The Charlottesville 29

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

Tag: Wilson Richey

Charlottesville 2022 Best New Restaurant: Café Frank

Since arriving in Charlottesville in 2001, Jose de Brito has been on a mission: expose the area’s diners to as much great French food as possible. The native of France has a deep passion for its cuisine, and few things drive him more than sharing it with others. While he has found success doing so at places like The Alley Light and Fleurie, 2021 brought the first restaurant of his own, where he now has unbridled freedom to pursue his goal of sharing as many French dishes as possible with Charlottesville. What makes that especially daunting a pursuit is his perfectionism, which can require inordinate amounts of time on a single dish, even for a chef as skilled as de Brito, a James Beard semifinalist who once worked at Inn at Little Washington. “I try to give as much attention as possible to every line of the menu,” said de Brito, who has been known to spend weeks preparing a single sauce for a single dish.

Consider pan seared trout, which, de Brito says, “looks simple but there are tons of little steps that need to be followed to make it perfect.” In de Brito’s words:

First we butterfly it, and take out all the little bones.
Then we sear it hard, and cook it only on the skin side. We then add butter and regulate the color of the butter with lemon juice and a splash of water.
Too dark and it is gone, so we watch it carefully.
The heat starts to rise and you can see the flesh getting opaque. When it is opaque up to 80% of the fillet, we take out the fish to the plate.
When we started with this dish, my cooks did not understand and would say “But Chef, it is not cooked all the way through.” They were right, but they forgot the carry-over heat, and that is when the garnish comes in.
So for the garnish, we have to be extremely fast, so the skin stays crispy. We toss in the brown butter some wax beans, (I prefer wax beans over green beans, the texture is more suave), we pepper strongly, and we add persillade (shallot, parsley, garlic, lemon zest). Then we add toasted almond.
All of this is rapidly tossed around, and then placed on the trout fillet. The heat of the beans will bring to the trout fillet the 10 degrees missing to have a perfect moist fish. By the time the dish is brought to the table, the fish will neither be under or over cooked. It will be perfect.
All little details for a simple dish, but if not rightly done, it will be just an alright fish, like any other.
I think we got it right, it is succulent, simple (but not that simple), classic, and sound in the assembly of flavors with just three components.
Now we have to be careful and always be on our toes, like I like to say “as good as your last dish.”

Photo by JB.

Each detail has a purpose, and for de Brito, it is vital that his meticulousness not translate into food that seems overwrought or fussy. Unapproachable food, after all, would undermine his purpose of exposing French foods to as broad an audience as possible. “I try to give each guest quality ingredients, prepared soundly to achieve as much succulence as I am able to do at a fair market price,” said de Brito. And so, much of the menu consists of classics, faithfully executed, like coq au vin, moules frites, and lobster chowder with a BLT.

Coq au vin. Photo by Do Me A Flavor.

Moules frites. Photo by Do Me A Flavor

Lobster chowder with a mini BLT

That said, a chef’s gotta chef. And so, off-menu specials can be especially inspired.

Handmade fettucine, sturgeon, beurre blanc, Osetra caviar

Quenelles de brochet – pike dumplings in Nantua sauce

Wagyu beef tongue a la Parisienne – braised 30 hours, herb & caper relish, pickled vegetables

In opening Café Frank, de Brito had the good sense to team with Wilson Richey, reuniting a duo that once helped The Alley Light earn a seminfinalist nod for best new restaurant in the country. Richey is Charlottesville’s most prolific restaurateur of our time, and his expertise puts the front of the house in good hands, allowing de Brito to focus on the kitchen. As a result, Café Frank already offers one of the most polished restaurant experiences in town, under a veteran team led by GM Chris Butler. Keeping up with the times, the restaurant also offers a weekly takeout menu, with “Take the Chef Home” entrees, as well as soups, salads, apertifs, sides, and desserts.

A common trait among great restaurants is a cadre of regulars who find it underappreciated. While that may be true of Café Frank for now, it won’t last long, as more and more people come to realize how blessed Charlottesville is to have a gem like it. Last year was an extraordinary year for openings in Charlottesville. Among a stellar group of finalists, the 2022 Best New Restaurant is Café Frank.

Torch Passed: Duner’s Sold to Wilson Richey and Jonathan Corey

As Duner’s owner Bob Caldwell approached retirement, regulars held their breath. What would become of their beloved institution without the man who had run it for decades?

Worry no more. Just as Brian Fox did with Bodo’s, Dave Simpson did with C&O, and John Tice did with John’s, Caldwell made a point of finding a buyer who could sustain the identity of an icon that means so much to its community. That buyer?  Restaurateur Wilson Richey, and business partner Jonathan Corey.

“Like so many long time restaurants, we’ve become part of daily life in this area of the county,” said Caldwell of his restaurant, a fixture in The Charlottesville 29. “I’ve been fortunate to have a great group of regular customers and a very loyal and longtime staff. It’s a great combination, and increasingly rare in this world. One of the reasons I sold to Will and Jonathan was that they want to continue that.”

Indeed, for Duner’s fate, it’s hard to imagine a better steward than Richey, the most prolific Charlottesville restaurateur of our time. In addition to James Beard semifinalist The Alley Light, Richey has founded innovative restaurants like The Whiskey Jar, Brasserie Saison, The Bebedero, South & Central, Café Frank, Milkman’s, and The Pie Chest. And, though he may be best known for his creativity in projects like these, Richey is also no stranger to taking over an existing institution. In fact, the first restaurant he ever owned was Revolutionary Soup, which he purchased in 2005, and helped cement as a Charlottesville staple.

Now co-owner of Duner’s, the seasoned restaurateur has the good sense to leave well enough alone. While over time the restaurant may begin to bear the stamp of Richey and Corey, Duner’s will still be Duner’s. Richey:

Duner’s is a Charlottesville classic. Many of my friends and family are regulars, and it is important to this town and the area. Duner’s is surrounded by love, from the staff as well as from the regular customers. You can’t buy or fake that. When you have that much love for a restaurant that has been open as long as Duner’s has been, you have a very special thing, a part of our culture in this town. My goal in taking over the leadership is to continue its traditions and honor the work and patronage that has gone into its enduring significance.

Caldwell spent 39 years at Duner’s, serving 1.3 million meals. It would be too much to expect another 39 years from Richey and Corey. But, Charlottesville can rest easy that one of its institutions remains in good hands.

For more on this story, check out this week’s food segment on Charlottesville Right Now.

Café Frank is Here! A look at the menu and interior of Jose De Brito’s new restaurant

“A dream come true” is no hyperbole. Fans of Jose De Brito’s food have literally dreamt that he might one day open his own restaurant. While they may disagree where he reached his greatest heights — Ciboulette, The Alley Light, or Fleurie — none would dispute that the James Beard semifinalist is at his best when free to create whatever he wants. Like at his own restaurant.

Café Frank opens March 15 in the former home to Splendora’s on the downtown mall. By day, it offers De Brito’s grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, pot pies, and pastries. At 4 pm, Apertif Hour includes De Brito’s small bites served a la carte with champagne, wine, or a cocktail. And at night, the dinner menu, at long last, belongs completely to De Brito. While he plans to change it often, the opening menu features dishes like beef carpaccio with oyster tartar and caper mayonnaise; house-made fettuccini with shrimp Bolognese and lobster tail; and Steak Diane with mushroom & bourbon sauce and scalloped potatoes.

Take-home meal specials change by night of the week. Currently, Thursday is Choucroute Alsacienne – braised pork, sausage, potatoes and Pinot Blanc sauerkraut. Friday is Cassoulet – pork, duck, and Tarbais beans, cooked in aromatics with a condiment of roasted tomato. And, Saturday is Blanquette de Veau – veal stew with rice pilaf and spring vegetables. Advance ordering required.


The new restaurant reunites De Brito with serial restaurateur Wilson Richey, who, in addition to The Alley Light, has launched The Whiskey Jar, The Pie Chest, The Bebedero, Brasserie Saison, Kama, and Milkman’s Bar.

As is his habit, Richey has assembled an experienced team. Managing is Johnny Frankenberger (MAS, Quality Pie, Rapture, Station, etc.). Overseeing the bar is Mike Stewart (Milkman’s Bar, Kama, and Commonwealth). Bar menu here.  And the design belongs to Stephanie Williams, whose previous projects include Lampo, Prime 109, and Kama. The interior already had “good bones,” said Williams, so she just reconfigured colors and space and uncovered an existing brick wall and chimney for a feel that is modern and sleek, but cozy and warm.

Located at 317 E. Main Street, Café Frank is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 am to 10 pm.

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