The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Fry’s Spring Station

Five Finds on Friday: PK Kamath

ramath

Photo by Jen Fariello

Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from PK Kamath, co-owner of Fry’s Spring Station and Ivy Provisions. Fry’s Spring Station has just launched DoGood Mondays, where each Monday the restaurant donates 10% of sales to a local school or non-profit. This Monday, it will be Hoos Heal 5K, benefiting the UVa Nursing School. Eat, drink, and be charitable. Meanwhile, for Sunday’s Concert for Charlottesville, Fry’s is hosting Dough for Charlottesville, a Starr Hill Brewery tap takeover where $1 from every Fry’d Dough will go to the Concert for Charlottesville fund. And, if you don’t have tickets, Fry’s is livestreaming the concert. Kamath’s picks:

1) Pork Rib Chop at The Ivy Inn. “The pork rib chop is my go-to, but the amuse bouche that magically appear at the table are also part of what takes this place from great to really special. Add Angelo and Farrell’s personal touch and well, it’s as good as it gets.”

2) Tuna Nori Roll at Bang! “Ok, here’s the thing. It has NOT been on their menu in a while. I’m bringing it up here, with the simple hope of someone at Bang seeing it, feeling terribly regretful for the mistake they have made (sarcasm!!) and putting it back on the menu (not sarcasm!!). In all seriousness, this is our go-to weekday date night spot. The menu is filled with great flavors and textures and the dressed vegetables/salads in most of the dishes are what makes it for me.”

3) Kibbeh Platter with Fire-roasted Red Pepper Sauce, Eggplant and Sesame Green Beans at Sticks. “The entire menu is delicious and it’s simple food, done right. Without question, my 11-year old daughter’s favorite restaurant, from even before she had a full set of teeth (hummus is amazing).”

4) Peri-peri Wings with a side of Peri-peri sauce at The Shebeen.. “Hot, spicy, meaty, spicy delectable goodness. Walter’s wings and an ice-cold Narragansett Lager put me in my happy place. I’m pretty sure my spirit animal is a chicken wing.”

5) Taiwanese-style Pork Chops with Scallion Pancakes at Cafe 88. “Although this place is very unsuspecting, Li is about as talented as it gets, and she cares about what she’s feeding her customers and it shows. Really damn good. Really, really damn good.”

Five Finds on Friday: Matt Wolf

Wolf

Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Matt Wolf who, with former Public Fish & Oyster chef Donnie Glass, runs Skipjack Purveyors (fka Banyan Day Provisions). Though no longer at Timbercreek Market, Glass and Wolf still plan to cater with what they call a “flip-flop approach to fine dining,” and also help with events around town. This Sunday, they will host a pop-up raw bar at South Fork Food Truck’s Crawfish Boil, at Mono Loco. From 2-8pm, there will also be JM Stock Provisions smoked andouille sausage, music by  The Bayou Faux Pas and Johnny Ghost, and a Mono Loco margarita and daquiri bar.

Evidently, Wolf was the kid who stayed after class to ask for extra credit. For his five finds, the go-getter drafted the longest picks ever (five “novels” he calls them), and even submitted images for the picks.  And to refer to one restaurant’s bar, he coined the phrase “”the wood that separates patron from Patrón.” That’s worth a 100+5 with a “Super!” sticker. Wolf’s picks:

Flora

1) Valleé Brebidoux from Flora Artisanal Cheese. “Probably my favorite 8 feet or so of case space in Charlottesville. Nadjeeb “NaCheese” Chouaf is the owner and head cheesemonger of Flora Artisanal Cheese which is located in Timbercreek Market. Take it from me, he knows what’s Gouda. From Vermont to Normandy, pungent to tame, soft to hard, he has a cheese for any taste or application. My favorite of his current stock is Valleé Brebidoux, a Basque sheep’s milk that tastes like milk and honey had a baby. Oh, and the Marinated Isle of Lesbos Feta is pretty good too. If you’ve had it, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, I recommend getting over to 722 Preston Avenue as fast as physically possible.”

Juicer

2) The Importance of Being Earnest at Public Fish & Oyster. “Brad ‘The Juicer’ Langdon is Head Barman at Public Fish & Oyster on W. Main Street nestled right up against Oakhart Social (if you didn’t know). A true student of the game is Langdon, a virtuoso of sorts behind the wood that separates patron from Patrón. Well versed in every aspect of mixology, you can’t go wrong with anything he makes. However, “The Importance of Being Ernest” is what I’m here to talk about specifically. Langdon’s play on a Hemingway daiquiri is his latest creation that I can’t get enough of, until I’ve had enough. The cocktail stars Charlottesville’s own Vitae Platinum Rum and is backed by the freshest squeezed lime juice, and local Rosemary-Rhubarb syrup, Shaken… Up. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say this but I’m drinking one right now. The sun has appeared with the cocktail to match, so head on over to PFO and chase one of Brad’s cocktails with a Narragansett Lager and let the juice get loose.”

Fry's

3) Frito Cianci at Fry’s Spring Station. “As well as recently being renovated tastefully modern, Fry’s is also now under new management. Headlined by The Rock Barn and Ivy Provision’s Ben Thompson and company, it’s managed day to day by Tyler Wood whose unwavering righteousness is reflected through the wholesome atmosphere you feel when you walk in the door. It’s safe to say Fry’s ‘Neighborhood Hearth’ is back better than ever. The menu has been rejuvenated with rustic Italian favorites spun in an upscale direction with the centerpiece being a pizza oven that nearly needs its own area code it’s so large. Very reasonably priced and a portion size that eaters can appreciate are just a couple of reasons to swing by Fry’s patio bar for a cold Narragansett lager and some chow. My guilty pleasure leads me to Fry’s for the Frito Cianci, a fried seafood plate featuring squid, shrimp and seasonal vegetables tied together with a tasty vinaigrette and some basil, chased with a ‘Gansett  (detecting a theme here?).  Add a large serving of sunshine, and I can’t think of a better afternoon.”

valley

4)  White Blend at Valley Road Vineyards. “The newest kid on the block on the 151 wine trail, Valley Road has been steadily taking shape on the grounds that used to be AM Fog Farm. At the head of Critzers shop road VRV is a launchpad for your weekend wine tasting route. A beautiful cascade of vines and beautiful farm structures that lie beneath the vineyard make for a picturesque afternoon with good people and good drink. Under the watchful eyes of Scott Link and Grayson Poats, the property has been taking shape since the first vine went in the ground. They will feature several varietals in their debut including a Chardonnay, a White blend, a Merlot- Rose, a Merlot, and a Meritage. The tasting room is scheduled to open early summer and they have a lot of fun things planned, including a weekly farmers market and live music and also having delicious upscale picnic food for sale on site. So when you’re planning your annual wine tasting adventure, don’t forget about the new guys and swing on through Valley Road. They are going to be doing big things.

5) Dagwood at Durty Nelly’s Pub-Wayside Deli. “This is where I go to disappear. A cozy “Cheers”-esque bar full of regulars that only know each other by name and hug goodbye. In the winter the fireplace is ablaze, with rock and roll pouring from the speakers and the door propped open. It’s perfect brackish air combination of fire and fresh. With a domestic pitcher weighing in at 10 dollars even (Rolling Rock for me), it makes for an economical afternoon. If I’m feeling wealthy, I’ll splurge and get a Dagwood sandwich, which contains nearly every sandwich staple under the sun. It’s a tight knit crew down at Duty Nelly’s, so let’s still keep this between us.”

crawfish

 

 

Re-Introducing Fry’s Spring Station

Fry's

Food lovers take note. Fry’s Spring Station has undergone a complete overhaul, including the injection of some serious culinary talent. First opened in 2010, the new incarnation opened Monday, and looks to be vastly improved.

Sure, there are interior renovations, like polished hardwood floors, fresh paint, and re-claimed wood community tables. The new setting is as handsome as it is welcoming. There is even an al fresco bar that sits half-outside and half-inside, offering an expansive view of the entire restaurant, which for seventy years housed an actual service station.

Bar

But, the real news is the kitchen talent in the ownership team. Founder of The Rock Barn, Ben Thompson is known in the industry as one of the area’s best chefs. A former cook at the much-missed Oxo, he went on to finish top of his class at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, with an award for “Excellence through Leadership.” That earned him coveted spots in two of the nation’s most acclaimed kitchens, Per Se and The French Laundry. When he returned to Virginia in 2009 to open The Rock Barn, it was a true gift to the Charlottesville food scene. As Fleurie’s Brian Helleberg once said: “To have Ben Thompson working his craft in Nelson County is a local foodie’s dream realized.”

Joining Thompson in overseeing the food is Tommy Lasley, once named one of Charlottesville’s rising stars. A culinary school classmate of Thompson, Lasley has cooked locally at Orzo, and also in the northeast at Sweetgrass Grill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, one of the nation’s groundbreaking farm-to-table restaurants. Thompson and Lasley first joined forces at Ivy Provisions, where owner PK Kamath brought them on board to revamp the place, with great results. They are now doing the same for Fry’s Spring Station, where Kamath is also a co-owner. The opportunity arose last year when former co-owner Robert Sawrey (Downtown Grille) decided it was time to retire and sell his ownership interest. As one of Sawrey’s partners, Kamath sought to replicate the success Thompson and Lasley have had at Ivy Provisions. And, as a former Fry’s Spring resident, Thompson saw it as a great chance to jump back into restaurants.

Trio

L to R: Ben Thompson, Tommy Lasley, and PK Kamath. Photo by Sanjay Suchak.

The concept behind the reboot is to bring the lessons of fine dining to a community restaurant. Thompson observes that many aspiring young chefs follow a standard path up the culinary ladder: moving from one restaurant to a better one, again and again, where “better” often means fancier. But, what happens once you’ve reached the fanciest restaurants of all, and find yourself serving food accessible only to certain palates and budgets? For Thompson, the answer was to return to what he views as a chef’s basic role: feeding people. “Our job here is to feed the community,” says Thompson.

And so, Thompson and Lasley aim to take the fundamentals of a well-trained chef at a sophisticated restaurant and apply them to food that is accessible, affordable, and nutritious. Fry’s Spring Station is “not about a chef blowing guests away with his skills,” says Thompson. Rather, it’s about being stewards of the Fry’s Spring community, offering “food that we would feel good about serving our families several times a week,” says Thompson.

But, it’s not just in the kitchen where Thompson are Lasley are applying wisdom from fine dining. It’s management, too. For that, Thompson looks to the example of a good friend, The Ivy Inn’s Angelo Vangelopoulos. At The Ivy Inn, says Thompson, Vangelopoulos is the paradigm of good restaurant leadership. He hires good people and treats them well. Over time, says Thompson, that breeds a culture of community and success. Thompson seeks to emulate the approach at Fry’s Spring Station.

The New Fry’s Spring Station

What’s the result of all of this? Well, you know those ubiquitous shopping mall Italian chain restaurants? Imagine one that doesn’t suck. If my initial visits are any indication, Fry’s Spring Station achieves the cheerful, casual, family-friendly ethos of the best of those restaurants, but upgrades the experience across the board.

The menu, after all, is not groundbreaking. It’s appetizers, pizzas, pastas, salads, sandwiches, and sides. But, the difference is the attention to detail, in cooking, sourcing, and service. Salad dressings are made in-house. Produce comes from The Local Food Hub, meats from The Rock Barn, and sandwich bread from Albemarle Baking Company. And, the kombucha is, of course, Barefoot.

The pizza has received an overhaul, too, with a new dough and a refined process, which recalled the earliest days of Thompson’s career. Before culinary school, Thompson started out making pizzas at several joints in Colorado, where he grew up. “That’s how I learned to cook,” said Thompson. And, Lasley was once Chef de Cuisine of a popular Connecticut restaurant known for its pizzas.

Pizza

Photo by Sanjay Suchak.

Drawing on his experience with pizza ovens, Thompson is excited about not just the pizzas, but also one slightly unusual menu item: manciatta, like a salad atop flatbread. They roll out pizza dough, top it with olive oil and herbs, and fire it in the pizza oven.  Then, they top it again with a little more olive oil, and your choice of three different salads. Thompson’s favorite is the steak version, where shaved lettuces are tossed in vinaigrette, with grilled steak, red onions, asiago cheese, and chilis. The dressing and salad flavors seep into the bread, which Thompson recommends tearing off one piece at a time to enjoy with the other ingredients. I tried one, and it was a delicious. A refreshing and satisfying weeknight meal.

Manciatta

Consistent with the community feel, much of the food is intended for sharing. Sides like red beet agrodolce, sautéed seasonal greens, or, Thompson’s favorite, shaved Brussels sprouts with Pancetta, come in regular and family sizes. Salads likewise are available small and large, and include crowd-pleasers like Caesar, a Wedge, and Butter Lettuce with strawberries and goat cheese. And pastas, too, offer size options, including penne with tomato and basil which my children declared among the best in town.

There is even a a wide selection of large format bottles of beer, also intended for sharing, which Thompson says were chosen to pair well with the food.  Other libations also appear well-curated, included a nice slate of local beers on tap, and approachable wines like a Vina Galana Verdejo for which the menu predicts: “Try a glass, you’ll soon order a porron for the table!”

Pizza, pasta, paninis, and porrons. We can work with that.