In this week’s C-VILLE Weekly, JM Stock’s Matt Greene helps get to the bottom of chefs’ fondness of Riverside Lunch, a restaurant unfazed by the local food movement. Over burgers at Riverside, I pressed Greene on why the principled locavore makes an exception for a restaurant that has not embraced the food principles and practices by which Greene otherwise lives. Pensive, passionate, and insightful, Greene was the ideal companion. Read the full article here, and then check out his further thoughts below. Greene is worth the read.
(Photos by Tom McGovern.)
1) You’ve said Riverside is everything you want in a restaurant. What do you mean?
After giving it more consideration, I think I might elaborate on that a little bit. However, I still stand by my original sentiment. From the standpoint of a business owner and someone that’s been in the industry for almost two decades, I am in awe of what Riverside has been able to accomplish. They have been open for the better part of a century; that in itself is the only measure of success that one really needs, but beyond that they have achieved the almost impossible. They produce the EXACT SAME PRODUCT every single day. Day in and day out, it’s always the same. Not just the food, but also the service, feeling and atmosphere. I’ve eaten there dozens of times, with kids, without kids, in large groups, in small groups, with foodies, with low-lifes, with in-laws, etc. and EVERY SINGLE TIME my experience and meal have been exactly the same! There are probably two dozen restaurants on the planet that can boast that kind of consistency, and one of them is Riverside Lunch in Charlottesville, Va.
2) You’ve said that you try to follow certain principles at JM Stock and in the way you feed your family. What are the principles?
Well, I would say that the principles that we follow at Stock aren’t quite the same that we follow in my own household. At home, we make a few more exceptions to account for time, convenience and the occasional craving. At JM Stock, our guiding principles are firm and unwavering. Everything we source comes locally, completely pasture raised, grass finished beef, and entirely from farmers with which we have a very close and personal relationship. We don’t supplement anything, and we don’t make any exceptions. We aren’t specifically certified organic, but all animals are raised with practicing organic methods and everything we do is for highest quality product AND flavor. When it comes to my home, there is greater room for flexibility. We only ever buy meat from JM Stock when we’re cooking at home, but with two kids and an active life, it’s impossible to always and forever eat perfectly. Sometimes we need to stop at Chik-Fil-A on a road trip to the Eastern Shore, sometimes the kids just want pizza, and sometimes Jillian and I are too exhausted to cook, and Chinese food is the only thing we can all agree on. Ultimately, eating “clean” and responsibly 100% of the time is exhausting and with zero flexibility it’s easy to get burned out and say “f$#% it!” But Riverside is the only exception for which we will go out of our way.
3) To the extent that Riverside diverges from those principles, why does it warrant an exception?
I think the bottom line is the idea that Riverside is grandfathered in. I would compare it to my grandmother who is very sweet, and very kind and 94 years old and continues to use the term “colored”. You know it’s wrong, but you also know she doesn’t know she’s doing anything wrong nor does she mean anything by it. Maybe that’s a bad example. Maybe I can’t really explain it. But, it’s tasty, and authentic, and consistent, and reliable, and I can’t think of anywhere else in town where all those boxes can be checked every time — even those that use super high quality product.
4) From a chef’s perspective on how to build a great dish, how would you describe what makes Riverside’s burger such a success?
The lean-to-fat ratio creates a very juicy burger even though they flatten it and cook it all the way through. The fresh grinding means that the beef never emulsified and therefore renders a more tender burger (burger from vac sealed packs have a tendency to be a bit more dense). As for the classic combo, the double burger “all the way” checks almost every box for depth and complexity. The burger and cheese are hot and savory, the pickle is sweet and sour, the mustard adds a touch of spice, the onions and lettuce add crunch and coolness, and the tomato and pickle add acid. It really covers all bases and satisfies all facets of one’s palate. But I feel like discussing it in these terms almost perverts it. I think that’s the beauty of it. They were making the burger all the way, long before anyone gave a s#*$ about depth of flavor and palate satisfaction. That’s a big part of what’s so impressive about it. It’s perfect and timeless and without pretense, and to describe in such terms feels like trying to capture the beauty of the Grand Canyon in an iPhone photo.