The Charlottesville 29

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Tag: Carolyn Stromberg Leasure

Introducing ooey gooey crispy: Elevated Grilled Cheese from a Chef and a Cheesemonger

This one has been a long time coming.

Ever since we heard that food super-couple Carolyn Stromberg Leasure and Zack Leasure were relocating from D.C. to Charlottesville, we have eagerly awaited what they might do here. In D.C., Carolyn ran Righteous Cheese, the acclaimed artisanal cheese shop in Union Market, while Zack was Executive Sous Chef of Tail Up Goat, helping it earn a Michelin star and nod as one of the country’s best new restaurants. Both were favorite stops on D.C. visits.

After arriving in Charlottesville in 2017, they dabbled in the idea of a cheese food truck, Carolyn did pop-up cheese tastings, and Zack spent time at several restaurants and also served as Executive Chef of Big Kitchen Hospitality Group. All the while, though, we hoped that they might join forces for their own place in Charlottesville. Next month, they will do just that, when their grilled cheese shop ooey gooey crispy opens in CODE.

It is a product of two great passions: food and Charlottesville.

A Passion For Food

After working in restaurants in high school and college, Carolyn tried the normal job thing, but couldn’t shake the lure of the food industry. She worked in several fine dining restaurants before embracing her true passion: cheese, which was the very first word she said as a child. Opened in 2012, her artisanal cheese shop and wine bar Righteous Cheese offered 100+ cut-to-order artisanal cheeses and flights of wine and beer pairings. She also made grilled cheeses so good that USA Today called them among the nation’s best

Zack’s entry to the food world was Charlottesville’s Vivace before he set off for D.C.. There he found a job at one of the city’s most influential restaurants, Komi, which was consistently ranked the #1 restaurant in the city during his tenure. “What I learned there forever shaped my sensibilities on food and, even more so, on hospitality,” said Zack. Next, Zack was Sous Chef at Red Apron Butchery and Osteria Morini before joining a team of Komi veterans to open Tail Up Goat, a restaurant devoted to whole animal butchery, bread baking, pasta making, and preservation.

A Passion for Charlottesville

Even before they moved to Charlottesville in 2017, Carolyn and Zack had been set on it as their forever home. “We had visited Charlottesville many times, both to see family and to enjoy the outdoors, and had met many people in the food scene,” said Carolyn. “We were so welcomed and really felt the community of what it would be like to live here.” Another plus was family life, with two young boys. “We wanted our kids to enjoy the same kind of outdoor freedom that we had growing up – just exploring the woods,” said Carolyn. “Now that we’ve been here several years, we feel totally enmeshed in the community and our kids definitely spend their days in the outdoors.”

From their first day in Charlottesville, Carolyn and Zach immersed themselves. “We are completely committed to both being a part of the community and doing our part to contribute to it,” said Carolyn.

Introducing ooey gooey cripsy

And, what will their contribution be?

Grilled cheese. “It is the ultimate comfort food,” said Carolyn. “We eat it all the time and, though anyone can make grilled cheese, we believe it deserves the same level of thoughtful attention as the dishes we crafted for years in our fine dining backgrounds.” That attention especially took off when Carolyn would bring home amazing cheeses from Righteous Cheese, and she and Zack would make grilled cheese sandwiches, experimenting with flavors and textures. 

Years of trial-and-error from two talented and passionate food artisans is about to pay off for Charlottesville.

“It starts with ingredients,” said Zack. Sourdough bread from Albemarle Baking Company, high-quality cheeses from sustainable farms, and local and sustainable meats. “From there, it’s all about the extra attention and love,” said Zack. Buttering the bread all the way to the edges to ensure uniform color and crispiness; shredding rather than slicing the cheese to achieve the right gooey interior at the same moment the outside is shatteringly crisp; allowing the grilled cheese to rest before cutting so that the cheese comes together just so. “These are details that may seem inconsequential, but have been tried and tested in our kitchen,” Zack said. 

At ooey gooey crispy, guests will be able to create their own custom grilled cheeses from a menu of select ingredients. Choose your cheese from Fontina Val d’Aosta, cheddar, gruyère, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or brie. Choose butter from classic, sage butter, parm butter, or truffle butter. And choose toppings from crushed potato chips, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, bacon marmalade, picnic ham, or Mike’s hot honey.

Better yet is a menu of house favorite combinations, like brie, truffle butter, and crushed potato chips, or Zack’s favorite, Fontina and sage butter.  “We use traditional Fontina Val d’Aosta, which is robust and funky, but when it melts, it changes a bit – mellows out and gets buttery too,” said Zack. “The classic Italian alpine cheese paired with the woodsy herbaceousness of the sage butter exemplifies the northern Italian flavors I love dearly. Plus it’s just so damn good.”

For lighter meals, there is also a menu of “big salads,” such as Carolyn’s favorite, the Blustery Fall Salad, with roasted celery root, arugula, celery hearts, lemon-soaked currants, toasted hazelnuts, brie, and sherry vinaigrette. “With those bites of brie, toasted hazelnut, and currants, it takes it from sad-salad-lunch to something super luscious and indulgent without being heavy,” said Carolyn, who likes to pair the salad with Creamy Tomato Soup. “It’s the best tomato soup I’ve ever had, and it has the added bonus of being vegan,” said Carolyn.

Ooey gooey crispy opens in November. Meanwhile, you can visit here to learn more about the project, help them get off the ground, and win rewards like their own cookbook, free grilled cheese, and more.

Five Finds on Friday: Carolyn Stromberg Leasure

carolyn with cheddar

Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Carolyn Stromberg Leasure of Righteous Cheese, which was once a cheese and wine bar in Washington D.C. and now hosts cheese events here in Charlottesville. On Valentine’s Day is Righteous Cheese’s most popular class ever: Chocolate, Cheese & Baller Bubbly. Leasure and award-winning cheesemonger Sara Adduci will lead guests through four rare grower champagnes, cheeses, and a spread of local chocolates. 6:30 – 7:30 pm in Oakhart Social’s private dining room. Details and tickets. Leasure’s picks:

1) Cold Brew Latte (made with cashew milk & cold brew coffee) from The Juice Laundry. “I really appreciate good coffee, and I get to feel like I’m being healthy when I drink this. Unlike a lot of juice places, The Juice Laundry is 100% organic, which I appreciate. Their Cold Brew Latte is creamy and nutty with a hint of cinnamon and a great start to the day.”

2) Fried Chicken and Onion Rings at Mel’s Cafe. “We cook at home almost every night, but when we are too tired and want something fast, it’s often Mel’s fried chicken. Even with takeout, it stays crispy, the onion rings are the apex of the genre, and even the breast meat is juicy. Though, of course, the best way to eat it is at Mel’s, with chicken straight out of the fryer, while chatting with the folks behind the counter.”

3) Hot and Numbing Shredded Tofu Skins at Peter Chang’s. “I love to order tofu when dining out, since making it at home never turns out quite as good. The Hot and Numbing Shredded Tofu Skin almost has the texture of al dente pasta: thinly shredded, toothsome pieces of tofu skin seasoned with chili pepper, chili oil, sesame oil, fresh cilantro and a host of other spices and seasonings. While not the spiciest dish at Peter Chang’s (which means you can eat more!), it leaves a pleasant, buzzy tingling on your lips. Yum.”

4) Eggs and Pancake Special at Tip Top Restaurant. “With a two-year old toddler/tyrant living in our house, my chef-husband and I don’t get out often for dinner, but we take breakfast seriously. I am a bit particular (read: annoying) about my eggs, and prefer them over-medium, apparently the hardest way to cook them. The number of times my eggs are cooked properly – with firm whites and a soft yolk – at most restaurants is few, but the kitchen at Tip Top has never disappointed. Eggs are always perfect, and there’s nothing wrong with the pancakes and bacon (ordered extra-extra-crispy for me). The relaxed dining room is bustling but it doesn’t take too long for a table, they have crayons for my kid, and the staff is the perfect mix of gregarious, surly, and at the top of their game.”

5) Budino at Lampo. “I love absolutely everything at Lampo, and my standard order is the kale salad, a cheese and charcuterie board, and the Margherita DOC pizza. The perfect dish for me, though, is the chocolate budino. Chocolate and olive oil are one of my all-time favorite flavor combinations. The budino is silky and rich with a savory drizzle of olive oil, a salty, crunchy, caramel-y top, and nutty crushed hazelnuts, all of which come together for an ideal balance of flavors and textures.”

tofu

Hot and Numbing Shredded Tofu Skins

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