Must a restaurant be old to be “iconic”? A sneak peek at Quality Pie drove me to the dictionary in search of an answer. Due to open next week, the restaurant and bakery gracing the cusp of Belmont feels so congruous with the character, culture, and spirit of Charlottesville that, as soon as it opens, it may seem like it has been here forever- a part of Charlottesville. I mean, just look at the place.
For months, Tomas Rahal, formerly of MAS Tapas, has been hard at work converting one icon – Spudnuts — into a new one. The counter stools are from the old Woolworth’s on the downtown mall. The paintings are by Steve Keene. And, there is a photo hanging of Alex Caines, the much-missed “Mayor of Belmont.” Whereas Spudnuts’ charm lay in a drab, unfussy setting, Rahal has transformed the building into a bright, happy space, full of light and color.
Rahal and some of his former MAS kitchen staff have been busy testing pies, breads, biscuits and pastries that will be available both to eat-in and to-go. For onsite dining, the menu will change as the day moves on. In the morning, breakfast items like pastries and waffles. Mid-day, sandwiches (grilled octopus banh mi?) and other lunch items. And, as the evening approaches, Rahal’s beloved tapas. Once the ABC permit clears, there will also be plenty of the great wines Rahal is known for sourcing.
Grilled octopus on charcoal bread
Cville Ham Biscuit, with Serrano ham on a rye biscuit
Quality Pie opens Monday, July 2, and will be open Mon-Fri 7 am-8 pm, and Sat-Sun 10 am-3 pm.
So, about that dictionary search. Iconic means “relating to or of the nature of an icon.” And, an “icon” can mean an “emblem,” “thing that is revered or idolized,” and “thing regarded as a representative symbol of something.” That sounds right, but was not the most interesting thing about the search. In the results for the definition of iconic, Google suggested next searching for the definition of something else:
No matter what else may be going on in the world, every year is a good food year. Each December we celebrate the Charlottesville food year by looking back at our latest trip around the sun and asking top area chefs: what was the best thing you ate all year? Here are the picks from 2016 and 2015. And, below are this year’s picks in chefs’ annual tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty. Meanwhile, check back here next week for The Charlottesville 29 pick for 2017 Dish of the Year.
Mitchell Beerens (Lampo)
Crispy Lamb Shank at Oakhart Social. “The lamb shank at Oakhart Social was the best thing I ate all year. Crispy crust that gave way to super succulent meat. I’m pretty sure it was served with hummus and harissa. Super simple and super soulful. That’s what I love about Tristan and Ben’s spot.”
Tim Burgess (The Space, Bang!, and Bizou)
Biscuits at Floozie’s Pie Shop. “I had the garden omelette, grits and biscuit at Floozie’s Pie shop in Louisa last February. The omelette was really good, fluffy farm egg goodness, but not the star here. The biscuit took me back to my childhood, the best I’ve ever had and I’ve made a lot of biscuits in my day. Then the grits, stone ground, salty, cheesy, buttery boom. I was floored by the meal, but shouldn’t have been, Jade and Debbie can flat out cook. Their pies are the real deal too.”
Jose de Brito (Fleurie)
Cotoletta di Maiale Alla Milanese at Tavola. “My dining etiquette is that when I return dining in a same establishment I rarely reorder the same dish except in extraordinary circumstances, and that would be when I was presented with a good dish. Tavola’s pork a la Milanese is the one dish that breaks my code of conduct. It never miss, I tried to break from my bad habit; once or probably twice I did order another dish. Although the restaurant is tasty across the line, when the pork is executed flawlessly it is close to saintliness. The other day, a guest of Fleurie asked me after service what was my favorite dish in Charlottesville. Before answering her I asked her the same question and we both answered simultaneously, the pork milanese at Tavola! You see when the breading on the cutlet is perfectly breaded, the sear is of the right color, neither too light or too dark, the capers have been slightly sautéed to take out the rawness, the tomatoes roasted a la perfection and the baby arugula wilted with kindness, the sum of all those delicate little details added to a butter emulsion laced with a drop of Meyer lemon, when that emulsion has the right body, the perfect amount amount of butter to cling to the breading, it is definitely, without any doubt my choice for best dish in C-ville. (Although, after reflection, the porchetta sandwich at Lampo is a close one and another dish that has made me break my rules, I usually never eat sandwiches , but I guess I am off subject, sorry!) And now to finish my little pamphlet. Let ourself ponder about what the French Chef Joel Robuchon once said: ‘What makes a good cook from a great cook, it is all about the details.’ The Milanese at Tavola has all the right details. Arrivederci, good people.”
Smoked Jerk Jackfruit by Prime 109. “I had the pleasure of judging food for a cook-off at Highland Orchard Farms and Lampo participated by debuting some of the items that will be on their new menu at their downtown steak house Prime 109. Their lamb and duck kielbasa and dry aged Szechuan peppercorn pastrami were out of this world. Amazing flavors. Amazing textures. But the standout dish that blew me away was actually their young smoked jerk jackfruit. I taste a lot of things all year long but this is the first thing this year that actually surprised me, which is what I look for in new dishes. The flavor is perfect, sweet and spicy. The texture was similar to meat and I am sure it will actually fool people into thinking they are eating some sort of jerk meat. Hats off to those gentlemen. I look forward to seeing what else will come from that restaurant!”
Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange)
Crab Stuffed Squash Blossoms at Ivy Inn. “Angelo Vangelopoulos created a tasting menu for our 31st anniversary. It was world class. Our first meal with Angelo was in 1993, and watching his growth as a chef has been a real joy. He really has grown in a great direction! The whole meal was stellar but the crab stuffed squash blossoms with sweet corn sauce was unforgettable, and his father’s tomato-braised pole beans were life changing! Then, not to forget the pig brain amuse bouche, which was genius.”
Michael Keaveny (Tavola)
Short Rib at The Coat Room at Brasserie Saison. “I had a short rib with carrot ‘BBQ’ sauce in The Coat Room at Brasserie Saisson that was pretty memorable. It was crispy on the outside and tender inside. Great contrast in texture, and the sauce was surprisingly delicious. Great dish! I will miss Tyler’s food, though all indications are the new chefs are killing it!”
Michael McCarthy (Dr. Ho’s)
Chocolate Croissant from Little Hat Creek Farm. “Spectacular if not amazeballs! I’m good for one or two every time I visit the Nelson county farmers’ market.”
Jenny Peterson (Paradox Pastry)
Braised Beef and Macaroni at The Alley Light. “I have to say, it’s sooooo difficult to pick a ‘best.’ I think a ‘best’ is so often situation specific. Was it who I was with on a perfect evening after a very, very long work week? Then it would be the comfort of the Braised Beef with Mac at The Alley Light.”
Tomas Rahal (MAS)
Soft-poached Duck Egg with Perigord Truffles, asparagus, moliterno di tartuffo at MAStied with Mike Ketola’s Salt-citrus Cured Albacore Loin with grapefruit and Brussels leaves salad, also at MAS. “JF Legault’s soft-scrambled farm egg with Alba truffles was a close third. I’d love to give props to other spots, but these dishes were transcendent.”
Ian Redshaw (Lampo)
Spicy Beef Noodle Soup at Cafe 88. “Available Friday and Saturday, dine-in only, this hidden gem is worth every last drop.”
Ivan Rekosh (Zocalo)
Roast Beef Panuozzo at Lampo. “If I had to choose one thing, it’d probably be the aged roast beef sandwich with provolone at Lampo. I remember eating it and thinking this is the best sandwich I’ve had in a long ass time.”
Wilson Richey (Ten Course Hospitality)
Crispy Scallops at Brasserie Saison. “I know you are not supposed to pick your own restaurants, but Tyler really nailed that dish and I just can’t make something up. The textures are one of the most stand out parts of the dish: the crunchy exterior, the creamy puree beneath it, and the crisp celery root on top. It’s just perfectly balanced flavor and texture. There are a lot of things going on. I could eat those scallops every night.”
Andrew Silver (Roots Natural Kitchen)
Ma Po Tofu at Taste of China. “I have discovered that I really like soft tofu (Zzzam also has really good soft tofu). It is spicy, numbing, hot, aromatic and tender. Pairs perfectly with stir fried snow pea shoots and a cold Tsingtao.”
Angelo Vangelopoulos (Ivy Inn)
Sourdough Bread by Tucker Yoder at Timbercreek Market. “I was lucky enough to have Tucker gift me a loaf (I think he owed for some truffles or something), and my family and I ate it for days. The crust is thick, it’s full of grains (I think his wife grinds the wheatberries?), has amazing chew and long lasting flavor. My son’s eyes lit up when he tasted it for the first time and he asked ‘WHERE did you get this?! It’s AMAZING!'”
Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)
Foie Gras with Passion Fruit Gelée at Fleurie. “Hot Damn. Those guys are actually cooking, and well. You don’t see real cooking all that much these days.”
Tucker Yoder (Back 40)
Persimmons from Edible Landscaping. “These persimmons right here from my man Dan. Chased with a shot of tequila or mezcal.”
Chefs wish guests would complain more — or at least let them know when something is wrong. This article in C-VILLE explores why, with input from chefs Harrison Keevil, Angelo Vangelopoulos, Donnie Glass, and Tomas Rahal. Below are the full, uncut, remarks of the chefs, who were asked why they wish guests would speak up more often when something is wrong, and whether they themselves complain when they dine out.
I would prefer that guests let me know if there is a problem when it arises. The most important reason I want this is because we are in the service industry. My job is to make the people who come up our stairs happy, cared for, and feel like they are a part of Jennifer’s and my family. So if someone is unsatisfied I want to remedy the problem to the best of my ability. I take a lot of pride, joy and happiness through cooking for people and if I have let them down, I feel awful.
At the same time, I am a realist and understand that some people don’t want to be helped and have had a bad experience and there is nothing we can do. I would still appreciate those people letting us know where we went wrong. We need to take into account every complaint ever made, analyze it and see if it is something that we need to fix within the philosophy that we have created at Brookville and within reason. For example, if someone wants green veggies in the middle of winter that is just something that we cannot do philosophically or if someone complains about a price that we can’t adjust down because we are a for profit business and those prices are set for a reason.
Personally, when I go out something has to be really bad for me to complain. When I do it I am not looking for anything for free, I just feel I should let someone know because that is what I would want if I were in their position. If a place is so bad my way of reviewing them is through my wallet. I just won’t go back and give them anymore money. You will never find a review by Harrison K. on any site.
In an effort to be as good as we can, we have open dialogue with our staff to encourage them to ask the right questions of their guests. It’s much too easy to dismiss your server and say “everything is fine” if the best you can ask is “how is everything?”. We pay close attention to what gets eaten and not. We watch for clear plates coming back into the kitchen, and when we see that a guest has left a large portion of their meal uneaten, we make sure to follow up quickly.
With all this said, people still don’t complain all that much. I never do. When I eat out in Charlottesville, I am not judging or grading my fellow restaurateurs. I’m simply enjoying a night away from the stove. I eat what’s served to me, and unless something is simply wrong with a dish (spoiled ingredients, foreign object, etc), I typically enjoy it and move along. If I’m asked by a chef or owner about my experience, I’m honest, and I’m not a judge on Top Chef. 🙂
1. A. Any chef/restaurateur that’s worth a damn is looking for honest feedback, including when something is deemed unsatisfactory by a guest. It’s the only way to know that our food, service, atmosphere, etc. is being well received by the public, as well as an accountability system for all employees. It’s really as simple as that.
The real challenge for us as service industry professionals is to read between the lines of the “complaint” in order to determine if a change in procedures is necessary or if it’s simply a personal preference, ridiculous claim in search of a free meal, or simply a grumpy person that wouldn’t be happy with anything you put in front of them or did for them. As a guest, the more specific you can be with the complaint, the better. Especially when it comes to food. If you order the Amberjack, not realizing it’s a member of the Mackerel family, thus it’s a wicked oily fishy fish, and send it back because you simply aren’t into that polarizing flavor THAT’S TOTALLY COOL. I, as a chef, understand completely. I’m happy to personally talk you through some other menu items and put something in front of you that you’re going to actually enjoy. Not every dish is liked by everyone, but hey, sweetbreads aren’t FOR everyone.
The other side of that “complaint” argument is when there is an error on our part. As hard as we try (and trust me, the good ones all really do care), sometimes things get f#cked up. Sometimes hot food cools off, sometimes steaks are overcooked, and sometimes a server hits the wrong button on the computer and you get the wrong dish. When these things happen, it’s embarrassing for us. You’re our guest, in our house, spending your money on something we’ve created. Of course I want you to get our best! The quicker you can point out a legitimate flaw in food, service, wine, etc, the quicker we can fix the problem and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
B. The other portion of your first question relates to the internet reviewing craze. So many times I’ve read a Yelp review about Public where the guest says something negative from the previous night’s experience, and we’re small enough to often narrow it down to the exact table and time of the unhappy guest. More times than not, our service staff, all of whom are well-trained and versed in detecting unhappiness and finding a way to make it right, had absolutely no clue there was an issue. And for us, that’s completely unfair. We’re in the business of being hospitable, and if you (the guest), doesn’t make it clear to us (your host) what it is you’re displeased with, at least do us the decency of not trashing us online about it. You never even gave us a chance to clarify a miscommunication (it is so often that simple) or correct a mistake!
2. You know, I don’t complain at restaurants as much as you’d think I do. But I do give honest feedback, always as politely as possible. I always find it easier to “complain” about food over service. If my food is cold, I ask for them to please heat it up. If my medium rare steak is medium well, I ask for a new one. But if it’s something really specific like “this needs salt, this needs acid, this needs to be blanched a touch longer to lose that raw flavor, etc”, no, I rarely say anything unless my specific direct opinion is asked.
If I feel like I’ve been given terrible service, it’s often awkward to bring it up. The guilty party is usually present, sometimes within earshot, and I’m not a particularly confrontational person. If I feel it’s an egregious error, of course I’ll say something, but if its simply a service team member that sucks at their job (they’re pretty easy to spot), I usually just don’t go back. Keeping your money out of a restaurant is the most powerful thing you can do as a consumer.
This is so complicated but it boils down to the Don Corleone School of Retail: you want bad news fast so you can take care of it. I never want to hear complaints so we try to have a short feedback loop, and we communicate a lot. Training is key, we just finished a test for our staff on wines, cheeses, jamónes, etc. This helps with answers and anticipating needs. Our staff eats our food and drinks our wines. Because they make a good living, they can afford to travel and dine out too, be guests. Sincerity and empathy are key to making guests feel satisfied.
I always speak honestly when visiting other places, but we have so many good spots I am never anything but happy, full, and sleepy.