Harrison Keevil’s departure from Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar is already paying dividends at Keevil & Keevil. With his full attention back on the shop he runs with his wife Jennifer, Keevil has big plans for 2019. Kicking off the year is the re-launch of his guest chef sandwich series, where each month a different chef collaborates with Keevil on a special sandwich. Past iterations have been stellar.
This time it has a twist: a contest for charity. At the end of 2019, Keevil & Keevil will determine the best-selling guest sandwich of the year, and will donate $500 to the charity of the winning collaborator’s choice. Keevil & Keevil will also donate $500 to Therapeutic Adventures, a Charlottesville organization that plans outdoor adventures for disabled individuals. “I chose this charity in honor of one of my best friends Robert Spottswood, who tragically passed this summer,” says Keevil. “His disability did not stop him from doing what he loved: being outside.”
Hereford’s and Keevil’s collaboration is a take on Hereford’s fried bologna sandwich. “He asked us to make a Virginia version of his now famous bologna sandwich,” says Keevil. “Like the original, it’s locally sourced and I know all the people that went into making the main ingredients of the sandwich.” It will be available starting January 2. The components:
Bologna: Keevil says he knows well the bologna artisan as well as the farm where the cattle for the bologna grazed
Bread: Organic Pain de Mie from Albemarle Baking Company
Chips: Rt. 11 lightly salted
Mustard Sauce: Hereford’s mustard sauce recipe, mixed with Duke’s Mayo
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.
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 short version is “Modern Virginia Cuisine.” The long version is a fascinating story about the Charlottesville restaurant community and Virginia cuisine.
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.