“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.
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.”
No good idea goes unpunished – as when the person who suggests a good plan is required to execute it. “Great idea! Now, do it.” A while back, Wilson Richey proposed that prior participants of Five Finds on Friday be permitted to do it again. The six year span of Five Finds on Friday has included hundreds of picks from area chefs and personalities, but never a repeat appearance. With such a long history, Richey contended, some picks may now be stale, while early participants have likely made new discoveries worth celebrating.
1) Meatloaf and Good Beaujolais at Bizou (b. 1996). “I wanted to say ‘Tim and Vincent at Bizou’ but I’m not sure everybody gets to see them when they go. I often do, and a friendly smile from Tim or a story from Vincent will make me feel better about my life and my day. There is perfection in simplicity and that perfection is delivered every service at Bizou. I could eat at Bizou every day. The dishes are balanced, never too heavy, always flavorful and with apparent attention to detail. Every time I eat there I remark at how crisp and well dressed every leaf of lettuce is. A quick conversation with Vincent will yield a tremendous wine selection and, more often than not, some really good advice about managing your restaurant. Like John and Lynelle from Mudhouse, Vincent has helped me grow and think about my business far more then I will ever be able to thank him for. There is always a great Bistro wine selection at Bizou that you will not find anywhere else in town. Often these are from my favorite fringe wine regions in France like Jura, Savoie or the often overlooked but not fringe region of Beaujolais. A good Cru Beaujolais and the classic Bizou Meatloaf is just good, unpretentious enjoyment, a perfect lunch for this time of year in the Fall when the patios on the mall are the best place to be in town.”
2) An Elegant Glass of Wine and Some Perspective at Tastings (b. 1990). “When I moved to town in 1997, I tried to get a job at Tastings because for me it was obviously the best business idea in town. I did not get the job but I bought a case of wine hand selected by Bill Curtis every other week for the next year to learn about wine. At the time I thought Bill was a grumpy, contrary, rough old dude. Twenty years later I still think that and I love it. Bill Curtis is one of the straightest shooters in the business. He and his business are among the most authentically Charlottesville things about Charlottesville. I always go to Tastings, and I send everyone I know to Tastings, to find a good bottle of wine with a little age or character to it. I try to stop and have a great glass of wine when I can (he is one of the few people to open exceptional bottles to pour by the glass), and listen to Bill’s perspective which can be more refreshing than the wine itself. I don’t get to do this often, but it is a personal goal for me to get over there more.”
3) Lobster Bisque and The Full Experience at Fleurie (b. 2001). “Back in those days, around the time when I was buying a case of wine at Tastings from Bill up the street, I would also take myself to dinner alone at the newly opened Fleurie, every other week or so, to learn something about food. I was waiting tables at the time and was single and in my early 20’s. I had money to burn and I burnt it on learning from the right places. I have always loved Fleurie for its classic French cuisine, but ever since Erin Scala took over the dining room and wine program she has added another layer of appreciation for this always excellent experience. And now, with Jose De Brito’s return, and an already complete experience is heightened, though seemingly impossible, to a level beyond. Think about it: Brian Helleberg’s Fleurie is a tremendous classic French restaurant, Erin Scala has brought the hospitality and wine program to an unprecedented level in this town and possibly in the state of Virginia, and now Jose de Brito is back in the kitchen . . . I mean Good Lord in Heaven . . . I really can’t put into words how good this is. Anyway, if I had to pick one dish from Fleurie it would still be the lobster bisque because it is exceptional and complex and excellent with a good White Burgundy. But really Fleurie is about the total experience and everything they do is of note.”
4) A Light Dinner Alone at TEN Sushi (b. 2007). “Going to Ten makes me feel calm and collected. I often go when I am trying to collect my thoughts or I want to feel particularly together as a person. This is also my favorite restaurant in town to go to alone. The cocktails are elegant and well made, there is always a good and reasonably priced Champagne on the wine list, and the fish is always of the finest quality. One bite of the rice and you know someone took the time to make sure it was excellent. I have many favorites here but I most often will order the Wasabi Roll and the Wasabi Wagyu Skewer together with a house recommendation of Sake. People think of Ten as expensive but it does not have to be. Like any great restaurant, you can make it a pricey splurge or you can order a few items that still fill your hunger (like the amazing tempuras). Even when you order light, like I usually do, you still feel uplifted and refined by the experience.”
5) Coupe Maison late night at C&O (b. 1976). “I used to go to C&O’s basement bar late night all the time. It is classy, warm, and comfortable. C&O for late night is another standard bearer for living in Charlottesville. This is where my wife and I would go when we were dating, for late night ice cream and champagne. Often I would order some sort of Campari based drink and sit long into the evening. This is where I first heard The Olivarez Trio and was blown away by Rick, Dave and Jeff’s rendition of some of my favorite music. I love the C&O for many reasons. The sweetbreadswith greens peppercorns is another favorite dish, but the Coupe Maison, late night, at the bar, with Champagne, with a beautiful woman (like my wife) and a few late night Campari based cocktails hopefully with the Olivarez Trio playing in the back ground, is a perfect Charlottesville moment to be enjoyed. We still get out for this ritual every chance we get.”