The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Mitch Willey

Bloody Brilliant Bloody Brilliant

Large Tomato

For the spectacular oyster roast that has long been a November tradition in my wife’s family, I am tasked with the Bloody Mary bar.  Years ago, when I first began making my own Bloody Marys, I spent hours researching what makes a great one.  After lots of reading and experimenting, I reached a firm conclusion: the key to a good Bloody Mary is good tomato juice.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, a Bloody Mary is mostly tomato juice.  Just as good water makes good coffee, good tomato juice makes good Bloody Marys. But, for whatever reason, a myth has grown that other mysterious, secret ingredients are essential to a great Bloody Mary.  Classic 80s sitcoms did nothing to quash the myth, like the Cheers episodes about Bloody Mary contests against Gary’s Old Towne Tavern.

In my view, all you need for a great Bloody Mary is great tomato juice and decent Vodka.  After that, it’s just a matter of personal taste.  Do you like it heavy on the umami?  Add extra Worcestershire sauce, or something more exotic like anchovies, beef consomme, soy sauce, or fish sauce. Perhaps you like spice. Then add your favorite hot sauce, cayenne pepper, and/or lots of horseradish or even wasabi.  And, finally, if you’re like me, you’ll want a healthy dose of lemon or lime juice for some acidity to thin it out and liven the flavors.  Season to taste.

But, all those things are beside the point unless you start with great tomato juice. This is one reason that I’ve never found a bottled Bloody Mary mix that rivals the ones we make at home.  They’re doomed from the start.

Until now.

Bloody Brilliant is just that.  It’s a mix from a new company called Back Pocket Provisions, founded by former The Rock Barn employee Will Gray and his sister. “To make a better Bloody Mary mix, you need a better tomato,” touts their website, speaking my language. Thus, they start with pressed locally grown Virginia tomatoes.  Partners from the 2015 growing season include Critzer Family Farm, Dodd’s Acres Farm, Double H Farm, Shady Lane Family Farm, The Local Food Hub, and Virginia Food Works.

Sure, they’ve got some other ingredients in there, like horseradish, anchovies, and cayenne pepper. But, the local tomatoes are the stars of the show.

I served it at the oyster roast last weekend, and what a hit.  Raves all around. Guest after guest asked about it. Keeping the pitcher full seemed a task for poor Ali Sard.  The faster he fills it, the faster he empties it.

Look for it at Ivy Provisions, Feast!, and Timbercreek Market.  Or, order it online from Relay Foods.  Or, if you don’t want to pour your own, buy one at Rapture and The Ivy Inn.  But, whatever you do, try it.


Five Finds on Friday: Mitch Willey


On Fridays, we feature five food finds from local chefs and personalities.  Today’s picks come from Mitch Willey, owner of Clifton Inn, home to one of Charlottesville’s most influential restaurants, and recent winner of yet another award as C-VILLE’s best hotel or inn.  Clifton has just introduced a brand new a la carte menu, a first for the longtime prix fixe restaurant, which Willey says now “enables guests to stop by for just soup and salad or pasta and dessert, paired with the perfect glass of wine.” Clifton is also fast-approaching a milestone and big celebration. On October 22, the inn will host a 30th anniversary, poolside dinner dance “to honor the many gifted artists who started their culinary careers at Clifton,” says Willey.  Also, that night, Willey says, Clifton “will share some very exciting news. Stay tuned!” Willey’s picks:

1) Corn Cakes at Tip Top.  “I love to start the day being greeted by the delightfully friendly and efficient wait staff at Tip Top on Pantops. I settle into a window booth with my three morning papers (where the natural light is plentiful and I catch a nice view of the Blue Ridge) and order the corn cakes with a side of bacon. Decadent but splendidly so.”

2)  Pimento Cheese Fritters at Maya.  “One of our early chefs at Clifton, Christian Kelly (who the staff quickly designated as our resident George Clooney), has created a cult following at Maya and I am one of those cult members! I especially love to start a delicious dinner with Christian’s pimento fritters — light and cheesy, and the pepper jelly is divine. A perfect start to a terrific meal.”

3)  Pulled Pork at The BBQ Exchange.  “Craig’s pulled pork, with his creative array of sauces, is the way that I reward myself if I have really been working out because the indulgence is so amazing that I can only justify it if I have earned it!”

4)  Grilled Pork Chop with Grilled Peach Salad at Brookville.  “Harrison has so many delightful interpretations of pork that I find myself trying something new each time. In fact, my daughter’s rehearsal dinner was hosted there last Labor Day primarily because of this!”

5) Pear Ravioli at C&O.  “I can’t go very long without a generous helping of Dean Maupin’s pear ravioli at C&O — a dish he featured at my other daughter’s wedding when he was the chef at Clifton. It is so subtle in its flavor and somehow seems almost healthy as the fruit is front and center. As always, Dean gets the sauce just right and while often it is a starter, on occasion I have requested it as a main course since I just can’t get enough.”

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