The Charlottesville 29

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

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What’s in a Name?: The Feel-Good Story Behind Lampo’s Pizza, “Paulie Gee Said We Couldn’t Call It the He**boy”

What’s the old Shakespeare line? “A Hellboy by any other name would taste as sweet”?

Lampo’s Hellboy is gone. Or is it?

A longtime favorite, the beloved pie dates back to the Neapolitan pizzeria’s earliest days. Not long after opening in 2014, one of Lampo’s first specials was an ode to a favorite pizza of the owners from the Brooklyn-based Paulie Gee’s. At Paulie Gee’s, the “Hellboy” is fresh mozzarella, California tomatoes, Berkshire soppressata picante, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Mike’s Hot Honey. Lampo’s version is fiore di latte, San Marzano tomatoes, soppressata piccante, Calabrian chili, and scorpion pepper honey.

The special grew so popular that Lampo regulars urged it be added to the menu. In deference to the pie’s creator, though, Lampo maintained its chalkboard special status.

Fast forward to 2022. When Lampo re-opened for on-premises for the first time since the pandemic began, to mark the occasion the owners decided to grant their regulars’ request. The Hellboy was finally on the menu.

“Hell(boy!) no,” said Paulie Gee (the pizzeria’s namesake, Paul Giannone).

You see, the pie had become so iconic that it now had one of those little (r)s next to it on the menu at Paulie Gee’s, which prohibited other pizzerias from using the name.

The good news is that Paulie was a great sport about it. After learning about Lampo’s use of the name and speaking with the owners, he had no objection to the pizza’s new name. He even quite liked it.

Introducing Lampo’s: “Paulie Gee Said We Couldn’t Call it the He**boy.”

José de Brito Returns to Fleurie

Photo by Tom McGovern

Lovers of José de Brito’s food (and there are many) may have been sad to learn in May that he had left Cafe Frank, the restaurant he co-founded in 2021 and helped earn Best New Restaurant. But, they may now be thrilled to know where the itinerant James Beard semifinalist has landed. José de Brito has returned to Fleurie.

For decades, De Brito has been one of Charlottesville’s most revered chefs — one peer calls him “the most talented chef in Virginia.” Part of the reason is passion. De Brito has been known to spend weeks preparing a single sauce for a single dish. Another is respect for the ingredients he uses, particularly the ones that died to become food. That respect drives De Brito to turn his ingredients into the most delicious things he possibly can –  a drive never more apparent than in the 2018 Dish of the Year he made when last at Fleurie: Autumn Olive Farms’ Heritage Pork, Prepared Nose to Tail.

De Brito left Fleurie shortly thereafter, but now he is back, and the restaurant’s new Chef de Cuisine is picking up right where he left off. For more than twenty years, Brian Helleberg’s stubborn ode to fine dining has been Charlottesville’s standard-bearer for French cuisine. Like many Charlottesville diners, Helleberg is thrilled to have De Brito back in his kitchen. Helleberg:

For the sake of our guests at Fleurie and the milestones that they celebrate with us, my goal for the past 22 years is that Fleurie continues getting better. José’s return is invigorating because his culinary knowledge and skill bring us the opportunity to do so. He is a friend, so I enjoy working with him, but moreover it is exciting to be around his encyclopedic knowledge of French cuisine and his drive to faithfully execute it.

Of course I love his cooking, but even more I love that José embraces that there are no easy days, no shortcuts. And while there are times that the work feels like a backyard brawl, tasting progress and seeing improvement reminds me of how incredibly lucky I am to have such a rewarding job.

Photo by Tom McGovern.


Introducing Al Basha: Iraqi Food Dating Back Generations Comes to Charlottesville

It turns out there’s a reason why the bread is so good at Al Basha. The baking roots of the man behind the new Dairy Market stall date back nearly a century. Omar Al Shaban’s grandparents founded what was once one of Iraq’s most famous bakeries, Al Samadi, circa 1948. Now, he is bringing Iraqi food to Charlottesville.

Al Samadi. These pictures were so treasured that Al Shaban’s father drove them hundreds of miles from Ohio to Virginia, rather than risking losing them in the mail.

Soft and pillowy, Al Basha’s version of the Iraqi flatbread samoon draws on Al Shaban’s family’s recipe. It serves as the backbone of sandwiches that are already contenders for The Charlottesville 29 of Sandwiches. Options for fillings include shawarma, falafel, tikka, hummus, or, best of all, Iraqi kabob. Al Shaban follows the traditional method of adding no spices to the ground meat for the kabob — just salt and the juice of minced onions. The meat is then shaped around a skewer and grilled, yielding an unusually tender, meaty kabob. Al Shaban credits the texture and flavor to the quality of the halal meat, sourced from Grand Market, and his blend: 60% beef, 30% lamb, and 10% lamb fat.

For those who prefer their meat with more spice, there is chicken shawarma. Al Shaban imports a spice blend from a friend in Iraq, which he generously tosses on slabs of chicken before stacking them on a vertical rotisserie. As the chicken turns and cooks, he shaves off meat from the exterior to stuff into bread with pickles, garlic sauce, and hummus.

All the sandwich fillings are also available as platters with rice and and a choice of three sides, from options like baba ganoush, taboula, and onions with sumac. Lunch and dinner are served daily, with catering services available as well. Follow along on the restaurant’s Facebook page and Instagram.

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