Reviews

Plank Road Exchange 

Plank Road Exchange in Batesville (outside Charlottesville, VA)The closing of the Batesville Store was a miserable shame, and to the people responsible: what you’ve done is bad and you should feel bad. It was the perfect nearby getaway, music venue, food destination, the quintessential small town hangout. However, as one door closes, one more opens.

The brand new Plank Road Exchange is of course different from the Batesville Store with different guiding forces and a different overall feel. However, it basically looks the same and still offers delicious house-made foods and specials, frequent live music, and the lovely small-town charm. It’s new, of course, and still has kinks to work out, but the Exchange offers a wide selection… Read More

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The Whiskey Jar 

The Whiskey Jar in Charlottesville, VAWhen I heard that Escafé was moving over to the old OXO space, ushering in a wagon wheel saloon specializing in affordable spins on rustic Southern fare, I was skeptical. Known less (to me) as a restaurant and more as a place to drink Red-Bull-vodka-laden Orange Crushes while dancing on the bar to Lady Gaga, Escafé featured a kind of grinding that had little in common with that now being employed by Whiskey Jar chefs to produce their delicious boiled peanut hummus. Unfortunately, my skepticism was confirmed after my first two visits. Fortunately, it was unconfirmed after my last two.

The space is almost but not quite unrecognizable. The bar… Read More

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Monsoon Siam 

Kao Pad Ka Pow Fried Rice with Chicken at Monsoon Siam in Charlottesville, VAFor those of you who have been here awhile, you may remember Monsoon Café’s origins as an artsy second-story Thai restaurant above the current Downtown Grille.* There were funkily painted chairs and wall-hangings, a couple of intimately capacious seating areas, and an appealing and unusual menu. I don’t know exactly when it moved from that privileged evening-on-the-town location to the decidedly less savory house on the corner of 2nd and Market (@Echangy?), but I thought I heard the death knell approaching. Fortunately, I was wrong. Not only has Monsoon survived, it recently spruced up its menu and interior space, and has got it going on pretty much for… Read More

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Tempo Restaurant & Bar 

Tempo interior.Newcomer restaurant Tempo (in the challenged 5th Street space that was home to Ventana) was much anticipated as we watched renovations and preparations for months. While its opening may have been overshadowed by the Commonwealth phenom, our initial meals suggest it’s a promising addition to the downtown dining scene and worth a visit.

You’ll first notice the decor, which people seem to love or hate. It’s like upscale Parisian bordello meets nouveau riche in the mountains. There’s paisley silk and cow print and even an enormous water buffalo head reigning over the bar. It’s a little too busy for my tastes, but I can appreciate that it doesn’t look like most other minimal brick interiors these days.

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Balkan Bistro and Bar 

balkan bistro - 02I was a pretty big fan of The Balkan Bakery. Rich sausages, thick breads, and spicy baklava, served up by a personable family who told you what you should order based on how you looked. “For you,” the matronly woman behind the counter said, pointing at me, “a big sandwich with lots of meat. Sausage. And onions.” Pointing now at Erin, “For you, our vegetarian sandwich with fresh roasted peppers and cheese.” Unfortunately, the ambitious upgrade in size and scope at The Balkan Bistro has meant a slight downgrade in the overall experience, even if the food is roughly the same.

For me, the main problem is that the rustic food and family… Read More

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The Ivy Inn 

Ivy InnI tend to be overly critical of my dining experiences. Unfortunately, this penchant for tough criticism makes it hard to come away from a meal feeling positive. Such was not the case, however, after my most recent dinner at the Ivy Inn. The entire evening was first-rate and one of the most pleasurable Charlottesville restaurant experiences in memory.

My only other visit to Ivy Inn took place nearly 5 years ago and I remember being thoroughly unimpressed. All I can say is that I painfully regret having stayed away so long. They may well be producing food that is both more interesting and better executed than any of their local competitors.

The arrival of an elegant amuse-bouche… Read More

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Blue Ridge Pig 

Hard to see but massive ribs and excellent pork and beans and slaw at Blue Ridge Pig in Nellysford, VASometimes a restaurant just calls to you. It whispers sweet oinks in your ear while you’re sleeping and sculpts pig shapes in the clouds overhead. “Come, my child,” it says. “Come and sit for a spell. Take a load off. Let us fatten you up with some tender morsels of hearty saltpork.” After reading that a carefully judged BBQ competition resulted in a tie between BBQ Exchange and Blue Ridge Pig, a friend asked us what we thought about going to the latter for a small birthday party. After the oinks and clouds, it was the last sign. Just the… Read More

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Aromas Café 

Bliss-inducing gazpacho at Aromas Café in Charlottesville, VAPeople have funny ways of communicating deliciousness. Our friend Rachael’s eyes bulge as she stares at you in silence, thoughtfully liquidating her food like a cow chewing its cud. My mom slaps her hand on the table so hard that the silverware clanks and jumps, and then she says, “Y’all gotta try this” in a way that suggests your very life depends on it. My wife Erin’s reaction, however, is the scariest, as I remembered during our last trip to the always delicious Aromas Café in Barracks. More about her reaction below.

Aromas participates in the tradition of “strip mall chic” that restaurants like Lime Leaf and Copacabana – not to mention every… Read More

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Moo Thru 

Moo Thru barn frontBeing born in Vermont and now a Charlottesville townie, it only slightly pains me to say Absolutely Forget about Ben & Jerry’s and Arch’s. Just don’t even bother (with the gentle exception of gooey brownie). The best ice cream you have ever eaten in your life is only an hour or so away, straight up 29 at Moo Thru. For your own sake, and the sake of your wardrobe which does not appreciate being drenched in summer sweat, take a field trip somewhere up 29 and stop by Moo Thru. The silkiest deeply flavorful farm fresh milk turned into fresh cold treats will draw your eyes into the back of your head and make your eyes smile and… Read More

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Mykonos Cafe 

Spanakopita "Spinach Pie" at Mykonos Café in Charlottesville, VAIt’s curious that the only reason I knew Mykonos Cafe existed was from walking past it from time to time. Regardless of their advertising shortcomings, the Greek-born owners know how to make tasty Greek food. This is not a restaurant with any conspicuously trendy leanings towards organic or local food, and the chefs certainly have no formal training in texture, contrast, or artful arrangement. However, I’d like to imagine that if I had a Greek family, this is exactly the food they would make for me. Just don’t tell Michael Pollan.

The spanakopita “spinach pie” was crispy, flavorful, and huge, while my gyro… Read More

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