The Charlottesville 29

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

Category: The Corner

The Corner: Boylan Heights

Photo by Randy Reynolds

Photo by Randy Reynolds

Note: This post is part of our guest series, The Corner, by digital media students at The University of Virginia. Today’s student contributor is Meghan Kasel.

The Background

In 2007, while living out west,  JR Hadley observed an emerging focus in the restaurant world on farm-to-table cuisine, local sourcing, and organic ingredients.  He thought a gourmet burger bar with these elements could take off. Though thousands of miles away, when he caught word that a space on the Corner had become available, Hadley, a Charlottesville native, leapt at the chance to return home and make his idea a reality.

Opening in August 2008, just in time for football season, Boylan Heights immediately established itself as a Corner staple. “We found that people really latched on to the mantra we were pushing,” Hadley said – a straight-forward crowd-pleasing menu built on grass-fed, organic beef from local Virginia farms.

The Experience

Boylan, as regulars call it, prides itself on its unique atmosphere, which Hadley describes as “1980s prep school—a little rough around the edges.” This theme runs throughout the restaurant, with locker-lined walls, varsity letter printed menus, and a wait staff rocking button down shirts or ones boldly stating “PREP.” The theme is also a nod to Boylan’s allegiance to the University to which it caters, as the menu is organized under headings such as “The Lawn,” “The Range,” and “The Dean’s List.” Yet, Boylan stops short of going over-the-top—its self-conscious kitsch adding to its charm.

With two sprawling floors of space, and two large bars with multiple flat screen televisions, Boylan serves as a great place to catch the game, but they are serious about food, too. The fresh and fun menu features beef, veggie, and turkey burgers, an extensive draft list, and a ever-changing burger-of-the-month, or B.O.M.B. This month’s? American Thanksgiving featuring pulled turkey, cranberry chutney, granny smith apples and melted brie cheese.

What to Order

When asked his favorite menu item, Hadley doesn’t hesitate: “The Western Civ” — an organic beef patty piled on with cheddar, pulled pork, onion straws, and cole slaw. Just describing it, Hadley shakes his head, smiles and quietly adds, “It’s amazing.”  And, while the menu contains a number of similarly elaborate combinations, Boylan’s most popular option is its simplest — the “build your own” burger option. In keeping with the scholastic theme, Boylan outfits each table with a pile of #2 pencils and a large stack of Scantron test sheets, familiar to the students that are regulars. On the sheet, customers can choose their meat, toppings, and bun, as well as from an array of sides and specialty sauces. Its one test students don’t seem to mind taking.

 

The Corner: Take It Away

Take it Away

Photo by Ali Hornung.

Note: This post is part of our guest series, The Corner, by digital media students at The University of Virginia. Today’s student contributor is Ali Hornung.

The Background

For more than 20 years, Tom Bowe has been committed to the art of a quality sandwich.  Raised in a food loving family in Williamsburg, Bowe began his career in retail before realizing that his real passion was for food, and deciding to open a sandwich joint.  After hunting for the perfect location, Bowe concluded that UVa’s The Corner had everything he wanted.  There, he thought, students would venture away from dining halls and eat all day, rather than being restrained by the business eating pattern.

He opened Take it Away in 1992, and, from the start, he knew the location was right. The student energy was striking, he found, as they filled tables and even the sidewalk ground when seats were unavailable. But what he loves most is when students return to Charlottesville after venturing into the real world, and make a point of coming to Take it Away. Bowe’s regulars visit so often that he knows many on a first name basis.  One of his greatest satisfactions is connecting with familiar faces returning to their alma mater and savoring a sandwich.

The Experience

Take it Away is all business.  Walk in, head to the counter, and a server awaits your order.  As soon as you’ve uttered it, it’s passed back to the kitchen, and minutes later, your name is called.  If you’re quick, you might be able to resist the array of impulse-buys that surround you.  Hesitate for even a moment, and you may succumb to the gourmet chips, chocolates, cookies, and more.

But, the real attractions are the sandwiches — in part because of the healthy portions and in part because of the quality of ingredients, over which Bowe says he is “unwilling to compromise.”  From arugula, to sprouts, to roasted tomatoes imported from Italy, to fresh baked bread, there are all the makings of a stellar sandwich.  But, all serious Take it Away customers know that there is only one real star of the show: House Dressing, which every Take it Away regular asks for on their sandwich.  Bowe is well aware of the importance of the condiment to his business’s success. “The name of the business is Take It Away,” he says, “but it really should be House Dressing.”

So, what’s in it?  Bowe is hesitant to reveal the recipe, but describes it generally as “a blend of herbs, spices and whole grain mustard.” Whatever it is, Bowe suggests it on any sandwich. “It’s just plain yummy!”

What to Order

What should you order? Students, Bowe said, often keep their order short and sweet, with just roasted turkey with the House Dressing. Personally, I’d suggest the roast beef, roasted tomatoes, arugula and House Dressing on French bread.  But, ask the guy who has run the place for more than 20 years, and he doesn’t hesitate. Get the Saturday special, he says. Ham, cucumbers, and house dressing on pumpernickel bread.  Whatver you order, just don’t forget that dressing.

The Corner: The Virginian

Virginian

Photo by Hajung Yoo.

Note: This post is part of our guest series, The Corner, by digital media students at The University of Virginia.  Today’s student contributor is Hajung Yoo.

The Background

If you’ve been in Charlottesville for more than a week, chances are you have heard of The Virginian. Established in 1923 by University of Virginia Alums Billy Gooch and Ellis Brown, it is the oldest restaurant in Charlottesville.

Current owner Andy McClure took over shortly after graduating UVa Comm ’01. And, in running a restaurant that once had to convert to a soda fountain during prohibition, McClure has always been mindful of the need to strike a balance between preserving history and forging ahead.

The Experience

Thus, while The Virginia is designed to be a modern, attractive bar, the décor looks to the past, evoking nostalgic feelings of all-American comfort. Dark vintage wooden booths and dim lights recall a low-key speakeasy, and the vintage photos and wall décor reinforce the visual throwback. The menu also skews to Americana, with comforting options like chicken, burgers, salads, crab cakes, pasta, and sandwiches.  Modern touches include wine and draught beer lists that are exclusively Virginian.

With three other restaurants in town (The Biltmore, Citizen Burger Bar, and West Main), McClure is fiercely proud of Charlottesville. “I think Charlottesville is outrageously unique…we do a ridiculous job in terms of food options, the experience and quality of chefs and style.”

What to Order

The Virginian’s most popular menu item is the Stumble Down Mac N’ Cheese – creamy, cheesy pasta with pepper jack under a cheddar potato cake. It’s one of Dean Groves’ favorites, too, who also likes The Rachel, which is essentially a turkey Reuben. But, if you ask the expert what to get, McClure will tell you his favorite is the steak and cheese, with thinly sliced steak, grilled onions, and American cheese on a toasted sub roll. A close second, he says, is the gourmet grilled cheese, with cheddar, provolone, and Swiss, on sourdough, grilled to a golden brown.