The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Andrew Cole

Introducing Prime 109

Prime109Logo

When five partners opened a tiny Belmont restaurant in late 2014, skeptics scratched their heads. Sure, it was a talented team. Loren Mendosa had run the kitchen at Tavola and also cooked at MAS. Ian Redshaw had cooked at Tavola and been head chef of L’Etoile. Mitchell Beerens had cooked at Tavola and MAS, and had also helped launch several restaurants for Virginia Restaurant Company. Shelly Robb was longtime GM of Bizou and also assistant manager at Tavola. And, Andrew Cole had directed Tavola’s award-winning beverage program.

But, five working partners and just twenty-one seats? Restaurants’ tight margins often fail to support just one partner, let alone five. And besides, food is an ego-laden business. With so many cooks in the kitchen, egos seemed bound to collide.

And yet, Lampo has thrived. Four years after opening, lines still form outside the restaurant every day for dinner. Since 2014, no restaurant has made more appearances in Five Finds on Friday or Chefs’ “Best Thing I Ate All Year.” And, in both 2017 and 2018, Lampo won Best Restaurant in C-VILLE Weekly’s annual Best of C-VILLE.

For their next trick, the team is going to the opposite extreme: from a tiny pizzeria off-the-beaten-path to a colossal steakhouse in the former Bank of America building at the heart of the downtown mall – Prime 109. While Lampo is one of Charlottesville’s smallest restaurants, the multi-story, 10,000 square-foot Prime 109 might be the downtown mall’s biggest. Ever. Lampo’s entire restaurant could fit in Prime 109’s kitchen. Three times.

And so, again there are skeptics. In a restaurant market that many call over-saturated, Prime 109 is adding more than 150 seats. And, while the steady trend in restaurants is smaller and more casual, Prime 109 is a throwback to grand and opulent.

Prime space

Photo by Signe Clayton.

How does the team plan to overcome a new set of doubts?

The same way they did at Lampo: relationships.

Good People Make Good Restaurants

The relationships most vital to the Lampo team’s success are those they share with each other. At the risk of sounding sappy: good people make good restaurants. And, by good, I mean decent, kind, and caring. Sure, it helps to have talent, passion, and business aptitude. But, what stands out most about great restaurant successes is that they are usually run by good people.

The Lampo team is good people. Tight margins have not sunk them because they care more about each other than squeezing out the last dollar. “We understand that, at the end of the day, best quality products are more important that someone being upset,” says Redshaw. Egos remain intact because no one worries who receives “credit.” When Mendosa was named C-VILLE’s Best Chef in 2015, there was no one happier than his partners. When Redhsaw won the same award this year, it was again his partners who celebrated most. “We were thrilled for Ian,” said Mendosa. “It was great to see the greater public recognize what all of us have known for a long time.”

On a recent national food podcast, Beerens explained what’s behind the team’s success:

We all loved each other. We were real, true friends. And, we trusted each other . . . because these people don’t have a bad bone in their body. It’s not just because we are business partners and we can all gain something off of each other. These are just genuinely good people.

The Team

The Lampo team’s close relationships were never more needed than after a tragic accident Redshaw’s wife Allie suffered in March 2017. Former chef of Timbercreek Market and sous chef of Pippin Hill, Allie’s hand became stuck in a meat grinder at Lampo, eventually requiring amputation. In the wake of Allie’s accident, the Lampo team and food community rallied behind her, and with their support, she channeled her passion from cooking to wine. Now equipped with a prosthetic hand and a certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, Allie is Prime 109’s Associate Wine Director, assisting Cole as Wine Director.

The kitchen roster, meanwhile, reads like the Golden State Warriors of Charlottesville cooking. At Executive Chef is Redshaw. Chef de Cuisine is Bill Scatena, former head chef of Pippin Hill. Pastry Chef is Beerens, good news to anyone who has had Lampo’s bread or crostatas. And Sauté Cook is Mendosa, who will also serve as the restaurant’s de facto CEO. Got that? No bruised egos here: the restaurant’s CEO and winner of 2015 C-VILLE Best Chef is Sauté Cook. Happily.

Heading the bar is Abraham Hawkins, a 2016 transplant from the Big Apple, who boasts more than a decade of experience in some of New York’s most acclaimed cocktail bars, including the worldrenowned Dutch Kills, which he helped launch in 2009.

Reinventing Local Sourcing

As with Lampo, the idea behind Prime 109 is to fill a void. In the case of Lampo, it was good Neapolitan pizza. With Prime 109, it is a showcase for local meat. Sure, Charlottesville has steakhouses. But none that puts our region’s bounty front and center.

This is where another key set of relationships come in – those with the local food community. As devotees of local sourcing, the Lampo team has built connections with some of our area’s best. With a fondness for meat, Redshaw has led the way on that front through a steak program at Lampo featuring local meat that he dry-ages himself to enhance flavor and tenderness. The steak program became so popular that Prime 109 was a natural outgrowth, drawing on a trio of key partners: Seven Hills, Sherwood Farm, and Highland Orchard Farm.

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Dry-aged steak program at Lampo.

An abbatoir and meat wholesaler, Seven Hills has changed the landscape of Virginia beef, Redshaw says. “Their facilities are the most humane I’ve seen,” says Redshaw. “And they focus on the same key tenets we do.” Sherwood Farm and Highland Orchard, meanwhile, are two area farms that Redshaw says raise cattle the right way. “Happier cows make better meat,” proclaims Sherwood Farm.

A key concept behind Prime 109 is that the restaurant’s size will enable it to transform conventional restaurant-farm relationships into true partnerships, with the end result being better products at better prices.

A key concept behind Prime 109 is that the restaurant’s size will enable it to transform conventional restaurant-farm relationships into true partnerships, with the end result being better products at better prices. “I’m most excited about the opportunity to grow and support local farmers in a new way,” says Mendosa, “going beyond just utlilizing their ingredients, to helping streamline their businesses so they’re more profitable and better able to focus on producing the best products.” How? Meat’s typical path from farm-to-table is laden with middle men and inefficiencies: processing, packaging individual cuts, and distribution. The sheer scale of Prime 109 will allow it to cut out many of these inefficiencies by buying whole animals directly from farms and having them processed by Seven Hills specifically for the restaurant. This is a win-win-win. For farms, better profits and more time for other tasks. For Prime 109 and guests, quality products without exorbitant prices.

To help cook this well-sourced meat, the team called on another local connection: acclaimed cookware artisan Blanc Creatives, whose Founder Corry Blanc built Prime 109’s massive wood-fire cooking system. Drawing inspiration from Grillworks and Grills by Demant, Blanc designed the system with grills that can easily be raised and lowered above the fire, to control temperature while achieving the sear that steak-lovers seek. Above each grill is also a vertical rotisserie to hang items for slow cooking, like ducks and prime ribs. “The guys gave me a great opportunity on this one,” says Blanc, “–design, engineer and fabricate a concept that’s been in my head for a while.”

Grill

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Photo by Signe Clayton.

The Customer Experience

A spectacular space. A loaded roster. Quality products. What will it all add up to?

The Food

The approach, Redshaw says, is the same as Lampo: technique-driven, flavor-focused food, lacking in ego. Humility aside, Prime 109 will showcase Redshaw’s passion and talent like no restaurant has before. Having seen glimpses of what he can do at Lampo and L’Etoile, Redshaw’s fans in Charlottesville have long awaited a chance like this for him to let loose. And, it’s not just customers who are excited. “We’ve consistently said throughout our partnership that Ian is the most talented in the kitchen,” says Mendosa.

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Prime 109 Executive Chef Ian Redshaw. Photo by Signe Clayton.

One menu section is a la carte, like a traditional steakhouse. Choose a cut of dry-aged steak, priced per ounce, and pair it with your choice of toppers and sides. Toppers include options like foie gras, bordelaise, and barolo compound butter. Your side might be thrice cooked fries; smoked fingerling potatoes with ramp aioli, smoked salt and chives; or Charleston Ice Cream, Carolina gold Rice, Maine uni, chervil, and puffed wild rice. Plus, Parker House rolls, made to order.

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Photo by Signe Clayton.

Lampo regulars will recognize the attention to detail. For potato pave, a traditional gratin of thinly sliced potatoes is first pressed, and then square portions are deep-fried in tallow, and topped with creme fraiche and chives. For a creamed spinach riff, spinach is sautéed with shallot, garlic and olive oil. Then, rather than folding in bechamel, the spinach is topped with a fonduta out of an iSi and crisped shallot. “It’s all the flavors you think of nostalgically with creamed spinach, while enjoying something a bit lighter,” says Redshaw.

Among dry-aged steaks, the signature is the restaurant’s namesake, Prime 109: Sherwood Farm bone-in rib-eye, dry-aged for 109 days. Redshaw recommends it with a loaded baked potato, rapini, and “Oscar” topping, which is Dungeness crab in a sauce of demi glacé, foie gras, and shaved truffles. “Takes me back to the Steak Diane I had as a child at the Walnut Room in Chicago’s Marshall Field’s,” Redshaw says.

Much of the rest of the menu is refinements of steakhouse classics – dishes the team has been fine-tuning on the side, even running as occasional Lampo specials. Beef tartare is hand cut local beef with mustard seed, anchovy, caper, radish, shallot, parsley, quail egg, and aioli. French onion soup is house bone broth with candy onion and brandy, topped with raclette and sourdough. And, in a dish Lampo regulars might recall as a special, fire roasted lobster is served in uni butter atop spaghetti a la chittara, with calabrian chili, oregano, and tomato.

Another former Lampo special, chicken liver pâté, became so popular that they decided to “retire” it and save it for Prime 109. Chicken liver mousse comes dressed with cherry mostarda, smoked hazelnuts, parsleyed parmesan, frico, and Earl Grey golden raisins.

Keeping with the theme, desserts are updated classics. The Ice Cream Sundae includes Splendora’s cardamom gelato and brown butter gelato, topped with hot fudge, miso caramel, salty peanut brittle, cookies, whipped cream, and, of course, a cherry on top. And, Lemon Meringue Pie builds atop a shortbread crust, with lemon, brûléed meringue, huckleberry sorbet, blueberry, and key lime.

The Wine

The wine list belongs to Wine Director Cole and Associate Wine Director Allie Redshaw. “Tasting with her is remarkable,” Cole says of Allie. “The way she has honed her palate in the kitchen over the last few years allows her to key in on the specific aromas and flavors in a wine.” While Cole’s and Redhsaw’s tastes both lean towards the esoteric, their aim at Prime 109 is to have something for everyone. “Our goal,” says Allie, “is finding a balance between approachability and refined eccentricity.” And so, while there will be plenty of the hard-to-find pét-nats and orange wines that Cole and Redshaw enjoy, there will also be Napa Valley Cabernets for steakhouse traditionalists and lots of Virginia wines to match the local cuisine. Having overseen an exclusively Italian selection at Lampo for the past four years, Cole feels reinvigorated to be able to draw from wines from all over.

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Prime 109 Associate Wine Director Allie Redshaw. Photo by Signe Clayton.

The Chef’s Counter

The Blanc Creatives custom wood-burning over and grill sit open to the restaurant, bordered on two sides by a marble counter, where guests can enjoy their meal while watching Redshaw and Scatena man the grill. Eventually, Redshaw plans to offer guests at the chef’s counter an omakase-style meal. Tell him how much you’d like to spend and some of your likes and dislikes, and he will take it from there. Or, just order a la carte and watch the show.

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The chef’s counter. Photo by Signe Clayton.

The Bar

While a chef’s counter “omakase” experience might be a special occasion treat, the team wants Prime 109 to be somewhere you can go often. And so, Prime 109 eventually plans to add a bar menu with affordable sandwiches of dry-aged roast beef, house pastrami, and the Prime Burger – aged beef, American cheese, pickles, onions, and “Primal sauce,” on a sesame seed bun.

As for Hawkins’ cocktail program, this is next level stuff.  An early disciple of the cocktail renaissance of the past two decades, Hawkins sees both positives and negatives in what it has wrought. One positive is obvious: better cocktails more widely available than ever before. A negative, however, he says, is the flood of opportunists to the industry who mask incompetence by elevating style over substance. Hawkins is all about attention-to-detail, but each detail, he says, must have a substantive purpose to enhance the guest’s experience. It’s not just for show. The term “ice program,” for example, may sound pretentious, but Hawkins says there are good reasons he devotes such an enormous amount of time to cutting and perfecting the size and shape of ice for each drink. Proper temperature, dilution rate, etcVisit here for more details on Hawkins’ ambitious cocktail program.

The Extras

In converting the space from bank to restaurant, with help from JAID + Figure and architect Stephanie Williams, the Prime 109 team was determined to preserve the natural elegance and nuances of the historic building. “The sheer scale and decadence of the existing elements of the space lended themselves to our take-off on a bank heist complete with a steak dinner,” says Amy Morris of JAID + Figure. “We played with scale large and small, from column treatments to glints of brass slicing through floors and climbing up vertical surfaces.” Morris credits Sanger Carpentry (banquettes and back bar), U-Fab (banquette fabric) and Lucent Lampworks (custom lighting) as vital to the result.

prime clock

Photo by Signe Clayton.

Prime column details

Photo by Signe Clayton.

Prime lighting

Photo by Signe Clayton.

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Photo by Signe Clayton.

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Photo by Signe Clayton.

Prime vault

Photo by Signe Clayton.

Using existing features of the bank, bells and whistles abound. The restrooms’ working fireplaces remain. A coat-check revives a dying courtesy. The bank’s former drive-thru is now valet parking. Two second-floor rooms for private events offer dramatic views of the restaurant below. And soon, basement vaults will host events as well.

When Bank of America announced in 2016 that it was leaving the building, exactly 100 years after it was built, Tim Hulbert, executive director of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, told C-VILLE Weekly: “It’s a pretty dramatic space. I suspect some smart entrepreneur will see the opportunity and seize it.”

Prime 109 is now open.

Five Finds on Friday: Liberty Kalergis

Liberty

On Fridays, we feature five food finds from local chefs and personalities.  Now that a drink she makes has been named after her, today’s picks come from Liberty Kalergis, longtime manager at MAS Tapas.  Kalergis’ picks:

1) Nachos at Beer Run. “Piled so high you never need an entree. Run by a family so near and dear to my own, we can’t wait to see what they bring to the table at Kardinal Hall, aiming to open their doors this October.”

2) Any Seasonal Vegetable at MAS Tapas.  “Whether it’s padron peppers, cauliflower, artichokes, Brussels, broccolini, or chanterelles, you can’t go wrong with a simple olive oil and sea salt sauté. Good enough to make me go vegetarian . . . almost.”

3) Austin Morning at Brazos Tacos.  “Three of my favorite words = breakfast all day. Egg, brisket and mashed potato paired with Hunter’s Shower Beer from Champion = perfection. Bring the dog or the kid to explore IX Park while Peter and his hard working crew whip you up a little taste of Texas. Who knows, you could even run into a traveling petting zoo.”

4) The Natural at Mono Loco and Nelson County Gentleman at The Alley Light. “My liquor of choice varies by season, so for now it’s tequila all the way in The Natural margarita on the invariably entertaining Mono Loco patio. But when the leaves start falling I crave a couch and a Nelson County Gentleman at Alley Light. Named after one of the bearded mix-maestros behind the bar, you can only find this carbonated, small-batch rye, birch, root and peppermint medley in the cooler months.  Fingers crossed he’ll be making a reappearance this year.”

5)  Carbonara Pizza at Lampo.  “It’s too hard to pick the best dish from their regular menu, so I won’t! Peppery porchetta and cracked eggs made their debut on a white pizza at the pop-up brunch last week and did not disappoint. Neither did Eames’ aptly-named Retox Jus. Stay tuned for the next pop-up dates throughout the winter to catch this beauty before she makes a regular appearance on the brunch menu next Spring. Oh, and always listen to Andrew and Rowe behind the bar.”

Introducing Lampo

Lampo

There are not many things we miss about our time in the Washington D.C. area, but a shining exception is  2 Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria.  We couldn’t get enough of it.  Real Neapolitan pizza, ingredient-driven Italian specials, a menu of “little things,” unfussy decor, and carefully considered wines and cocktails. It’s one of the best answers to the question: “You know what kind of restaurant Charlottesville could really use?”

There’s a good chance that’s about to change.  Lampo Neapolitan Pizzeria is set to open any day in the Belmont space formerly home to The Farm.  After speaking with the ownership team, we’d say it could well be Charlottesville’s answer to 2 Amys – which is high praise.

And, what a team it is.  Has there been a better assembly of young talent to open a Charlottesville restaurant than the Fab Four behind Lampo, who all worked together at TavolaLoren Mendosa, 30, was chef of Tavola, and before that cooked at MAS Tapas.  Ian Redshaw, 26, was chef of L’EtoileMitchell Beerens, 33, cooked at both Tavola and Mas.  And Andrew Cole, 29, was beverage director of Tavola.  With just 21 seats, Lampo’s ratio of talented owners to guests is so small that some wonder how the numbers can add up.  Never mind.  That’s for them to figure out.

Customers meanwhile have so much good stuff to look forward to that it’s difficult to know where to start.

The focus, of course, is pizza – particularly authentic Neapolitan pizza, like those at 2 Amys, which Mendosa calls a “huge inspiration.”   Visits to 2 Amys and similar spots in other cities made the Lampo team wonder why Charlottesville doesn’t have a Neapolitan pizzeria.  While working at Tavola together, they would discuss how great it would be if Charlottesville did have such a place.  Eventually, they figured: “Why don’t we just do it ourselves?”

To ensure they got it right, they spared no expense.  To begin, they imported a three-ton wood-burning oven from Naples that needed to be lowered into the building through the roof.  That oven will give birth to pizzas that the team has been studying hard to perfect.  It’s a methodical process.  Start with top quality ingredients, like real San Marzano tomatoes. Gradually heat the oven, beginning well in advance, so that it can reach and sustain temperatures nearing 1,000 degrees.  Pizzas cook in less than a minute.  We saw it happen.

Pizza

Hence, the name Lampo, which means “flash” in Italian, as in “in a flash.”  The rest of the menu is built around food that can be prepared just as quickly as the pizzas – simple, ingredient-driven fare like cured meats that will be sliced to order with a manually operated slicer so as to avoid exposing the meats to the heat that electric slicers can create.  New York’s Salumeria Biellese is one featured producer, with wild boar cacciatorini and culatello, which Biellese calls the most prized pork product in Italy.  Also on the menu is house made ‘nduja, a spreadable salami of prosciutto, speck, wild oregano and Calabrian chilis, stuffed in a casing and re-cured for a week.

Vegetables will also be a big part of Lampo’s offerings – whether in small plates like roast cauliflower or salads like the kale salad the team first created at Tavola, where it developed a cult following:  shredded kale, fried parsnips, candied almond, and ricotta salata, tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette with pickled mustard seeds. “Vegetables are ‘in’ and we’re super stoked about that,” said Beerens.

Other antipasti include polpettine – baby meatballs of Timbercreek Farm pork and beef, with marinara, pecorino, and basil, as well as a conserva of preserved swordfish, chick peas, orange and fennel.  “Classic Sicilian,” said Mendosa.

Cole meanwhile has big plans for Lampo’s beverage program.  With a stronger background in wine than liquor, Cole prepared for Lampo by volunteering behind the bar at The Alley Light to learn from one of our area’s most devoted mixologists, Micah LeMon.  The result is a cocktail list built around amari – the beautiful bitter liqueurs of Italy.  A house barrel-aged negroni features Cocchi vermouth, Campari, and Greenbrier Gin. A Bitter Giuseppe (kin to one of our favorite cocktails, A Little Giuseppe) is vermouth stirred with Cynar, an artichoke-based amaro.

Wines likewise lean towards Italy, with an all-Italian list that Cole calls an “homage to Southern Italy.”  Chalkboard additions may reach beyond Italy to capture “wines that I couldn’t say no to,” said Cole. All the while, Cole’s focus will be making wine “accessible and approachable” just as he did at Tavola for five years.  “It all comes down to what the customer wants,” said Cole, who likes to keep the pretense out of wine.

Speaking of lack of pretense, you can’t have pizza without beer, said Cole.  Lampo will have several on tap plus more in the bottle, including a collaboration beer with Champion Brewing Company flavored with hops and oregano.  Other offerings will include Potter’s Craft Cider and the Italian beer, Peroni.

Finally, we may have saved the best for last.  Sandwiches! When you order a sandwich at Lampo, they will begin baking your bread.  Really. Fortunately, like the pizza, it takes just moments to cook in the wood-burning oven.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Fillings include Mendosa’s own porchetta, which Beerens calls “amazing.”  Timbercreek Farm pork belly and shoulder are seasoned with rosemary, fennel, garlic, and black pepper, and then roasted slow and low to allow the fat to moisten the meat while cooking. “Then we crisp the skin separately to add that awesome texture,” said Mendosa.  The meat and crisp skin are stuffed inside fresh-baked bread, with melted provolone, garlic aioli, broccoli rabe, and calabrian chili.

Sandwich bread fresh from Lampo's oven.

Sandwich bread fresh from Lampo’s oven.

Think about it: it would be cause for excitement if a restaurant were to open in Charlottesville serving nothing but extraordinary sandwiches on wood-fired bread baked to order. At Lampo, that’s just one of many treats in store.

Lampo will open Monday, December 22, at  205 Monticello Road.  Hours will be Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 12 am.  Sundays, the website says, they are “Closed to Watch Football.”

Is it Monday yet?

Lampo