On Fridays we feature five food finds selected by local chefs and personalities. This week’s picks come from Stu Rifkin, the restaurateur and real estate maven who has done it all when it comes to Charlottesville restaurants: owned them, ran them, and brokered their sale. From April 7 thru 14, restaurants of the Charlottesville Restaurant Group, for whom Rifkin has consulted, are offering $50 gift certificates for just $25 each, with all proceeds going to the care of Wes Chang, TEN chef Pei Chang’s todller son who is undergoing treatement for stage IV neuroblastoma. Purchase yours at MAS, Mono Loco, Blue Light Grill, TEN Sushi, and Three Notch’d Grill. Or, you can contribute directly at the website www.weschang.myevent.com.
Rifkin’s relationship with so many restaurants made his picks particularly difficult, as he might have chosen Calamari Tempura from TEN or a BLT on Rye with Fried Pickle Chips and extra thick Ranch from The Nook. Excluding restaurants where he “eats for free,” Rifkin’s picks:
1) Cherry Star at Spudnuts. “Or any donut frankly. We are truly blessed to have such a simply perfect donut shop in town. CW Llad immortalized the Cherry Star in a poem on the back page of C-VILLE many years ago. I’ve been consuming them regularly ever since.”
2) Pepperoni Pizza at Whole Foods. “Sad but true that some of the best pie in town comes from a grocery store. It’s not consistent, but when they get it right it’s unsurpassed deliciousness.”
3) Bambino Cone at Splendora’s. “Choose a flavor and get a small scoop on a tiny cone. It’s a perfect palate cleanser and a tasty treat. Salted Caramel Gelato or Grapefuit Sorbetto works for me.”
4) Tacos Campechanos at Don Panchito Taco truck on 29N. “I’ve tried them all and these guys knock it out of the park. The campechanos combine carne asada and chorizo.”
5) Smoked Turkey Croissant, Potato Salad and Limeade at The Blue Ridge Pig. “Their Dill Sauce is transcendent. I would eat anything they put it on.”
On Fridays, we feature five food finds selected by local chefs or personalities. This week’s picks come from Coy Barefoot, best-selling author, radio personality, adjunct faculty member at UVa, Founding Partner and Creative Director at earlessrabbit.com, Founder and Editor-in-Chief at uvahistory.com, and Ironman Triathlete. Barefoot admits that he may not be as food-obsessed as some of our other participants. But, he deserves a pass because he is so passionate about the other aspect of The Charlottesville 29: Charlottesville. Barefoot’s five picks:
1) Spicy Chicken Pizza at Christian’s Pizza. For the record, I am NOT a foodie. I have nothing against foodies. I know foodies. In fact, I proudly count foodies among my dearest friends. I sometimes share meals with them, and I marvel at their knowledge and passion. But my own particular palate is pedestrian and unimaginative. Simply put: I know what I like and I like what I know. This short list is not just my favorite picks, it’s what I eat on a daily basis. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t eat beef. I don’t eat pork. Poultry is my meat of choice. Lunch or dinner, you can’t go wrong with a slice of spicy chicken at Christians. I’m a condiment guy, so cover the thing with a blanket of parmesan cheese, black pepper and yes, if there was ketchup on the table I’d use it. I’ve dipped pizza in ketchup as long as I can remember. I’m a southern boy from Atlanta, so we grew up with a ketchup bottle at every meal, even Thanksgiving. Pass the Heinz.
2) 50 Blend at Cafe Cubano. Yes, I love Para on Elliewood and Cville Coffee at McIntire and Mudhouse downtown and Shenandoah Joe on Preston, no question. But if I had to pick just one, it would be that with which I choose to start my day: the light blend of coffee beans from Central and South America that Tony, Stephanie, Kim, and Katie brew up at Cafe Cubano (my home away from home). Fill a tall to-go cup nearly to the brim and top it off with a dash of 2% milk, then stir in enough sugar to make the person next to you take a sharp breath in horror. Good to go. Open a Chocolate Chip Cliff Bar, turn on the laptop and bring on the day.
3) Sesame Chicken at Red Lantern. Along with Beer Run and Jinx’s Pit’s Top, it’s perhaps Belmont’s worst-kept secret: Red Lantern. You can eat in if you want, but I prefer to do the “10-minute” takeout, maybe read an old copy of People magazine while I’m waiting. The Sesame Chicken is awesome, but I might as easily opt for a large vegetable fried rice. Get home and spread it all out on a plate (never a bowl), and then the fun really starts. Remember, I’m a condiment guy, so an evening of Red Lantern takeout is just as much about messy, empty white cartons as it is duck sauce, hot mustard, and soy sauce: all used in a ratio of 5-2-1. Turn on some football. Go!
4) Turkey on a Sesame bagel (or everything or garlic) with tomato, cheddar (or swiss or muenster), mayonnaise and mustard, hot and cut at Bodo’s. Back in the 80s, a sign went up at the old Roy Rogers on Emmet Street that announced: “The Bagels are Coming.” Indeed they did. Then they came to the old Rax location on Preston and then to the old Kinko’s location on the Corner. I’ve been a fan since the early days. My daily routine often includes a quick afternoon Bodo’s stop after a run or swim, just as I’m rushing to the radio station to start the show at 4pm. I also get a chocolate milk and usually a large coke (always, always with NO ICE – it’s plenty cold already and the ice just takes up room).
5) Crab Benedict at The Nook. Saturday or Sunday morning. Jeff greets you at the door, escorts you to your favorite booth in the back corner. The awesome Melody is your server. Hot coffee with a side of chocolate milk (put the chocolate milk IN the coffee, trust me, totally yummy). Ketchup. If they do it right, the eggs spill yellow and delicious all over the crab and potatoes, mix with the hollandaise. Just make sure Melody brings you extra napkins. More coffee. More ketchup. Big glass of ice water. More coffee. No better way to start a weekend day in Charlottesville.
Back in the 1990s when I wrote the Restaurantarama column for C-VILLE Weekly, I was the primary source for all the food news in town— not reviews, just news (who was opening, who was closing, who was changing their menu, what new chefs were coming to town, etc). Over the years since then I have watched this Little City I Love become a foodie heaven with a dizzying kaleidoscope of fantastic home-grown options. But I’m still waiting on three things to happen when it comes to Cville Food: 1. more Coke, less Pepsi. Sure, I know it’s Charlottesville, and the Pepsi folks have a long, grand history here. But they’re just not the same. One is definitely better— and like me, it was born in Atlanta, not North Carolina. 2. Drive-thru Chinese food. Come on, how hard is this? 3. More sweet tea. Please. Pretty please?