The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Christian Kelly

“Best Thing I Ate All Year” 2016

Looking back at 2016, what stands out as the best thing you ate all year?  Top area chefs provide their answer. (Here are last year’s picks.) A tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty:

Mitchell Beerens (Lampo)

Agedashi Tofu at Now & Zen. “The silken tofu is made crispy by dusting it in potato starch and frying it. Then, it’s set in a spa of tentsuyu broth made smoky from the katsuobushi and a little sweet from mirin. Perfect balance of big flavors.”


Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange)

Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana at Parallel 38. “When restaurants around the world jumped to support the town of Amatrice in Italy after it was devastated by an earthquake, we were fortunate enough to experience a version of Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana at Parallel 38. Their version was almost exactly the same as what we experienced in Italy. It was also so delicious that we went back the next night to have it again.”


Brian Jones (The Alley Light)

Brebirousse from Flora Artisanal Cheese in Timbercreek Market with Seeded Roll from Albemarle Baking Company.  “The seeded roll is a beautiful roll, made from baguette dough,  crusted in fennel seeds, poppy seeds and white sesame seeds. What a yummy combination of flavors. Brebirousse is a soft, smooth, creamy, buttery sheep’s milk cheese from the Rhone-Alpes region of France. Not to take anything away from these two ingredients, but food memories often have more to do with the eater’s condition at the time of the meal than the actual meal itself.  Food always tastes better when you are hungry!  I have eaten at some amazing restaurants in my life but I the best meal I ever had in my life was on a backpacking trip when our rations were low and our calorie output far exceeded our calorie intake. We savored every last morsel, scraped our cooking vessel clean, so clean that there was nothing left to wash. Possibly food is at its best  when the aromas or tastes remind you of a forgotten memory lost somewhere in the back of your mind. Think Ratatouille the movie when the food critic Anton Ego bites into Chef Remy’s ratatouille.”

cheese seeded

Christian Kelly (Maya)

Duck Liver Terrine at The Ivy Inn.  “This pâté en terrine is a slice of art. The perfect suspension of fat in meat wrapped in what appeared to be paper-thin cured duck breast slices and served with traditional pommery mustard and pickled vegetables. Angelo’s food is truly inspiring. The work of his kitchen is a delight to the taste buds. Well done.”


Tommy Lasley (Fry’s Spring Station, Ivy Provisions)

Live Scallop with Uni Broth at Mican (now closed). “The best thing I ate this past year was way too much amazing sashimi at Mican Japanese Restaurant, which unfortunately is no longer open! Everything I had was the best example I have tried in years, Charlottesville or otherwise. If I had to pick one bite it was the live scallop with uni broth.” [Note: Mican’s owners are now serving sushi at Lemongrass.]

Thomas Leroy (Kardinal Hall)

Pork Belly at BBQ Exchange. “I went there and ordered  the meat combo plate of course. The ribs were outstanding, but that pork belly with a fried crispy finish to balance the smoking flavor was amazing. I topped it with their bacon bbq sauce of course. Next time I go, that’s all I’m ordering.”


Michael McCarthy (Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie)

Salt Honey Pie from Greenwood Gourmet by Polina Chesnakova. “Nuff said.”

Loren Mendosa (Lampo)

Olive Oil Gelato from Splendora’s. “I don’t know if PK’s running it regularly, but it was truly fantastic. She used our Mosto olive oil from Liguria and we topped it with sea salt and a drizzle of the Galardo olive oil that Hodges and Jill Myers are importing. It was the perfect combination!”


Jenny Peterson (Paradox Pastry)

Roasted Chicken and Street Corn Off the Cob at The Fitzroy. “Holy moly! Food tends to be an ‘in the moment’ experience for me, and that chicken and corn just hit the spot at the right time, and it was so comfy and cozy in there.”

chicken corn

Ian Redshaw (Lampo)

Sunchokes from Wayside Produce. “Any vegetable from Wayside Produce, especially the sunchokes. These are the best vegetables I have been able to find thus far in my career.”


Ivan Rekosh (ZoCaLo)

Flank and Brisket Pho at Thai Cuisine & Noodle House. “This time of year I’m loving the pho from Thai Cuisine. I usually opt for the flank and brisket but sometimes add the tendon. The broth is amazing. I love to stick my whole face in the bowl and breathe in the steam while I’m slurping the noodles. Really warms you up from the inside out on these cold days. Also a great family runs it.” 


Wilson Richey (co-owner, The Alley Light, The Bebedero, The Pie Chest, Revolutionary Soup, The Whiskey Jar)

Chicken Liver Mousse Tart at Timbercreek Market. “Just redefined what can be done with chicken liver, so smooth and elegant. I would eat the whole tart if it were not frowned upon to do things like that.”


John Shanesy (Petit Pois)

Black Bean and Corn Relleno at ZoCaLo. “It hits on every texture, and all the flavors are very well pronounced but at the same time all working in unison to be a joy to eat. They’ve been great new neighbors to get to meet and have greeted me so warmly as well.”


Andrew Silver (ZoCaLo)

Polpettine Panuozzo at Lampo. “Meatball parm sub was my go-to late night, altered state, munchie meal.  Lampo’s is the refined, grown up version.  Plus the fact that the bread is baked ‘a la minute’ seals the deal.”


Angelo Vangelopoulos (The Ivy Inn)

Petit Kouign-amann from MarieBette. “I found this gem at the city market. Will Darsie filled my request for a mixed bag of goodies while I picked up my veggies from Susan and Wally Parks at Broadhead Mountain Farm. It’s an over the top decadent croissant dough masterpiece with apples and a metric ton of butter and sugar. My market visit is no longer complete without one of them.”


Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)

170 Dry Aged NY Strip at Lampo. “Ridiculously delicious. Cast iron crispy and served with a head of roasted garlic. Not even fair.”


Tucker Yoder (Timbercreek Market)

I Don’t Even Own a Gun by Twenty Paces.  “I Don’t Even Own a Gun and Noah’s Arcade are some of the best cheeses I have ever tasted. Could easily rival European cheeses. Great funky cheeses. All their cheeses have been a revelation this year but the soft gooey ones are a Yoder family favorite.”



Dr. Lamborn’s Peas by Harvest Thyme Herbs


Mindful that readers of The Charlottesville 29 may not be quite as crazy about food as I am, I often resist the urge to indulge in full-on food geekery on this site.  Resistance is not always easy, and one recent discovery made it impossible.  It involves peas.  Yes, peas.

When I started to describe these peas to a close friend, his eyes began to glaze over from lack of interest.  Indeed, not everyone finds this stuff interesting. But, I do. So, here it goes.

Over the past several years, Charlottesville’s restaurant reputation has grown and grown and grown.  Accolades seem to pile up faster than Jack’s beanstalk. Thought it’s not often said, the folks who make this possible are those who produce the extraordinary bounty we enjoy in the Charlottesville area.  Many times, I’ve heard chefs from Washington D.C., Richmond, and other areas express envy at the proximity that Charlottesville chefs enjoy to so many outstanding farms and sources of first class ingredients.  These producers are the unsung heroes of Charlottesville dining.

Consider Phil and Deirdre Armstrong of Harvest Thyme Herbs, a small Staunton farm whose produce is beloved by top chefs in the area. You can find their products at Charlottesville 29 inductees like The Ivy Inn, Maya, Pippin Hill, and more. What makes the Armstrongs special is not just their commitment to perfecting the produce they already have but also their enthusiasm in seeking out new products to bring to area chefs and diners.

Last year, an article in Food Arts by Carolyn Jung gushed about extraordinary new breeds of peas that were making top New York City chefs “swoon.”  Their creator was Dr. Calvin Lamborn, the scientist who developed the first commercial snap pea in 1979.  Now 80, Lamborn continues to create unique breeds of peas, and his latest creations are making waves at top NYC restaurants like Union Square Cafe, wd-50, and Per Se.

When the Armstrongs caught wind of these new breeds of peas earlier this year, they were determined to bring them to Charlottesville.  “New York City chefs can’t have all the fun!” they explained on their blog.  “Snow peas in shades of deep purple, soft yellow, chile pepper red. Oversized edible- podded peas sweet enough for dessert. And poufy, frilly pea tendrils for garnish.”

So, after some effort, by March they had obtained a supply of seeds directly from Dr. Lamborn’s son Rod, a cinematographer who has been helping to market his father’s peas at  Fast forward a few months, and the Armstrongs are now enjoying the fruits of their labor: peas that have been described as not just special but “even legendary.”

One lucky recipient is Christian Kelly, the chef who once helped Clifton Inn become one of just sixty restaurants in the country attain Relais & Chateaux status, before opening Charlottesville’s best Jeffersonian restaurant.  At Maya, he uses the peas and tendrils to top house-cured pork jowl from The Rock Barn, local red slicer tomatoes from Pleasant Pastures, and house buttermilk cheese.


Another chef to score some of the peas is two-time James Beard award semi-finalist Angelo Vangelopoulos.  At Ivy Inn, Vangelopoulos serves the peas with grilled certified angus beef tenderloin, baby carrots, whipped Yukon gold potatoes, pea and onion “soubise,” and Cabernet sauce. “I can never seem to outgrow something as simple and delicious as peas and carrots with mashed potatoes,” said Vangelopoulos, “and Dr. Lamborn’s peas achieve a whole new level of awesome.”

Ivy Inn

“It is a responsibility and an honor to showcase Dr. Lamborn’s work, and we feel very fortunate to bring these unique treasures to our chefs,” said Deirdre Armstrong, who very kindly gave me some peas to try for myself.

Unsure what to do with such treasures (besides enjoying them raw), I decided a simple preparation would be the best way to appreciate them. And so, I blanched shelled peas and snap peas before tossing them with pea tendrils and local greens in a light vinaigrette. Oh my. Bursting with the delicious essence of pea, the salad was one of those rare dishes I know I will always remember. The sweet “52s”, in particular, seem destined for fame.

pea salad

Incidentally, a few Michelin-starred restaurants in California, like The French Laundry, have also caught wind of these new breeds of peas, and managed to snag some seeds as well.  So, where does that mean you find these magical peas?

Well, for now, three places: top restaurants in New York City, California, and, thanks to the Armstrongs, Central Virginia.



Christian Kelly’s Tribute to Richard Bean


Richard Bean

Christian Kelly, of Maya, is among the many chefs who have created a tribute dish to honor Double H Farm’s Richard Bean, the local food giant who passed away late last year. Kelly’s dish is Crispy Cured Double H Farm Pork Belly, with a Double H Farm egg, pinto beans, and conrbread.  A complete list of the chefs and their dishes is here.  Kelly’s words: 

“Old school comfort for this time of year.  Fitting in my mind for the tribute to a man who touched so many people with his amazing pork products,eggs and vegetables. Richard reminded me a lot of my step father who raised me on his dairy farm from the time I was 6. They both had this unwavering, stubborn commitment to hard, no-glove, callous-building work. Every day, don’t ever let up. I love that about my dad and immediately saw that in Bean from the high quality of his products and how passionately he spoke of his ideals.

He was a man’s man too. Loved to give shit and bust balls. He loved getting it back equally. I know first hand as he IS a diehard Redsox fan and I’m a diehard Yankees fan. We would go round for round exchanging blows about who was the better team. Laughing as we spit barbs at one another, I always knew we both relished those times. When he would call me on Tuesdays to get my order, we would talk sports, family, the food fight, and how the hell do we make money at this? He was everything, an advisor, a dad, a Sherpa, a farmer, a leader of a revolution, a husband and most importantly to me,a really good friend.

Once at one of Maya’s local food and wine nights, I was standing in front of all the dinner guests preaching to the choir about the importance of local food. When I got to the part about getting to know the farmers and getting to build relationships with people who produce the food, I said the most important thing in my life is my relationships with people. Richard stood up and started clapping. He felt the same way. Relationships make us who we are. It tells the world what we value and who is important to us. He always drove that home for me. Knowing Richard the way I did was really an honor. He made me look good. Like, I have some really great friends mom, look I can make good decisions.

To say that Richard Bean was one of a kind is an understatement. He was one of the most unique individuals I will ever know. He will be missed without question. But in a way, he will always be here. Living in all of us who he touched. We pass along his beliefs, his work ethic, his generous nature to the next group and so on. To me, that’s heaven and reincarnation.  I love that guy.”
-Christian Kelly, chef/owner of Maya

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