What some call the king of sandwiches, the BLT can be two different things depending on the time of year. In August, it is largely a vehicle for enjoying thick slices of ripe, local tomatoes. The rest of the year, when tomatoes are out of season, they recede into the ensemble – and the sandwich becomes one whose sum is often greater than its parts.
At Blue Moon Diner, the BLT is delicious all year round. With a classic sandwich, the food-lovers who run the diner have the good sense to leave well enough alone, and don’t mess with tweaks or adornments. As a result, it’s the type of BLT that can transport you to childhood moments of first discovering the sandwich’s magic. No ingredient steals center stage. Instead, the toast, Duke’s mayo, lettuce, tomato, and bacon seem to meld into the very harmony that BLT cravings covet.
Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Shantell Bingham, Program Director of Food Justice Network, which this week joined forces with City Schoolyard Garden and Urban Agricultural Collective to become Cultivate Charlottesville – an integrated approach to creating and sustaining a healthy and just food system in Charlottesville. “Before COVID-19, about one in six Charlottesville residents struggled with food insecurity, and we’re now seeing that number expand,” said Bingham. To learn more about the mission of Cultivate Charlottesville — and how you can help — join their Zoom webinar Tuesday April 30 at 11:00 am. Bingham’s picks:
1) Creole Beans from Pearl Island. “I’m a North Carolinian to my soul. And while I didn’t grow up with Caribbean cuisine, tasting Pearl Island ignited something in my spirit. Their bean stew is a savory heaven anyone can enjoy. Paired with tostones and a dash of garlic sauce, it hits the belly like a hug from home.”
2) Chocolate Chip Beignets from Blue Moon Diner. “It feels good to live in the Blue Moon neighborhood. But even if I didn’t, their chocolate chip beignets, lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with a side of warm chocolate sauce — if you dare to dip — is pure bliss.”
3) Beef Noodle Soup from Café 88. “I’ll be honest. I would be a full blown pescatarian if it weren’t for their beef noodle soup. I’ll cheat for it every time, especially during the cold months.”
4) Mac & Cheese from Soul Food Joint. “I’m not sure many people realize how delicious mac & cheese tastes when it’s baked. It’s as though that extra step is the piece of the process that infuses the heart into the dish, and Soul Food Joint does this to a science. Their baked mac & cheese is done just enough so the top is a little crispy but the inside cheesy and sharp.”
5) Red Snapper with Cherry Tomatoes at The Whiskey Jar. “This is one of those places with seasonal treats worth waiting for. Their red snapper with cherry tomatoes is my weekend celebration. And when the red snapper season ends, the bourbon bread pudding is more than enough to guarantee my visit year-round.”
Blue Moon Diner has reopened, and today’s Five Finds on Friday come from a man who cooked there more than thirty years ago. Jeff White manned the grill of the Charlottesville icon from 1985-1987, married one of the waitresses, and, now, more than three decades later, is the top sports writer for the University of Virginia. For many UVa fans, his columns are daily must-reads. History class from White:
I started cooking for then-owner John Grier at the Blue Moon Diner late in my undergraduate days at UVa and continued working there (and down the street at the late, great Cotton Exchange, whose owners were Grier, John Hoy and Kirby Hutto) until moving to Richmond in 1987.
Back then, the Blue Moon’s grill was out front, a few feet from the counter, and the pressure of cooking in a packed diner ––– in full view of customers, with the jukebox blaring, while hungover on a weekend morning –– no doubt helped prepare me for the stress of writing newspaper stories on deadline.
Most important, the Blue Moon is where in 1986 I met Beth Pearce, whose brother Tom was a fellow cook. Beth later waitressed at the diner, and we were married in 1989.
It’s wonderful to see the Blue Moon open again, and it’s hard to go wrong with anything on its menu, which has expanded considerably since my time there. Here are five of my other favorites:
1) Hot Sicilian at Durty Nelly’s / Wayside Deli. “The GOAT when it comes to sandwiches. I’ve been placing the same order at Durty Nelly’s/Wayside Deli for 30-plus years and hope to continue doing so for another 30. It’s a heavenly combination of Genoa salami, turkey, provolone, onion, peppers and mayo on rye, all heated.”
2) Greg Brady at Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint. “The burgers at Jack Brown’s are, to me, the perfect size –– not too big, not too small –– and complementing the beef on this delicacy are mac and cheese, Martin’s BBQ potato chips, and a blend of American and cheddar cheeses. The fries are great, too, as is the selection of beers from around the world.
3) Burrito Michoacana at La Michoacana. “This low-key restaurant on East High Street was once a hidden gem, but its excellence has been common knowledge around town for years now. Keep the option of a post-lunch nap open after eating one of these burritos. You may need it.”
4) Ragin’ Cajun at Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie. “I’m a sucker for andouille, and this pie also features Creole-spiced shrimp, green peppers, roasted red peppers and mozzarella. Dr. Ho’s, of course, has Blue Moon ties. Its founder, Jerry Danner, ran the diner after buying it from John Grier.”
5) Cookies and Cream Milkshake at Crozet Creamery. “A group of us in the athletic department has a tradition we hold dear. When one of the UVa teams we support (as writers, videographers, photographers, etc.) picks up a significant win –– almost any conquest of Virginia Tech qualifies as such – we celebrate by treating ourselves to milkshakes. My victory shake of choice is one of many fantastic offerings at my local ice cream parlor, whose other options include the (Jack) Salted Caramel.”