The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Little Star

Introducing Little Star Taco Brunch


Listening to chef-owner Ryan Collins talk about his plans for Little Star brunch, it’s hard not to get excited.

For one, there is the concept. “Come on in. We’ll take care of you.” Choose a protein for your tacos, and Little Star has got it from there – a limitless family-style feast of tacos, sides, and house-made salsas. Order some pitchers of sangria or margaritas, and settle in. This is your Sunday now.

Then there’s the food itself, with all of the attention to detail you’d expect from a longtime employee of Jose Andres. No restaurant in town makes corn tortillas from corn itself. Those that make tortillas typically use masa harina — pre-made, dehydrated corn dough. But, Little Star will make tortillas from scratch.


Dried corn from Masienda

The first step is a mysterious process called nixtamalization, which transforms dried corn into something that can be used for tortillas. On Saturday, to prepare for brunch the next day, Collins and his staff cook dried corn from Masienda at a near boil and then leave it to soak overnight in a calcium hydroxide solution called cal, or pickling lime, which breaks down and transforms the corn into nixtamal.

The next day (Sunday!), they drain and rinse the nixtamal, removing the outer shell. They then grind it into ground masa with a stone mill called a molino, imported from Oaxaca. Finally, they form the masa into balls and, with a hand tortilla press, make one tortilla at a time, ready for the griddle.


Molino from Oaxaca.

All that is just for the tortillas!

Why all the effort? Anyone who has had a tasted a tortilla made from scratch knows the answer. To accompany the tortillas, the opening menu offers four protein options, served family-style:

Chicharone en salsa ranchera – guacamole, white onion
Huevos con machaca – scrambled eggs, Mexican dried beef, sofrito
Bistec a la parilla – avocado, lime, tajin
Lamb barbacoa – onion, lime

Parties of two choose one protein, parties of four choose two, parties of six choose three, and parties of eight get all four. And, no mater your party size, you get all of the sides and salsas. On the opening menu, the three sides are Frijoles Refritos – refried beans with crema and onions; Arroz Negro – rice with huitlacoche, poblano, crema, and pickled onions; and Fideos – noodles with passilla Oaxaca chiles, mushrooms, and cactus. The three salsas, meanwhile, are Salsa Verde Cruda, Salsa Chipotle, and Salsa Habanero, made with plenty of sweet citrus and a touch of pineapple vinegar to tame the heat. 

All of this food comes for $35 per head.

Still hungry? Just ask for more of anything. They won’t let you leave wanting more, Collins says.

To wash it down, order pitchers of sangria, house-made agua fresca, or, better yet, agua fresca margaritas.

If the full Little Star Taco Brunch is not your thing, Collins plans a la carte options as well, like his already famous pan tomate, an Eggs Benedict riff on a Spanish tortilla, bread pudding French toast with a Corn Flake crumble and hickory syrup, or “Green Eggs and Ham” — Autumn Olive Farms pork pounded thin and breaded, served with a thick salsa verde of chiles fermented overnight in salt and sugar.

Brunch hours are 10:30 am – 2 pm.  Starts this Sunday, August 18. See you there.

Five Finds on Friday: Millie Winstead


Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Millie Winstead, Director of Development for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the beneficiary of The 2019 Charlottesville Restaurant Auctions. In the auctions, now underway, the restaurants of The Charlottesville 29 have each created a once-in-a-lifetime experience for whoever pledges the largest donation to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. And, the food bank in turn takes each dollar and creates four meals for the area’s hungry. Winstead’s picks:

1) Atun a La Parilla at MAS. “I would go to MAS any and every day. The menu changes all the time and everything they make is so good. But, one thing that I always include in my tapas choices is the tuna. It is perfectly cooked (rare) and is seasoned with just the right amount of grey sea salt.”

2) Fruit Focaccia at Albemarle Baking Company. “Another place I would visit every day, in my perfect world, is ABC. Our family’s Saturday morning would not be complete without a stop at Gerry’s. After a stroll through our city’s wonderful farmer’s market, we always visit ABC to get my fruit focaccia, a variety of pastries for the rest of the family, and a baguette for a future weekend meal.”

3) Watermelon Salad with Crab at Little Star. “This is a new find and I can’t wait to go back and have more. The flavors were unexpected – who would think to put those two things together? I’m so glad they did because the sweet and savory combination was perfect.”

4) Dealer’s Choice at Lost Saint. “This place feels special, kind of like you have to be from here to know it even exists. Tucked away within Tavern & Grocery, it is a perfect get-away with a friend or date. And, the bartenders know their business. Let them guide you and teach you, and sit back and enjoy.”

5) Weekly Soup from l’etoile Catering. “I miss having Mark at a physical location I can go whenever I want, but this is the next best thing (unless you want to invite me to a party you have him cater!). Working for the food bank, I travel throughout central and western Virginia. When I find myself passing through Crozet, I stop to see what Mark has put in his cooler on his porch, a.k.a. what will be my family’s dinner that night. I know it will be delicious.”


Five Finds on Friday: Matt Beck


Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Matt Beck of Oakhart Social, which this weekend hosts an event to help Tavola’s Rebecca Edwards prepare for the Diageo National Finals in the United States Bartenders’ Guild annual World Class bartending competition. (That’s Charlottesville for you. One restaurant celebrates the success of another.)  This Sunday June 2, at 4 pm, Oakhart Social is opening its private event space to the public for Sunday/Funday, offering a menu of cocktails that Edwards will bring to next week’s National Finals competition. Details here. Beck’s picks:

1) Uni, Ankimo and Otoro Nigiri at TEN. “The quality of the fish and the temperature of the rice are just a few of the small details that make sushi extraordinary, and the crew at Ten always nails it. If I had to pick three pieces that they do exceptionally well I would always choose Uni, Ankimo and Otoro, but you really can’t go wrong regardless of what you order.”

2) Dealer’s Choice at Tavola. “Rebecca and Steve and the rest of the wonderful staff do an excellent job of serving delicious seasonal cocktails without unnecessary pretense. It’s always a pleasure to pick their brains. I generally get a Dealer’s Choice and let them have some fun.”

3) Bamboo Pork at Cafe 88. “It’s not on the regular menu, but if it’s being run as a special it’s a must get. A delicious stir fry of pork, bamboo shoots, chilies and ginger. It’s probably one of my favorite lunches in town.”

4) Porky Things at Little Star. “I’ve tasted most of the menu, and everything is delicious and thoughtful and you should order it all. But, I always get charcuterie from Sylvanaqua. Chris from Sylvanaqua is raising and curing some excellent products. Try to save a little room for dessert though.”

5) Wednesday Night Bar Menu at Prime 109. “The price and ambiance on Wednesday night are pretty great. Eat a sandwich or another of the specials that they offer at the bar, listen to some live jazz, and order a cocktail, and you’re bound to have a good time.”


Prime 109 bar Photo by Kailee Taun