewell, left, with Kaufman, right, on the day Sewell became owner.

What is Wayland’s Crossing Tavern? 

Fast forward a few months, and after much planning and renovations, Wayland’s Crossing Tavern is set to open.

“Everyone is welcome,” says Sewell of his tavern. It’s a pub for families, friends, neighbors, and visitors, he says, offering American and British pub classics, like wings, sandwiches, beef stew, and even a Ploughman’s Lunch – a board of smoked meats and artisan cheeses, with Bavarian bread, Irish butter, and pickled vegetables. There will also be Sewell’s signature Fish and Chips, which he brings with him from Public West, where it had a following among regulars. Beer-battered fresh cod is fried and served with slaw, curry aioli, and twice fried “chips.” Other carry-overs from Public West, by “popular demand,” he says, include fried oysters, mussels, an oyster po’ boy, and, of course, raw oysters.

But, the dish Sewell is most excited about is Chicken Tikka Masala, which some call the British national dish. For Sewell’s version, he marinates and then grills chunks of Shenandoah Valley Organic chicken, and serves them over rice with a homemade curry yogurt sauce. “I think it will be one of our more popular entrees once people try it,” Sewell says.

Like any pub, though, Sewell says, it’s about more than food. Like beer. The initial list of six taps includes Guinness (a permanent line), Beer Hound Brewery’s Olde Yella, South Street’s Barhopper IPA, Hardywood’s Rum Barrel Pumpkin Ale, Victory’s Sour Monkey, and Apocalypse Ale Work’s Barmegeddon. Running the front of the house is co-owner Kim Dillon who, like Sewell, has long dreamed of owning a tavern. Regulars can expect sports nights, game nights, tap takeovers, live music, and more, she says. The first tap takeover, with Apocalypse Ale Works, is already scheduled. Meanwhile, Wayland’s Crossing Tavern’s grand opening is Friday, October 20, at 4pm, with live music by Chris Winter and Music for the Soul.

In the restaurant world, there are no sure-things. But, about Wayland’s Crossing Tavern, Sewell’s former boss is awfully optimistic. “He has built and maintains a great relationship with so much of his clientele and the surrounding community,” says Kaufman. “He is going to absolutely kill it out there.”

For more about Sewell, a Q&A with the chef-owner:

1) What is your culinary background?

My passion for food began when I was a tableside chef at Somerby Golf and Community Club in Byron, MN where I prepared individual dishes to the high expectations of guests. It was at that point I realized  that I knew I was destined for a career in the restaurant and hospitality business. While I completed my bachelors degree at the University of Vermont for Natural Resource Management, I ran a tortilla bakery for a Mexican-American fusion restaurant in Burlington, VT. During my time at the bakery, I noticed that there were several tortillas per batch that were not acceptable for wraps to serve customers. I realized that tortillas which were usually thrown away could be turned into a profit by baking them and creating various flavors of chips that were desirable to customers. While the business ran it’s course, I learned that I could be a successful restaurateur and entrepreneur. After I left the tortilla bakery, I worked as a line cook at one of the best restaurants in Vermont, The Farmhouse. This is where I cut my teeth and really learned the ins and outs of preparing food at a full service restaurant. I was able to combine my managerial experience with my cooking abilities when I became the Head Chef at Public West Pub and Oyster Bar. I had to learn many new skills in order to actually run all of the operations associated with being a chef. However, I was able to turn a profit for the first year of the restaurant’s operation, provide a high quality of cuisine for approachable prices, and provide a unique experience for guests. As well, I am carrying over my fish and chips recipe to Wayland’s Crossing Tavern which has been said by some patrons to rival ones from the U.K.

2) While working at Public West, you battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Can you describe that journey?

When I received the original diagnosis in July of 2016, my career as a head chef had just begun, my parents were still in the process of moving to Virginia, and my brother received a job in California. One of the few sources of comfort came from working in the kitchen. I knew that it may affect my ability to work, so I had a difficult discussion with Daniel, the owner of Public West at that time. I told him about my diagnosis, and he went out of his way to make sure that I was supported and would still be able to follow my passion of being a chef. Working my job allowed my mind to be taken off of what I was battling, and was one of the most effective therapies during my cancer treatment. The doctor recommended that I take time off after the chemo; however, I didn’t want to let my staff or the success of the restaurant suffer. As many cancer patients and survivors know, the days following treatment can be physically and mentally draining, but I was determined not to let it stop me from achieving my dreams. Cancer can be a devastating disease, and I couldn’t have done what I did without the amazing support from my staff, family, and friends who would consistently help where it was needed. I realize there are many people around the world in much worse situations than what I experienced, and I was fortunate. I am grateful that I was able to beat the cancer and call myself a survivor.

The New Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar

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Photo by Sara Miller.

“If you’re not improving, you’re getting worse.”

NBA legend Pat Riley may have meant his words for basketball but they apply just as well to restaurants, where a sure path to failure is to rest on past success. And, so while Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar has done well since opening on the downtown mall in 2011, its owners have decided it is time for change. For that, they have called on the experts: restaurateur Will Richey and chef Harrison Keevil.

The result?

The short version is “Modern Virginia Cuisine.” The long version is a fascinating story about the Charlottesville restaurant community and Virginia cuisine.

A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats

Commonwealth is owned by a team of investors, one of whom – Richard Averitt – is a close friend of Richey. Perhaps our area’s most prolific restaurateur and the founder of Ten Course Hospitality, Richey has had to his name The Alley Light, The Bebedero, Brasserie Saison, The Pie Chest, Revolutionary Soup, and The Whiskey Jar. Who better to help give Commonwealth a boost?

But, with five food businesses of his own on the downtown mall, why would Richey want to help another? The answer lies in a philosophy shared by many in the Charlottesville restaurant community: a rising tide lifts all boats. “Richard and I never saw ourselves as competition,” says Richey. “We both believe that the downtown mall can only be made stronger when all of the parts are stronger.”

Richey’s first task was to give Commonwealth a clearer food identity. Richey saw many strengths at Commonwealth, from the handsome decor to the good service. But, for all its success, Commonwealth’s hodge-podge menu never left clear what type of food it features. Richey’s idea was “Modern Virginian Cuisine,” observing a relative dearth of the style on the downtown mall, particularly with last year’s closing of Brookville, the hyper-local restaurant run by Chef Keevil and his wife.

“Modern” Virginian Cuisine

Why “modern”, as opposed to just Virginian cuisine? Well, consider one of Commonwealth’s most popular dishes: jerk chicken with rice & beans, plantains, and mango chutney. With its Caribbean flair, it may not seem like a traditional Virginian dish. But, as Commonwealth Chef Reggie Calhoun told Richey, Virginia now has a large population of people from Caribbean islands. And so, while Commonwealth’s food will draw on Virginia’s long culinary traditions, it will also reflect the melting pot that Virginia is today, including the restaurant’s beloved jerk chicken. “Virginia is a place that has been shaped and reshaped by various cultures and communities from around the world,” says Richey. Instead of focusing just on colonial or traditional foods of Virginia, Commonwealth will also reflect thee newer influences of the, well, commonwealth. “The name Commonwealth played right into the concept,” says Richey.

As the idea started to take shape, Richey decided to call on Chef Keevil. After all, Richey says, when it comes to Modern Virginian Cuisine, “he’s the guy.”  For years at Brookville, Keevil oversaw Charlottesville’s most locally-sourced restaurant, drawing almost every ingredient from within 100 miles of the restaurant. “Harrison is the greatest adherent to elegant modern regional cuisine in this area,” says Richey. At Commonwealth, Keevil’s role has been consultant, working with Richey, Calhoun and his staff to re-write the menu.

The cornerstones of the new menu, Richey says, are classics drawn from the cookbooks of Edna Lewis, the Orange County native who Richey calls “the Grand Dame of Southern cooking.” Dishes bearing Lewis’ influence include Spiced Virginia Peanuts, ham biscuits, and ham hock meatballs, with blistered field peas and ham hock jus. More recent influences appear in the carry-over jerk chicken and an “autumn empanada” of short rib, with cider habanero pineapple sauce, and fall pico. Other dishes include a smoked trout dip (pictured), vegan Hoppin John, a fried oyster sandwich, and Keevil’s favorite, pork rinds with spicy pork dip. “It’s a unique, flavor-packed snack,” says Keevil.

In addition to Calhoun, the collaboration includes Commonwealth sous chef Tres Pittard, and Keevil says it has been amazing to work with such talented chefs. “I can’t wait for people to taste all of the hard work that the Commonwealth kitchen team has put into the new menu,” Keevil says. “A collaboration like this is one of the main things I love about this town,” echoes Richey. “You have guys from three different restaurants all working on one restaurant to make it tighter and stronger.”

The new-and-improved Commonwealth, to be managed by Ten Course Hospitality, launches on Monday, September 4.

Introducing El Guero

El Guero

Outside of coffee shops of all places, Cuban sandwiches are not easy to find in Charlottesville. Sure, we’ve long had cheffy riffs on the classic pork-loaded sandwiches. But, winemaker Derek Young believes that we have been short on the real thing.  And, he’s about to fix that.

Young fell in love with the sandwiches while in college in Florida. He cut his teeth at the legendary Bern’s Steak House, where he first learned about great food and wine. He has since been a wine buyer, winemaker, and brewer, and now is launching a trailer, El Guero, focused on the Cuban sandwiches he remembers from Florida.

Young says there are two main styles of Cuban sandwiches in Florida – Tampa’s and Miami’s – and his will be a blend of both.  Following Tampa, his Cuban’s will feature salami. But, rather than Tampa’s famously crusty bread, Young will use a softer bread common to Miami’s version. Pressed between the bread is roast pork, ham, salami, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and mustard.  And, they all come with the traditional side of plantain chips.

While Young’s focus is squarely on the sandwiches, he will also offer pastelitos de guayaba – traditional pastries of guava and cream cheese rarely seen outside Cuba or Florida.

El Guero’s debut is this Saturday, April 15, from 12-4 pm, at Blenheim Vineyards.