The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Mel’s Cafe

Five Finds on Friday: Trish Dombrauskas

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Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Trish Dombrauskas, chef of Riverbirch Restaurant, which opens this month in The Shops at Riverside Village, on Stony Point Road. Cooking has been in Dombrauskas’ family all of her life, which may be why she attended the Culinary Institute of Virginia before a career in a wide range of restaurants and other food service jobs, the most impactful being chef at senior living communities. “Senior living taught me patience, and that a person developing a memory from an item you served them is the most superior gift that can be given to a chef,” says Dombrauskas. Riverbirch’s menu will feature gussied-up American comfort food, with a focus on local sources like The Local Food Hub, Cavalier Produce, Albemarle Baking Company, The Spice Diva, and Blue Ridge Coffee Crafters. Dombrauskas’ favorite is local ribeye, hand cut in house, finished with whole butter. She also likes the Riverbirch signature burger with local beef, topped with a local egg, house made farmer’s cheese, and onion jam. Dombrauskas’ picks:

1) Pupusas Revueltas at Mi Canton. “I discovered Mi Canton a year or so ago and have made it a regular stop of mine. There are so many delicious items on their menu, it is difficult to go wrong. But I always go back to the very first dish I had at Mi Canton, the pupusas revueltas. They are thick, Salvadorian tortillas stuffed with cheese, pork, and beans and served with a delicious fresh salad called cortido, a vinegary cabbage slaw that makes the dish perfection. The owners always make you feel welcome and you can tell they are proud of their products.”

2) Sicilian Style Pizza at Fabio’s in Gordonsville. “I moved to Gordonsville three years ago this past September and the first place I ate was Fabio’s pizza. Their pizza is phenomenal. My father grew up in New Jersey and as a kid I ate great pizza. Fabio’s in Gordonsville has great pizza, but I feel like the hidden gem is their Sicilian style pizza. The crust is thick, and they top it with the best cheese and toppings around. They even slice their sausage for their pizzas which is just the way I remember it as a kid. I love to chat with the owners, old school guys who know the importance of old school pizza. I always have a laugh while I’m there, because they remind me of my uncles back in New Jersey.”

3) The Fat and Sassy at Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie. “Indulgent is the best word to describe this flatbread/cheese bread crossover. It is covered with full cloves of roasted garlic and served with the best house made ranch dressing around. Every time I visit it is a must for me to purchase a jar of their ranch dressing to take home. Dr. Ho’s has a fabulous menu, but every time I am drawn into the Fat and Sassy and it never fails how delicious it is.”

4) Potato Salad at Mel’s Cafe. “Mel’s potato salad is a simple mayonnaise, mustard, onion-based potato salad. It is simple, but delicious. It is the perfect side for any of their sandwiches or burgers. Mel’s potato salad reminds me of the potato salad my mom’s best friend makes, and ultimately it reminds me of home.”

5) The Black Beauty at Livery Stable. “The cocktails at the Livery Stable are well thought out and quite delicious. The ambience of the Livery Stable is what makes it an interesting spot to hang out. The Black Beauty is my favorite with raspberry vodka, cassis, and topped with ginger beer. It is bright and delicious. Be sure to sit at the bar and chat with the bartenders. They make the experience interesting to say the least.”

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Five Finds on Friday: Carolyn Stromberg Leasure

carolyn with cheddar

Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Carolyn Stromberg Leasure of Righteous Cheese, which was once a cheese and wine bar in Washington D.C. and now hosts cheese events here in Charlottesville. On Valentine’s Day is Righteous Cheese’s most popular class ever: Chocolate, Cheese & Baller Bubbly. Leasure and award-winning cheesemonger Sara Adduci will lead guests through four rare grower champagnes, cheeses, and a spread of local chocolates. 6:30 – 7:30 pm in Oakhart Social’s private dining room. Details and tickets. Leasure’s picks:

1) Cold Brew Latte (made with cashew milk & cold brew coffee) from The Juice Laundry. “I really appreciate good coffee, and I get to feel like I’m being healthy when I drink this. Unlike a lot of juice places, The Juice Laundry is 100% organic, which I appreciate. Their Cold Brew Latte is creamy and nutty with a hint of cinnamon and a great start to the day.”

2) Fried Chicken and Onion Rings at Mel’s Cafe. “We cook at home almost every night, but when we are too tired and want something fast, it’s often Mel’s fried chicken. Even with takeout, it stays crispy, the onion rings are the apex of the genre, and even the breast meat is juicy. Though, of course, the best way to eat it is at Mel’s, with chicken straight out of the fryer, while chatting with the folks behind the counter.”

3) Hot and Numbing Shredded Tofu Skins at Peter Chang’s. “I love to order tofu when dining out, since making it at home never turns out quite as good. The Hot and Numbing Shredded Tofu Skin almost has the texture of al dente pasta: thinly shredded, toothsome pieces of tofu skin seasoned with chili pepper, chili oil, sesame oil, fresh cilantro and a host of other spices and seasonings. While not the spiciest dish at Peter Chang’s (which means you can eat more!), it leaves a pleasant, buzzy tingling on your lips. Yum.”

4) Eggs and Pancake Special at Tip Top Restaurant. “With a two-year old toddler/tyrant living in our house, my chef-husband and I don’t get out often for dinner, but we take breakfast seriously. I am a bit particular (read: annoying) about my eggs, and prefer them over-medium, apparently the hardest way to cook them. The number of times my eggs are cooked properly – with firm whites and a soft yolk – at most restaurants is few, but the kitchen at Tip Top has never disappointed. Eggs are always perfect, and there’s nothing wrong with the pancakes and bacon (ordered extra-extra-crispy for me). The relaxed dining room is bustling but it doesn’t take too long for a table, they have crayons for my kid, and the staff is the perfect mix of gregarious, surly, and at the top of their game.”

5) Budino at Lampo. “I love absolutely everything at Lampo, and my standard order is the kale salad, a cheese and charcuterie board, and the Margherita DOC pizza. The perfect dish for me, though, is the chocolate budino. Chocolate and olive oil are one of my all-time favorite flavor combinations. The budino is silky and rich with a savory drizzle of olive oil, a salty, crunchy, caramel-y top, and nutty crushed hazelnuts, all of which come together for an ideal balance of flavors and textures.”

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Hot and Numbing Shredded Tofu Skins

Five Finds on Friday: Francesca Black

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Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Francesca Black, chef of Continental Divide, which has been closed for two weeks after water damage related to Hurricane Michael, but is poised to re-open next week. Black’s picks:

1) Late Night Burger with a Salty Dog at C & O. “I usually get fixated on one aspect or one ingredient of a dish so, for me, an exceptional food experience happens when that fixation isn’t easy to discern — a temporary whirlwind sets in because it is that good. C&O late night does that for me. I am rarely free during regular dinner hours, so after work we sometimes head over for that divine burger. The crispy bun, the crunchy lettuce, that perfect first bite. It all becomes complete with their salty dog, the delicious classic with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and a salted rim. It’s a great way to end a long work day.”

2) Masala Dosa from Desi Dosa with Turmeric Lassi from Planet Earth Diversified at the City Market. “If I can make it Saturday morning, the City Market rules. I love the Southern Indian vendor Desi Dosa. They focus on letting the intensity of their spices speak for themselves in simple dishes like the masala dosa, a thin stuffed pancake. Speaking of bold spice, the turmeric lassi from Planet Earth Diversified really wakes you up and goes great with spicy the food.”

3) Octopus Tempura and Hot Sake at Now & Zen. “Although hard to choose food favorites, octopus is absolutely up there, and when tempura fried, it’s a whole different level! I could eat Now & Zen’s octopus tempura everyday — it’s perfectly fried, salted and served with spicy mayo. Then with some hot sake — enough said.”

4) Half Chicken and Green Rice with Aji Sauce at Al Carbon. “I was definitely late to the game to visit Al Carbon on 29 but a friend got some take out one night, let me taste it, and I was instantly hooked. The flavors, especially in the homemade sauces, are unbelievable. I like to get the half chicken, break it up into the green rice and cover it in aji sauce, their medium, garlicky wonder.”

5) Fried Chicken and/or Meta’s Burger with Crushed Ice Soda at Mel’s Cafe. “Of all the delicious restaurants in Charlottesville, I think Mel’s might take the cake. Mel’s cures a bad day and makes a good day that much better. I can never choose between the chicken or Meta’s burger, both of which instantly fuel a tingling sensation even at the thought. Continental is so close, too –we are very proud and lucky to have them as our neighbors!”