The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar

Five Finds on Friday: Tres Pittard

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Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Tres Pittard, the former chef of Charley’s Waterfront Kitchen in Farmville who is now sous chef of Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar. This Monday, Commonwealth relaunches with a new menu of Modern Virginian Cuisine, in collaboraton with restaurateur Will Richey and chef Harrison Keevil. A preview of the new-and-improved Commonwealth. Pittard’s picks:

1) Orecchiette, House Sausage, Broccoli Rabe from Vivace. “First of all, I really like the outdoor seating here. The pasta and the atmosphere definitely tie in together, and all in all it is a very comforting experience.” 

2) Ham Biscuit from JM Stock Provisions. “How did I not know about these sooner? I enjoy everything about these and always contemplate if I’ve gotten enough of them on the walk to the car.”

3) Mexican Street Corn from Junction. “This was ridiculously good and I actually had to order another round to come out with the meal.”

4) Spinach, Goat cheese, Egg and Honey Pie from The Pie Chest. “Another thing I was recently introduced to but can’t seem to stop thinking about. And, the thought of these being available Saturday mornings at Draft for soccer is starting to blow my mind a little. Just that good.” 

5) Chicken Francaise from Bella’s. “Athough Bella’s serves family style, I could definitely have this one to myself. The entirety of the dish was on point, and I can see why this one usually sells out.”

The New Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar

Trout

Photo by Sara Miller.

“If you’re not improving, you’re getting worse.”

NBA legend Pat Riley may have meant his words for basketball but they apply just as well to restaurants, where a sure path to failure is to rest on past success. And, so while Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar has done well since opening on the downtown mall in 2011, its owners have decided it is time for change. For that, they have called on the experts: restaurateur Will Richey and chef Harrison Keevil.

The result?

The short version is “Modern Virginia Cuisine.” The long version is a fascinating story about the Charlottesville restaurant community and Virginia cuisine.

A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats

Commonwealth is owned by a team of investors, one of whom – Richard Averitt – is a close friend of Richey. Perhaps our area’s most prolific restaurateur and the founder of Ten Course Hospitality, Richey has had to his name The Alley Light, The Bebedero, Brasserie Saison, The Pie Chest, Revolutionary Soup, and The Whiskey Jar. Who better to help give Commonwealth a boost?

But, with five food businesses of his own on the downtown mall, why would Richey want to help another? The answer lies in a philosophy shared by many in the Charlottesville restaurant community: a rising tide lifts all boats. “Richard and I never saw ourselves as competition,” says Richey. “We both believe that the downtown mall can only be made stronger when all of the parts are stronger.”

Richey’s first task was to give Commonwealth a clearer food identity. Richey saw many strengths at Commonwealth, from the handsome decor to the good service. But, for all its success, Commonwealth’s hodge-podge menu never left clear what type of food it features. Richey’s idea was “Modern Virginian Cuisine,” observing a relative dearth of the style on the downtown mall, particularly with last year’s closing of Brookville, the hyper-local restaurant run by Chef Keevil and his wife.

“Modern” Virginian Cuisine

Why “modern”, as opposed to just Virginian cuisine? Well, consider one of Commonwealth’s most popular dishes: jerk chicken with rice & beans, plantains, and mango chutney. With its Caribbean flair, it may not seem like a traditional Virginian dish. But, as Commonwealth Chef Reggie Calhoun told Richey, Virginia now has a large population of people from Caribbean islands. And so, while Commonwealth’s food will draw on Virginia’s long culinary traditions, it will also reflect the melting pot that Virginia is today, including the restaurant’s beloved jerk chicken. “Virginia is a place that has been shaped and reshaped by various cultures and communities from around the world,” says Richey. Instead of focusing just on colonial or traditional foods of Virginia, Commonwealth will also reflect thee newer influences of the, well, commonwealth. “The name Commonwealth played right into the concept,” says Richey.

As the idea started to take shape, Richey decided to call on Chef Keevil. After all, Richey says, when it comes to Modern Virginian Cuisine, “he’s the guy.”  For years at Brookville, Keevil oversaw Charlottesville’s most locally-sourced restaurant, drawing almost every ingredient from within 100 miles of the restaurant. “Harrison is the greatest adherent to elegant modern regional cuisine in this area,” says Richey. At Commonwealth, Keevil’s role has been consultant, working with Richey, Calhoun and his staff to re-write the menu.

The cornerstones of the new menu, Richey says, are classics drawn from the cookbooks of Edna Lewis, the Orange County native who Richey calls “the Grand Dame of Southern cooking.” Dishes bearing Lewis’ influence include Spiced Virginia Peanuts, ham biscuits, and ham hock meatballs, with blistered field peas and ham hock jus. More recent influences appear in the carry-over jerk chicken and an “autumn empanada” of short rib, with cider habanero pineapple sauce, and fall pico. Other dishes include a smoked trout dip (pictured), vegan Hoppin John, a fried oyster sandwich, and Keevil’s favorite, pork rinds with spicy pork dip. “It’s a unique, flavor-packed snack,” says Keevil.

In addition to Calhoun, the collaboration includes Commonwealth sous chef Tres Pittard, and Keevil says it has been amazing to work with such talented chefs. “I can’t wait for people to taste all of the hard work that the Commonwealth kitchen team has put into the new menu,” Keevil says. “A collaboration like this is one of the main things I love about this town,” echoes Richey. “You have guys from three different restaurants all working on one restaurant to make it tighter and stronger.”

The new-and-improved Commonwealth, to be managed by Ten Course Hospitality, launches on Monday, September 4.

Five Finds on Friday: Reggie Calhoun

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Photo by Derrick Waller.

Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Reggie Calhoun, chef of Draft Taproom and Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar, both of which have donated great items to the Auction for Allie, where local businesses are auctioning off special experiences and services to benefit chef Allie Redshaw. See all the great items and place your bids here. Also, on Monday, March 27, Calhoun is competing against Miso Sweet chef Frank Paris III in a Duel Chef Showdown at Tin Whistle Pub. Details and tickets here. Calhoun’s picks:

1) Double Bacon Cheeseburger at Riverside Lunch. “This is not only a place that sells the best burgers in town but it also holds a lot of memories for me growing up playing soccer. My friends right after practice would go straight here and get the double bacon cheeseburger with fried onions and pickles. These burgers are perfect just as they are – juicy with tons of beef flavor and a tiny bit of crispiness to them. Each bite just melts away. It’s the perfect burger!”

2) Bourbon Fruit Punch at The Alley Light. “The first time I went to this place, I expected it to be over-the-top good, and sure enough it was. I sat at the bar and asked the bartender to select a drink. She asked me which spirit I wanted, and I chose bourbon and said I’d like something very refreshing. She ended up making a drink that not only was the best fruit punch drink I have ever had but still to this day is my favorite drink I’ve ever had, period.”

3) Polyface Chicken Wings at Rapture. “Nothing much to say other then hands down the best chicken wings in Cville. Super clean and clear chicken flavor, juicy, and crispy.”

4) Gambas al’ Parilla at MAS Tapas. “Very simple dish, but that’s just the reason why these shrimp are awesome. Briny and fresh, with the fattiness of the garlic alioli that they make in house, which is key, and huge chunks of sea salt.No lie, I eat these once a week or at least every other week. I love MAS!”

5) Carne Asada at MAS Tapas. “In my opinion, this is one of the top steaks in Cville because it is always cooked perfectly and seasoned just right so the steak flavor shines through. Served with garlic alioli and tortillas dabbed with duck fat.”