If the adage is true that there can be “too many cooks in the kitchen,” the Lampo/Prime 109 team defied it for years. Even from the time they opened Lampo in 2014, some wondered how three of Charlottesville’s top chefs could survive together in such a small restaurant. In the five years since, the three not just survived, but thrived — each separately winning C-VILLE’s annual Best Chef award: Loren Mendosa in 2015, Ian Redshaw in 2018, and Mitchell Beerens in 2019.
But, as successful as the trio has been, it could not last forever, as eventually one or more of them would want to pursue their own vision. For Prime 109 Executive Chef Ian Redshaw, that time has come, as the chef parted ways with the restaurant this month. A chef of boundless creativity, the 2019 James Beard award semifinalist says he has reached a point in his career where is ready to explore that creativity to the fullest, something the confines and demands of a Neapolitan pizzeria and steakhouse do not always allow. While Redshaw’s long term plans are still in the works, in the short term the father of two says he looks forward to more time with his family, while also planning a private dining series, launching soon. Stay tuned for dates and venues.
As for Prime 109, Redshaw says he leaves in good hands the winner of 2019 Best New Restaurant. “I am confident that Prime 109 will grow under the talented hands of the kitchen staff and remaining partners,” Redshaw says. Stepping in to run the kitchen is Mendosa, who says he has no plans to change what Redshaw helped to build.
Mendosa also says that, though sad to lose a business partner, he is excited to experience Redshaw’s food as a customer again. “I’ll always remember the first meal that Ian made for me at L’Etoile: fried sweetbreads with Brussels sprouts and capers, and from that point on I’ve been blown away by his creativity and passion,” said Mendosa. “His pure enthusiasm for food is contagious and makes everyone around him want to be a better chef.”
When five partners opened a tiny Belmont restaurant in late 2014, skeptics scratched their heads. Sure, it was a talented team. Loren Mendosa had run the kitchen at Tavola and also cooked at MAS. Ian Redshaw had cooked at Tavola and been head chef of L’Etoile. Mitchell Beerens had cooked at Tavola and MAS, and had also helped launch several restaurants for Virginia Restaurant Company. Shelly Robb was longtime GM of Bizou and also assistant manager at Tavola. And, Andrew Cole had directed Tavola’s award-winning beverage program.
But, five working partners and just twenty-one seats? Restaurants’ tight margins often fail to support just one partner, let alone five. And besides, food is an ego-laden business. With so many cooks in the kitchen, egos seemed bound to collide.
And yet, Lampo has thrived. Four years after opening, lines still form outside the restaurant every day for dinner. Since 2014, no restaurant has made more appearances in Five Finds on Friday or Chefs’ “Best Thing I Ate All Year.” And, in both 2017 and 2018, Lampo won Best Restaurant in C-VILLE Weekly’s annual Best of C-VILLE.
For their next trick, the team is going to the opposite extreme: from a tiny pizzeria off-the-beaten-path to a colossal steakhouse in the former Bank of America building at the heart of the downtown mall – Prime 109. While Lampo is one of Charlottesville’s smallest restaurants, the multi-story, 10,000 square-foot Prime 109 might be the downtown mall’s biggest. Ever. Lampo’s entire restaurant could fit in Prime 109’s kitchen. Three times.
And so, again there are skeptics. In a restaurant market that many call over-saturated, Prime 109 is adding more than 150 seats. And, while the steady trend in restaurants is smaller and more casual, Prime 109 is a throwback to grand and opulent.
How does the team plan to overcome a new set of doubts?
The same way they did at Lampo: relationships.
Good People Make Good Restaurants
The relationships most vital to the Lampo team’s success are those they share with each other. At the risk of sounding sappy: good people make good restaurants. And, by good, I mean decent, kind, and caring. Sure, it helps to have talent, passion, and business aptitude. But, what stands out most about great restaurant successes is that they are usually run by good people.
The Lampo team is good people. Tight margins have not sunk them because they care more about each other than squeezing out the last dollar. “We understand that, at the end of the day, best quality products are more important that someone being upset,” says Redshaw. Egos remain intact because no one worries who receives “credit.” When Mendosa was named C-VILLE’s Best Chef in 2015, there was no one happier than his partners. When Redhsaw won the same award this year, it was again his partners who celebrated most. “We were thrilled for Ian,” said Mendosa. “It was great to see the greater public recognize what all of us have known for a long time.”
We all loved each other. We were real, true friends. And, we trusted each other . . . because these people don’t have a bad bone in their body. It’s not just because we are business partners and we can all gain something off of each other. These are just genuinely good people.
The Lampo team’s close relationships were never more needed than after a tragic accident Redshaw’s wife Allie suffered in March 2017. Former chef of Timbercreek Market and sous chef of Pippin Hill, Allie’s hand became stuck in a meat grinder at Lampo, eventually requiring amputation. In the wake of Allie’s accident, the Lampo team and food community rallied behind her, and with their support, she channeled her passion from cooking to wine. Now equipped with a prosthetic hand and a certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, Allie is Prime 109’s Associate Wine Director, assisting Cole as Wine Director.
The kitchen roster, meanwhile, reads like the Golden State Warriors of Charlottesville cooking. At Executive Chef is Redshaw. Chef de Cuisine is Bill Scatena, former head chef of Pippin Hill. Pastry Chef is Beerens, good news to anyone who has had Lampo’s bread or crostatas. And Sauté Cook is Mendosa, who will also serve as the restaurant’s de facto CEO. Got that? No bruised egos here: the restaurant’s CEO and winner of 2015 C-VILLE Best Chef is Sauté Cook. Happily.
Heading the bar is Abraham Hawkins, a 2016 transplant from the Big Apple, who boasts more than a decade of experience in some of New York’s most acclaimed cocktail bars, including the world–renownedDutch Kills, which he helped launch in 2009.
Reinventing Local Sourcing
As with Lampo, the idea behind Prime 109 is to fill a void. In the case of Lampo, it was good Neapolitan pizza. With Prime 109, it is a showcase for local meat. Sure, Charlottesville has steakhouses. But none that puts our region’s bounty front and center.
This is where another key set of relationships come in – those with the local food community. As devotees of local sourcing, the Lampo team has built connections with some of our area’s best. With a fondness for meat, Redshaw has led the way on that front through a steak program at Lampo featuring local meat that he dry-ages himself to enhance flavor and tenderness. The steak program became so popular that Prime 109 was a natural outgrowth, drawing on a trio of key partners: Seven Hills, Sherwood Farm, and Highland Orchard Farm.
Dry-aged steak program at Lampo.
An abbatoir and meat wholesaler, Seven Hills has changed the landscape of Virginia beef, Redshaw says. “Their facilities are the most humane I’ve seen,” says Redshaw. “And they focus on the same key tenets we do.” Sherwood Farm and Highland Orchard, meanwhile, are two area farms that Redshaw says raise cattle the right way. “Happier cows make better meat,” proclaims Sherwood Farm.
A key concept behind Prime 109 is that the restaurant’s size will enable it to transform conventional restaurant-farm relationships into true partnerships, with the end result being better products at better prices.
A key concept behind Prime 109 is that the restaurant’s size will enable it to transform conventional restaurant-farm relationships into true partnerships, with the end result being better products at better prices. “I’m most excited about the opportunity to grow and support local farmers in a new way,” says Mendosa, “going beyond just utlilizing their ingredients, to helping streamline their businesses so they’re more profitable and better able to focus on producing the best products.” How? Meat’s typical path from farm-to-table is laden with middle men and inefficiencies: processing, packaging individual cuts, and distribution. The sheer scale of Prime 109 will allow it to cut out many of these inefficiencies by buying whole animals directly from farms and having them processed by Seven Hills specifically for the restaurant. This is a win-win-win. For farms, better profits and more time for other tasks. For Prime 109 and guests, quality products without exorbitant prices.
To help cook this well-sourced meat, the team called on another local connection: acclaimed cookware artisan Blanc Creatives, whose Founder Corry Blanc built Prime 109’s massive wood-fire cooking system. Drawing inspiration from Grillworks and Grills by Demant, Blanc designed the system with grills that can easily be raised and lowered above the fire, to control temperature while achieving the sear that steak-lovers seek. Above each grill is also a vertical rotisserie to hang items for slow cooking, like ducks and prime ribs. “The guys gave me a great opportunity on this one,” says Blanc, “–design, engineer and fabricate a concept that’s been in my head for a while.”
A spectacular space. A loaded roster. Quality products. What will it all add up to?
The approach, Redshaw says, is the same as Lampo: technique-driven, flavor-focused food, lacking in ego. Humility aside, Prime 109 will showcase Redshaw’s passion and talent like no restaurant has before. Having seen glimpses of what he can do at Lampo and L’Etoile, Redshaw’s fans in Charlottesville have long awaited a chance like this for him to let loose. And, it’s not just customers who are excited. “We’ve consistently said throughout our partnership that Ian is the most talented in the kitchen,” says Mendosa.
One menu section is a la carte, like a traditional steakhouse. Choose a cut of dry-aged steak, priced per ounce, and pair it with your choice of toppers and sides. Toppers include options like foie gras, bordelaise, and barolo compound butter. Your side might be thrice cooked fries; smoked fingerling potatoes with ramp aioli, smoked salt and chives; or Charleston Ice Cream, Carolina gold Rice, Maine uni, chervil, and puffed wild rice. Plus, Parker House rolls, made to order.
Lampo regulars will recognize the attention to detail. For potato pave, a traditional gratin of thinly sliced potatoes is first pressed, and then square portions are deep-fried in tallow, and topped with creme fraiche and chives. For a creamed spinach riff, spinach is sautéed with shallot, garlic and olive oil. Then, rather than folding in bechamel, the spinach is topped with a fonduta out of an iSi and crisped shallot. “It’s all the flavors you think of nostalgically with creamed spinach, while enjoying something a bit lighter,” says Redshaw.
Among dry-aged steaks, the signature is the restaurant’s namesake, Prime 109: Sherwood Farm bone-in rib-eye, dry-aged for 109 days. Redshaw recommends it with a loaded baked potato, rapini, and “Oscar” topping, which is Dungeness crab in a sauce of demi glacé, foie gras, and shaved truffles. “Takes me back to the Steak Diane I had as a child at the Walnut Room in Chicago’s Marshall Field’s,” Redshaw says.
Much of the rest of the menu is refinements of steakhouse classics – dishes the team has been fine-tuning on the side, even running as occasional Lampo specials. Beef tartare is hand cut local beef with mustard seed, anchovy, caper, radish, shallot, parsley, quail egg, and aioli. French onion soup is house bone broth with candy onion and brandy, topped with raclette and sourdough. And, in a dish Lampo regulars might recall as a special, fire roasted lobster is served in uni butter atop spaghetti a la chittara, with calabrian chili, oregano, and tomato.
Another former Lampo special, chicken liver pâté, became so popular that they decided to “retire” it and save it for Prime 109. Chicken liver mousse comes dressed with cherry mostarda, smoked hazelnuts, parsleyed parmesan, frico, and Earl Grey golden raisins.
Keeping with the theme, desserts are updated classics. The Ice Cream Sundae includes Splendora’s cardamom gelato and brown butter gelato, topped with hot fudge, miso caramel, salty peanut brittle, cookies, whipped cream, and, of course, a cherry on top. And, Lemon Meringue Pie builds atop a shortbread crust, with lemon, brûléed meringue, huckleberry sorbet, blueberry, and key lime.
The wine list belongs to Wine Director Cole and Associate Wine Director Allie Redshaw. “Tasting with her is remarkable,” Cole says of Allie. “The way she has honed her palate in the kitchen over the last few years allows her to key in on the specific aromas and flavors in a wine.” While Cole’s and Redhsaw’s tastes both lean towards the esoteric, their aim at Prime 109 is to have something for everyone. “Our goal,” says Allie, “is finding a balance between approachability and refined eccentricity.” And so, while there will be plenty of the hard-to-find pét-nats and orange wines that Cole and Redshaw enjoy, there will also be Napa Valley Cabernets for steakhouse traditionalists and lots of Virginia wines to match the local cuisine. Having overseen an exclusively Italian selection at Lampo for the past four years, Cole feels reinvigorated to be able to draw from wines from all over.
Prime 109 Associate Wine Director Allie Redshaw. Photo by Signe Clayton.
The Chef’s Counter
The Blanc Creatives custom wood-burning over and grill sit open to the restaurant, bordered on two sides by a marble counter, where guests can enjoy their meal while watching Redshaw and Scatena man the grill. Eventually, Redshaw plans to offer guests at the chef’s counter an omakase-style meal. Tell him how much you’d like to spend and some of your likes and dislikes, and he will take it from there. Or, just order a la carte and watch the show.
While a chef’s counter “omakase” experience might be a special occasion treat, the team wants Prime 109 to be somewhere you can go often. And so, Prime 109 eventually plans to add a bar menu with affordable sandwiches of dry-aged roast beef, house pastrami, and the Prime Burger – aged beef, American cheese, pickles, onions, and “Primal sauce,” on a sesame seed bun.
As for Hawkins’ cocktail program, this is next level stuff. An early disciple of the cocktail renaissance of the past two decades, Hawkins sees both positives and negatives in what it has wrought. One positive is obvious: better cocktails more widely available than ever before. A negative, however, he says, is the flood of opportunists to the industry who mask incompetence by elevating style over substance. Hawkins is all about attention-to-detail, but each detail, he says, must have a substantive purpose to enhance the guest’s experience. It’s not just for show. The term “ice program,” for example, may sound pretentious, but Hawkins says there are good reasons he devotes such an enormous amount of time to cutting and perfecting the size and shape of ice for each drink. Proper temperature, dilution rate, etc. Visit here for more details on Hawkins’ ambitious cocktail program.
In converting the space from bank to restaurant, with help from JAID + Figure and architect Stephanie Williams, the Prime 109 team was determined to preserve the natural elegance and nuances of the historic building. “The sheer scale and decadence of the existing elements of the space lended themselves to our take-off on a bank heist complete with a steak dinner,” says Amy Morris of JAID + Figure. “We played with scale large and small, from column treatments to glints of brass slicing through floors and climbing up vertical surfaces.” Morris credits Sanger Carpentry (banquettes and back bar), U-Fab (banquette fabric) and Lucent Lampworks (custom lighting) as vital to the result.
Using existing features of the bank, bells and whistles abound. The restrooms’ working fireplaces remain. A coat-check revives a dying courtesy. The bank’s former drive-thru is now valet parking. Two second-floor rooms for private events offer dramatic views of the restaurant below. And soon, basement vaults will host events as well.
When Bank of America announced in 2016 that it was leaving the building, exactly 100 years after it was built, Tim Hulbert, executive director of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, told C-VILLE Weekly: “It’s a pretty dramatic space. I suspect some smart entrepreneur will see the opportunity and seize it.”
Looking back at 2016, what stands out as the best thing you ate all year? Top area chefs provide their answer. (Here are last year’s picks.) A tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty:
Mitchell Beerens (Lampo)
Agedashi Tofu at Now & Zen. “The silken tofu is made crispy by dusting it in potato starch and frying it. Then, it’s set in a spa of tentsuyu broth made smoky from the katsuobushi and a little sweet from mirin. Perfect balance of big flavors.”
Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange)
Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana at Parallel 38. “When restaurants around the world jumped to support the town of Amatrice in Italy after it was devastated by an earthquake, we were fortunate enough to experience a version of Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana at Parallel 38. Their version was almost exactly the same as what we experienced in Italy. It was also so delicious that we went back the next night to have it again.”
Brian Jones (The Alley Light)
Brebirousse from Flora Artisanal Cheese in Timbercreek Market with Seeded Roll from Albemarle Baking Company. “The seeded roll is a beautiful roll, made from baguette dough, crusted in fennel seeds, poppy seeds and white sesame seeds. What a yummy combination of flavors. Brebirousse is a soft, smooth, creamy, buttery sheep’s milk cheese from the Rhone-Alpes region of France. Not to take anything away from these two ingredients, but food memories often have more to do with the eater’s condition at the time of the meal than the actual meal itself. Food always tastes better when you are hungry! I have eaten at some amazing restaurants in my life but I the best meal I ever had in my life was on a backpacking trip when our rations were low and our calorie output far exceeded our calorie intake. We savored every last morsel, scraped our cooking vessel clean, so clean that there was nothing left to wash. Possibly food is at its best when the aromas or tastes remind you of a forgotten memory lost somewhere in the back of your mind. Think Ratatouille the movie when the food critic Anton Ego bites into Chef Remy’s ratatouille.”
Christian Kelly (Maya)
Duck Liver Terrine at The Ivy Inn. “This pâté en terrine is a slice of art. The perfect suspension of fat in meat wrapped in what appeared to be paper-thin cured duck breast slices and served with traditional pommery mustard and pickled vegetables. Angelo’s food is truly inspiring. The work of his kitchen is a delight to the taste buds. Well done.”
Tommy Lasley (Fry’s Spring Station, Ivy Provisions)
Live Scallop with Uni Broth at Mican (now closed). “The best thing I ate this past year was way too much amazing sashimi at Mican Japanese Restaurant, which unfortunately is no longer open! Everything I had was the best example I have tried in years, Charlottesville or otherwise. If I had to pick one bite it was the live scallop with uni broth.” [Note: Mican’s owners are now serving sushi at Lemongrass.]
Thomas Leroy (Kardinal Hall)
Pork Belly at BBQ Exchange. “I went there and ordered the meat combo plate of course. The ribs were outstanding, but that pork belly with a fried crispy finish to balance the smoking flavor was amazing. I topped it with their bacon bbq sauce of course. Next time I go, that’s all I’m ordering.”
Olive Oil Gelato from Splendora’s. “I don’t know if PK’s running it regularly, but it was truly fantastic. She used our Mosto olive oil from Liguria and we topped it with sea salt and a drizzle of the Galardo olive oil that Hodges and Jill Myers are importing. It was the perfect combination!”
Jenny Peterson (Paradox Pastry)
Roasted Chicken and Street Corn Off the Cob at The Fitzroy. “Holy moly! Food tends to be an ‘in the moment’ experience for me, and that chicken and corn just hit the spot at the right time, and it was so comfy and cozy in there.”
Ian Redshaw (Lampo)
Sunchokes from Wayside Produce. “Any vegetable from Wayside Produce, especially the sunchokes. These are the best vegetables I have been able to find thus far in my career.”
Ivan Rekosh (ZoCaLo)
Flank and Brisket Pho at Thai Cuisine & Noodle House. “This time of year I’m loving the pho from Thai Cuisine. I usually opt for the flank and brisket but sometimes add the tendon. The broth is amazing. I love to stick my whole face in the bowl and breathe in the steam while I’m slurping the noodles. Really warms you up from the inside out on these cold days. Also a great family runs it.”
Wilson Richey (co-owner, The Alley Light, The Bebedero, The Pie Chest, Revolutionary Soup, The Whiskey Jar)
Chicken Liver Mousse Tart at Timbercreek Market. “Just redefined what can be done with chicken liver, so smooth and elegant. I would eat the whole tart if it were not frowned upon to do things like that.”
John Shanesy (Petit Pois)
Black Bean and Corn Relleno at ZoCaLo. “It hits on every texture, and all the flavors are very well pronounced but at the same time all working in unison to be a joy to eat. They’ve been great new neighbors to get to meet and have greeted me so warmly as well.”
Andrew Silver (ZoCaLo)
Polpettine Panuozzo at Lampo. “Meatball parm sub was my go-to late night, altered state, munchie meal. Lampo’s is the refined, grown up version. Plus the fact that the bread is baked ‘a la minute’ seals the deal.”
Angelo Vangelopoulos (The Ivy Inn)
Petit Kouign-aman from MarieBette. “I found this gem at the city market. Will Darsie filled my request for a mixed bag of goodies while I picked up my veggies from Susan and Wally Parks at Broadhead Mountain Farm. It’s an over the top decadent croissant dough masterpiece with apples and a metric ton of butter and sugar. My market visit is no longer complete without one of them.”
Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)
170 Dry Aged NY Strip at Lampo. “Ridiculously delicious. Cast iron crispy and served with a head of roasted garlic. Not even fair.”
Tucker Yoder (Timbercreek Market)
I Don’t Even Own a Gun by Twenty Paces. “I Don’t Even Own a Gun and Noah’s Arcade are some of the best cheeses I have ever tasted. Could easily rival European cheeses. Great funky cheeses. All their cheeses have been a revelation this year but the soft gooey ones are a Yoder family favorite.”