When I've been trapped in the city too long, I start thinking there's nothing outside of New York except chain restaurants, strip malls and overly tanned Snooki-wannabes. It's a good thing I was lured down south last weekend for a weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia because I was reminded that there is much to discover out there. While it was tales of dashing Southern men in seersucker wielding mint juleps that enticed me down south, it's the scrumptious, farm-fresh food (and ridonculously cheap drinks!) we enjoyed that'll have me coming back for more.
We started off with a bang at Zocalo, a restaurant located right smack in the middle of downtown Charlottesville, serving a sophisticated yet hearty Latin-inflected menu. We had large glasses of potent strawberry mojitos and some chunky herbed polenta fries to start, then a round of Leffe Blondes with our entrees. Mine was seared duck breast with manchego caramelized onion bread pudding, braised swiss chard and chipotle port compote. Check out that beauty ...
Kathryn spoke highly of the bread pudding, and she was absolutely on point. Manchego is one of my favorite cheeses because of its delectably rich taste. It's made from sheep's milk, which is fattier than both cow's and goat's milk so it is quite an indulgence, for sure. I found myself endlessly shoveling bites of the succulent duck slices and addictive bread pudding into my mouth, with the swiss chard and cooked grapes cutting into the richness at the right moment ... thereby keeping the vicious cycle going. I ate until I couldn't eat anymore ... well, until I read the dessert menu, that is. Somehow, we found room to share the Mexican bread pudding smothered in Bailey's espresso creme anglais. All that bread pudding probably equipped my body with enough fuel to power through a half marathon. Unfortunately, the only half marathons we had that weekend were for our livers.
The next day, we woke up bright and early for the Foxfield Races. The races being an occasion for daylong drinking, we stopped for a serious breakfast at The Nook, a diner that has been serving comfort food to Charlottesville's folks since 1951. For reasons that I haven't figured out, I failed to photograph my plate of Real Corned Beef Hash ($7.95). I guess the corned beef hash, which was cooked to delicious crisp in some parts and left nice and mushy in others was just so good that all thoughts of blogging evaporated into thin air. So you'll have to use your imagination. It was delicious—and the perfect first layer to my stomach which thereafter got bombarded with beer, bloody Marys, rum & cokes, and an unnamed shot swigged from a random bottle at Foxfields. But that's another story ...
After the all-day drinkfest and a much-needed nap, we went for dinner at Mono Loco, a cheery Tex-Mex restaurant serving up fresh, locally harvested fare. I was very pleased with my Spicy Catfish Burrito ($13). The hefty chunks of catfish fillets tucked in the flour tortillas were lightly breaded on the outside and tender and flaky inside. The catfish was mixed in with rice, beans, onions and peppers inside the burrito, with the whole shebang topped off with chipotle crema, avocado-jalapeno crema, and a dash of Loco hot sauce.
We had our food with margaritas that were so yummy that Tricia and Molly initially thought the bartender had skimped on tequila. They asked the waitress if more tequila could be added to their drinks and she promptly returned with two large shot glasses of tequila (free of charge) for them to dunk into their margaritas. It was pretty funny when they took a sip, looked at each other and said that they still couldn't taste it, which meant there was probably already plenty in the drink. I left my passion fruit margarita alone and still got a nice buzz from it.
Dinner was followed by more revelry involving sake bombs, karaoke, belting "Bad Romance" on the streets while getting soaked in the rain, an 80s dance party, and a ride home in an orange limousine. Understandably, we woke up the next day needing more food to quench the hangover. Kathryn and Adam took us to Beer Run, a place that could very well be my definition of paradise. Their store is stocked with 130 microbrews, and their food is organic and all natural but still indulgent and extremely yummy. We ordered a couple of Biscuit Baskets ($5.95) because Kathryn likened the flaky on the outside, soft and moist on the inside fresh sage and scallion cheddar biscuits to heaven. Which was pretty accurate.
My food of choice post drunken evenings always involves eggs and bacon, so I picked the Cotswold Cottage omelette made with local Innisfree brown eggs, organic Fuji apples and Cotswold Cheddar Cheese plus Polyface farm sausage (for an additional $1 on top of the $8.95). And yes, a side of all natural nitrate-free brown sugar bacon, too. What's not to love about pork that doesn't do drugs and is coated with sugar, cooked to a crisp, given a dash of pepper, and served alongside my omelette? Bliss!
Zocalo is located at 201 E. Main Street, Charlottesville, Virginia. Tel. (434) 977-4944
The Nook is located at 415 E Main Street, Charlottesville, Virginia. Tel. (434) 295-6665
Mono Loco is located at 200 West Water Street, Charlottesville, Virginia. Tel. (434) 979-0688
Beer Run is located at 156 Carlton Road, Charlottesville, Virginia. Tel. (434) 984-BEER