The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Harrison Keevil

Keevil & Keevil Launches Pop-up Dinners

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You can take the chef out of the restaurant, but you can’t take the restaurant out of the chef. Or something.

Since closing Brookville last year to focus on Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen, Harrison Keevil has still fed his creativity by concocting inventive sandwiches, take-home meals, and specials at the tiny Belmont grocery he runs with his wife. But, the chef who has cooked at The Fat Duck, Dinner, and Clifton Inn, still longs to let it rip every now and then. And, so next month Keevil & Keevil launches a pop-up dinner series, beginning of course with “Decadence.”

“I love cooking well crafted over-the-top dishes,” says Keevil. “And this is a throwback to the early days of Brookville.”

How many Mom & Pop corner stores serve Uni Spaghetti with Lobster Knuckle, Squid Ink, Chives, and Buttered Bread Crumbs? Or, Foie Gras Poutine with Cheese Curds, Duck Gravy, and Triple Cooked Chips? Full menu below. November 2-4 at 5:30 pm. More details here.

 

 

 

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.

Introducing Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen

Brookville sammy

One of the more clever restaurant concepts I’ve seen is coming to Charlottesville.  Years ago, when I lived in Boston, I marveled at the genius of a place called Parish Cafe, whose entire sandwich menu consisted of collaborations with top area chefs, such as the Blue Ginger, by Blue Ginger chef-owner Ming Tsai — tuna steak grilled rare with a teriyaki glaze on onion focaccia with Boston bibb lettuce, tomato, avocado, wasabi aioli, and chopped scallions. The advantages were many: delicious and interesting sandwiches for customers, free exposure for area restaurants, and a showing of community among Boston restaurants.  With a great restaurant community in Charlottesville, I had always thought the concept could work well here.

Now we will find out.  The couple behind Brookville restaurant, Harrison and Jennifer Keevil, are adding a new business to their fold: Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen, in the former location of Gibson’s Grocery on Hinton Ave.  As Belmont residents themselves and longtime regulars of Gibson’s, the Keevils plan to sustain its community spirit. “The customer’s of Gibson’s Grocery have come to love the quality of service from the Gibson Family for the last thirty plus years,” says Harrison, “and Jennifer and I look to continue to uphold those standards for years to come.”

So, the Keevils will continue to offer grocery and convenience items, as at Gibson’s. But, they plan major upgrades in prepared food.  Harrison shares my love of sandwiches, and will create a menu of made-to-order sandwiches, plus take-away salads and sandwiches. The Keevils will also introduce a breakfast menu of made-to-order sandwiches, grit bowls, smoothies, and more. A sample preview menu, below, includes options like a bacon marmalade grilled cheese and a “Reuben” made from grilled oyster mushrooms.

Perhaps best of all, though, is a monthly rotation of “Guest Chef Sandwiches.” Like at Parish Cafe in Boston, Harrison will collaborate with top local and national chefs to create two new sandwiches each month. With so many great chefs in the area, these should be a treat.

The Keevils expect to open in late July or early August.  Stay tuned.

Click to enlarge:

Keevil Menu