No fan of the limelight, my father might have declined an offer to appear in Five Finds on Friday. Everything he did he did without fanfare, like coming to America and quietly achieving his life’s dream: provide his family everything they need.
Of all the things my father gave me, one of the greatest was a love of food. When I was ten years old, he invited me to Manhattan to see his office. A commuter train from Connecticut full of men in business suits. After we visited his office building, he took me to see Beverly Hills Cop, which I thought was particularly cool since there were swear words. Even cooler was afterwards when he took me out for dim sum. I was floored. Chinese ladies who didn’t speak English pushed around carts of foods the likes of which I had never seen, let alone tasted.
My father and I first visited Charlottesville in 1991, on a college tour. Over the next three decades, he returned often, and food was always at the center of our itinerary. This week I found myself wanting to celebrate his favorites. And, he’s no longer around to stop me. How I wish, though, he could join me for them again:
1) Ham Biscuit at Stock Provisions. My father didn’t ask for things. He didn’t believe in it. So, the fact that he would gently mention the possibility of getting this ham biscuit in advance of Charlottesville visits speaks volumes to how much he loved it. So good he would swallow his pride.
2) Gyro at The Ivy Inn. There’s something about Brits and lamb. But, my father’s fondness for lamb is not the only reason the list includes this gyro sometimes served with rack of lamb at The Ivy Inn. Since his death on Sunday, my siblings and I have had many conversations about “what Dad would have wanted.” And, one thing I am sure he would have wanted is to include Angelo Vangelopoulos in this list. Though my father did not know Angelo well, he was a great admirer of kindness, which, come to think of it, may explain why I have always strived for it. In the Charlottesville food community there is no one kinder than Angelo, whom my father admired from afar. Long live Angelo and my father’s favorite gyro at The Ivy Inn.
3) The Davidson at Beer Run. While some may think I am the namesake of this Beer Run blend of double IPA and pale ale, its true originator was my father. He loved both beer and problem-solving, and this was his shrewd way of maximizing the amount of beer he could enjoy in one sitting, without overdoing it. The flavorful double IPAs he loved were too high in alcohol to have in large quantities, so he would cut them, 50-50, with a pale ale. The best of both worlds – lots of flavor, without excessive alcohol. Always served in a 20 oz glass, because anything else is not a “proper pint.” Some brewers, deeming their beers to be finished products, object to blends like The Davidson. As someone who believed in minding one’s own business, my father’s concern for their disapproval could not be understated.
4) French Green Beans at The Alley Light. A good measure of my father’s enjoyment of a food was how long he extended the second syllable of “extraordinary,” in his erudite British accent. And, this signature dish of The Alley Light he always called extraOOOOOOOOOOOOrdinary. The dish of green beans topped with grated foie gras was so beloved by him and my mother that it was served at a dinner in our home on their 50th wedding anniversary. About his favorite foods, my father liked to imagine that he had something more profound to say than that they taste good. His most common attempt was: “It’s the combination of textures and flavors,” a line this dish would evoke every time.
5) Steak Frites at Petit Pois. I was born in England. And, in some pockets of British society, “French” and “fancy” were once one and the same. When I was growing up in Connecticut, to go out to a “nice” restaurant just meant to go to a French one. As a man with no greater love than the woman he called “My Darling,” my father was always happy to oblige my mother’s wish to drop in to Petit Pois whenever in Charlottesville for her beloved chicken liver mousse. It also gave him a chance to enjoy the steak frites that reminded the well-travelled man of a French bistro. Not only was the steak delicious, the fries always arrived “piping hot,” the highest praise a Brit can pay food.
Bonus: Burger at Ciboulette. I tried to avoid including places that no longer exist in my father’s Five Finds, but the list would not be complete without this burger. My father would tell everyone about it, managing to sneak it into conversations that have seemingly nothing to do with burgers, or even food. “That reminds me, . . .”. My father must have had a good sense for talent because the owner of this gourmet shop and eatery that closed in 2006 went on to big things, like James Beard accolades, a job at Inn at Little Washington, and running Charlottesville’s best new restaurant. Who knows, maybe “Mike’s Burger” will resurface at Café Frank?
To honor him: My father was a more avid reader of The Charlottesville 29 than anyone. Donations to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank may be made in his honor here. (Check the box “Dedicate my donation in honor or in memory of someone.”)