Date Night Under $50

Date night—an institution key to any relationship, a crucial time to escape the noise and distractions of home and work life. An opportunity to nostalgically reconnect with those simpler, dopamine-filled days of courtship that led you to this moment—romantically carving out time together on your mutual Google calendar. 

Our most frequented local haunts (Lampo, Oakhart Social, Brasserie Saison, and C&O Restaurant, to name a few) are prime wining + dining locations, but after a couple months of such outings, our bank accounts start to look a little ... drained. 

So, for the sake of economic sustainability without the sacrifice of great food, our top local spots (in no particular order) that make it easy to do date night for two under 50 bones:

Victory Garden Pizza @ Fry's Spring Station

Victory Garden Pizza @ Fry's Spring Station

1. Fry's Spring Station - An undercover, neighborhood favorite of ours for both dining in + taking out, this converted garage in Fry's Spring features from-scratch pizzas (homemade mozzarella or bust), a great beer list, live music on Thursdays + Sundays, and plenty of outdoor seating. Plan date night for a Wednesday and enjoy all bottles of wine at half price.

2. Monsoon Siam - If you're a Thai food fan and live in Charlottesville, this place is already on your list. Located off the Downtown Mall on E Market St, its endearing, walled-in front patio adorned with bistro and rope lights is perfect during the warmer months. Most dishes are under $15 and both vegetarians + carnivores can rejoice over an equitably split menu. As a crew who admittedly skews heavily towards the latter culinary camp, the flavors and textures of the tofu + veggie-only options quickly made us forget they are sans-meat unit. Pro Tip: Monsoon margaritas are bomb and pair surprisingly well with Pad Thai. 

3. Firefly - Outdoor seating? Check. Arcade games? Check. Classic bar food? Check. There's something about the vibe at Firefly that keeps bringing us back (insert predictable moth to the flame reference here). We also don't know of any other place in town where one can order mead by the glass, if one happens to have the hankering (Game of Thrones season is upon us, after all). We also can't ignore the inspiring, bittersweet origins of the place - "In May of 2014, a cancer diagnosis led Mark to follow his dream of opening a bar + restaurant that combines craft beer, great food, and gaming. Though Mark is no longer with us, his spirit and vision lives on at FIREFLY." 

Burger @ Boylan Heights. Don't forget cheese-covered tater tots. 

Burger @ Boylan Heights. Don't forget cheese-covered tater tots. 

4. Boylan Heights - Sure, it's on the Corner but hot damn - those burgers! Part of what makes Boylan special is we only really go during the summer when school's out and the student crowd dies down. That said, when those build-your-own burger scantron sheets call to us August through May, we can't help but brave the sea of undergrads and check our pride at the door as a neon clad 21-year-old interrogates us about our weathered IDs. Don't ever change, Boylan. 

5. Whiskey Jar - What already feels like a Cville classic after only five years, Whiskey Jar is perfect for low key dinner on Tuesday night (fried chicken + collards), brown water explorations on Friday night (best accompanied by fried chicken + collards), and recovery brunch on Sunday (studies show fried chicken + collards is particularly absorbent of moral hangovers). Incidentally, Whiskey Jar also happens to be one of our favorite cozy spots for catching live music on the downtown mall. Delightful Southern food with a focus on all things local and hearty, we recommend (in addition, of course, to a judicious helping of friend chicken + collards) the hush puppies or fried oysters to start, followed by a BBQ platter. Also, definitely a restaurant to follow on social media  - they've sparked more than one spontaneous date night decision with a well-timed and photographed menu special. 

 "Modern Romance" 

 "Modern Romance" 

Winter Crushes

Now and then we cross paths with bites or sips that stay with us and leave us daydreaming, blushing a little the way you might in the wake of a harmless flirtation outside your formal relationship. It was nothing, but it was a tiny something, and you can't stop thinking about it. Let's be honest.   

In that spirit, we're looking back on winter so far and the steamy encounters set in our path.    

Seven minutes in heaven: a pork stir-fry from the Oakhart team (Photo courtesy of Oakhart Social)

Seven minutes in heaven: a pork stir-fry from the Oakhart team (Photo courtesy of Oakhart Social)

By now, we know to be on guard for some provocative wrinkle from Chef Tristan Wraight, but apparently we like our lessons the hard way. Just when we think we have a handle on his skills, he slips a culinary dalliance that leaves us flushed and grasping for composure. Yes, somehow Oakhart Social's ballsy small plates have become the restaurant analog of 7 Minutes in Heaven.

It's been noted that Wraight loves to color outside the lines. To our delight, rhyme and reason are not prioritized on his menu. You'd be very hard pressed to characterize the style of cuisine here with any tired label. Thankfully, it's all over the (global) map and consistently well executed. So, when a Pork Stir-Fry special is introduced with lurid detail one evening by our lovely server, we aren't at all prepared for the hedonistic ride in store—we just know we must have it. (Pro tip: if there's a special on the Oakhart menu, sign yourself up.)

In this wild-card dish, Wraight delicately balances meat and vegetables and spikes it all with an illicit unctuousness that finds us looking over our shoulders as if we're committing a crime. Pork shoulder from Autumn Olive Farms is marinated in pineapple juice, sambal and soy sauce then charred. It all comes together when the pork is paired with some virtuous red leaf mizuna from Wayside Produce, and seasoned with fish sauce, gochujang and aioli. Taking a "great idea" from his sous, Wraight then tops with the dish with a slutty, soft egg "to elevate that fatty element" even more. Then, as he's oft to, Wraight throws a bunch of fresh herbs and pickles on it. "At the end of the day, it was a really fun dish to put together that was greatly improved through collaboration," he says.    

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Vitamin P, or Pork Schnitzel 

Vitamin P, or Pork Schnitzel 

Another siren that's drawn us too close to the hot stove lately is Brasserie Saison's Pork Schnitzel Sandwich. We live in the South, ergo we suffer from bouts of southern fried chicken sandwich fatigue. There are some legit players out there, but mostly it's a field of throwaways we move past without a second glance. Then, along comes this head-turning fried pork sandwich that compels us to rationalize more diet detours than we're willing to admit to in writing.

Sandwiched between a kaiser roll from Albemarle Bread Co, the protein is pounded pork loin that's dipped in buttermilk and flour. The chef tells us the key to the abundance of "crusty bits" is to dredge it properly and to make sure the flour is a little crumbly, not too cakey - a fine line, and something that takes a lot of attention to do it right. Out of the fryer, the loin gets hit with local honey and salt. That fatty, salty, crunchy goodness is contrasted with a red cabbage marmalade (blanched red cabbage folded into a red wine vinegar caramel). On the side? The perfect kind of french fry—crispy and thin, but with enough potato that you still feel like you're getting a serving of veg. 

Here, Will goes off on a rye-fueled writing tangent about this game changer. Indulge him, dear reader:

Some of my favorite bites today are the ones that inspire nostalgia and transport me back in time to simple moments free of pretense and window dressing, indifferent to other opinions. I celebrate chefs who can pull it off.

In this case, Chef Tyler Teass takes me back to a sweaty summer night in 1980, at a roadside McDonald's somewhere east of Orlando where I destroyed a McChicken while reflecting on that day's Magic Kingdom adventure. It was the first fried chicken sandwich I'd ever eaten, right on the heels of my first Disney World experience and would put Happy Meals in the rearview mirror of my life forever. It turned out to be a rite of passage - that crispy chicken patty, shredded lettuce and a cold spread of mayo. And it launched a love for the genre. Who knew? 

Today you couldn't pay me to eat a McChicken, let alone set foot in a McDonald's. It's safe to say my grownup palate wouldn't tolerate one and sure as hell would not draw modern comparisons to the dope Teass riff on the fried chicken sandwich. Still, the evocation of this nostalgic moment, in all its trashy glory, resonates deeply and elicits miles of smiles from my inner child.   

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Lampo's Braseola Pizza: Savory and Sexy 

Lampo's Braseola Pizza: Savory and Sexy 

Finally, that indecent proposal we just can't shake from our heads—the Braseola Pizza at Lampo. Truffle oil spritzed arugula pops bright green, scattered with torn bits of buffalo mozzarella, bedded by rose petals of seductive beef shavings, all languidly lounging on the Neapolitan crust and garnished with a lemon wedge. The only thing missing here is a trail of discarded clothing. 

We hate to admit it, but our pizza order sometimes comes with an uninvited side of guilt. Blame the villainization of carbs. Count on this pie to mitigate that dramatically—in fact, just think of it as a salad. As Chef Ian Redshaw puts it, "This is my fun riff on beef carpaccio." It's also what makes Lampo a P+K favorite: here it's all about the ingredients and virtually nothing to do with manipulation.

Ok, there is some mad genius in the curing and aging of the beef: Ian soaks juniper berries in Junipero Gin (so meta) then smokes them. Once he gauges the berries to have the right smoky, peppery flavor, he grinds and rubs them onto the high round cut (upper back) sourced from Sherwood Farm. The beef ages 30 days and cures another 60 before it's swaddled into a sexy pose atop that pie. Savage AF.     

savage AF

savage AF

Pizza without red sauce is rarely, if ever, our jam. Lampo's sauce is so legit that going sans inspires a mild case of FOMO. And oddly enough, for us regulars, pizza itself has been subtly edged to the margins by the fantastic creative range of specials (road beef panuazzo, hamachi collar - whaaaat?) that grace the menu daily. Tune in sharply enough and you'll catch on to the secret that Lampo has quietly become the best steakhouse in Cville. Once you've experienced the dry aged, wood oven-fired steaks, you may never want to order anything else. In the case of this braseola pie - a perfect Lampo hybrid of aged beef & stellar pizza—we are happily back to dancing with the one that brought us.    

[Note: Last week Chef Allie Redshaw, Ian's wife, suffered a terrible kitchen accident. After two surgeries she is said to be in high spirits as she begins the long road to recovery. It has been so inspiring to see the Charlottesville community and beyond rally around her and the Redshaw family. An unfortunate truth in life is that you don't often figure out what you're made of until pianos fall from the sky on you or the good people around you. It turns out this community is made of love, kindness, empathy and compassion. We invite you, however you can, to be part of that movement here.]           

The Underground Kitchen: La Vie En Rose

The Underground Kitchen story begins with a fateful relocation. Some years ago, Micheal Sparks and his partner made the move from the Big Apple to the River City's Museum District. Micheal is a fashion designer and creative consultant by trade, but his love and knack for food and drink are a family tradition, inspired and cultivated by a childhood of home-cooked memories. Richmond was a great fit for the pair, but they immediately began missing their close-knit NYC community. An extrovert with an uncanny ability to bring people together, Micheal's local circles quickly grew. After routinely breaking bread with new neighbors, dinners became more elaborate—and competitive—with Micheal and Co. inviting outside chef pros to take the helm each night.

Now, if there’s a city that loves some good food and drink, it’s RVA. As requests flooded in for a (literal) seat at the table, Micheal realized his casual neighborhood dinners could become something much more. He set out to share this community with cities and chefs beyond Richmond. And so, the Underground Kitchen was born—a movement that is:

“…unique, in the truest sense of the word. UGK, as it has come to be known by its foodie cult following, is a supper club that gives members access to a one night only, 5-7 course gourmet meal prepared by an amazing chef in an undisclosed location. The chefs are asked to prepare food that pushes them to the limits of their culinary creativity, and to refrain from preparing the staple items on their restaurant menus. Each event has a theme that is intricately woven through the menu and atmosphere. Locations vary from art studios, to local restaurants, to farms, to anywhere else with a venue suited to UGK’s holistic vision. The venues emphasize the themes, and generate dialogue about food sources, culinary preparation, and eating. An understanding of food, as an economy, profession, and source of enjoyment is one of the founding principles of UGK.”
The Underground Kitchen

Our UGK experience began a week ago under a signature veil of secrecy—location revealed last minute, and menu kept mum until we walked though the door. As we climbed the stairs into Charlottesville's Water Street restaurant, we were greeted with our first clue for the direction of the evening by a large blackboard welcoming us to “La Vie en Rose". Translation — life in pink, or life through rosy (pink) glasses. A nod to both Valentine’s Day and famed French singer Édith Piaf’s signature song, the theme and its inspiration was further explained by Chef Brice Cunningham, a native Frenchman who has called Cville home for many years. Turns out, included in each course was an ingredient commonly regarded as an aphrodisiac. Well played, Chef—well played.


That must be Nigel with the brie.  Find us someone who doesn't enjoy bread and cheese and we'll find you a liar. The two have been embedded in global food history for centuries, and for good reason. Chef Cunningham and the UGK team began the evening with passed hors d'oeuvres of baguette crostini and Vermont brie with a touch of pear jam. The flavors and textures of this particular crostini + brie + jam marriage interacted in a way that reminded us of the Rice Krispie treats of our youth. Unexpected? Yes. Awesome? Also yes. Well-paired to the setting and the hors d'oeuvre was a fresh and lively non-vintage Juvé Y Camps Pinot Noir Rosé Brut. Our palates primed, we settled in by the bar and admired Water St.'s recently renovated space, appreciating the largely unadorned style that pays attention to a few distinctive, choice details—custom wine bottle shaded pendant lights, and unique roller coaster Victorian-esque booths.

Under the sea. Caviar is always a crowd pleaser, elevating the flavor of dishes it accompanies and inflating the self worth of those who ingest it. (Who doesn't occasionally enjoy wielding a mother-of-pearl spoon like some sort of election-meddling, egomaniacal Russian oligarch?) However, not until UGK did we experience it camouflaged within a cream of oyster soup. Subtle and light, the velouté consisted of an oyster and cream emulsion that was delightfully more sweet than salty at first taste. The added salinity and texture of the caviar nicely completed the emulsion and made for an interesting pairing contrast to the lean and bright 2015 Laforêt Pinot Noir from Burgundy's Maison Joseph Drouhin. The initial menu design actually included Drouhin's white burgundy, though a last minute switch by the distributor left Cunningham and the UGK team thinking quickly on their feet and changing course to the Pinot. All things considered, an admirable pivot.

In avocado we trust / return of the crostini. First things first—we're proudly aboard the avo-toast train. Pictured right, our beloved avocado on an Albemarle Baking Co. toasted baguette crostini, topped with pine nuts, fresh greens, and a balsamic reduction. While a departure from our aforementioned musings on bread and cheese, it was a delicious interplay of acid and fat, salty and sweet, crunchy and smooth, and an ideal palate gear shift between the first and third courses. Similar to the first course, an unexpected wine delivery alteration caused redirection on the pairing here, though pleasantly so with a limestone-grown, steel-fermented 2015 Viognier from Le Paradou in France's southern Rhône.

Fields of green. Course number three presented a turn to the light and refreshing side of the spectrum—mixed field greens, pomegranate seeds, and house-made vinaigrette—before we got down to more decadent business. A no-frills palate cleanser with a satisfying crunch, the greens were accompanied by an expressive, cool climate 2015 Pinot Noir from Viña Leyda in Chile’s coastally-situated Leyda Valley. While not our favorite paring of the night, we’re interested to revisit this wine to see how it changes over time in glass. Noticeably reductive throughout the course, it only just started to show its true colors as we readied ourselves for the main event. C’est la vie. We will see you again, Leyda, don’t you worry.

The main event. As a Frenchman by both birth and culinary proclivity (is it legal for a Frenchman to prescribe any differently?), we fully expected Cunningham to know his way around a rack of lamb. Hot damn, our high hopes were met by a perfectly executed, medium rare trio of chops, accompanied by root vegetables and honey jus. Presented sans much stylistic embellishment, this course was a lesson in the power of quality ingredients prepared by a skilled hand. We appreciated the approach of substance over flourish, and cleaned our plates accordingly. Not to be overlooked, the dark fruited, Syrah/Grenache-based 2014 Chateau Puech-Haut Pic Saint-Loup "La Closerie du Pic" from Languedoc, played well with the rich flavor combination in front of us.

Cocoa me crazy. Capping the evening was a miniaturized chocolate molten cake served à la mode with raspberry coulis. The dessert satisfied our sweet tooth(s) without sending us over the edge into Thanksgiving sweatpants, self loathing territory. Appropriately paired was a 2002 late bottled port from Smith Woodhouse.

A note on wine: While it's exciting to attend dinners that pair precious wines beyond reach and/or budget, it's fun when you have an actual shot at taking home the experience from the table. This brings us to the UGK bottles—at the end of the night, Micheal announced that all were available for purchase though Richmond-based thevinewineclub.com. Looking over the provided price list, we were struck by the affordability—most in the $13 - $16 range, and all sub $35. As a crew with a penchant for cracking more than a few bottles each week, P+K is always on the hunt for quality wines that punch above their price weight class (have you met our friend, Austria?). Not only did these wines fit the bill, but the apparent, intentional accessibility of the lineup was appropriate punctuation for the evening: that is, food & drink = community at UGK, and discoveries made underground should be shared above.


FinAs was Micheal's founding hope and intention, our biggest takeaway from the evening was this sense of community that UGK evoked. From dinner conversations with our tablemates about travel, family, the state of global affairs, and whether or not Virginia can be considered “the South” (conclusion = yes, duh), to discussions of UGK’s support of culinary scholarships and training for underprivileged students, we left Water St. with a deep and renewed appreciation for breaking bread with neighbors and (former) strangers. Moreover, we left feeling inspired by the tight-knit and ever supportive soul of the foodie movement. In our fast-paced world of social media, mobile phones and online living, it’s not always easy or convenient to take a few hours to meet and truly get to know new people—we are thankful to UGK for pulling us from our comfort zones and designing a delicious setting to do just that. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for UGK and its team, a team that recently added a second Sparks to its roster—Micheal's niece, Sydney. A passion rooted in family tradition has come full circle.

Bring it on home. Gift bags! A wonderful, handheld takeaway that included Shenandoah Joe's Eye-Opener coffee blend, the latest issue of Charlottesville Wine & Country, sugar cookies from Paradox Pastry, and a box of chocolates from Richmond-based For the Love of Chocolate.

In full disclosure, the kind folks at UGK extended complimentary tickets to Pen + Knife to experience their unique concept. We assure you this in no way shaded our recounting of the experience if it had sucked, so be it, we would relay accordingly.

Want more? Check out The Piedmont Virginian's coverage of La Vie en Rose here!
Ready to experience your own UGK event? Register here.

2016 Food & Drink Memoirs

Go for a stroll through your social feeds and a few thumb swipes will more than likely surface a diatribe or two expressing the downer 2016 has been, with a whiney appeal for the year to just end already. This cacophony of angst - like the hypnotic drone of vuvuzelas at a South African football match - can eventually numb your senses, pollute your outlook and find you ignoring the little rays of light around you. 

Yes, we can all agree that 2016 has delivered one right cross after another, leaving many feeling like poor Ned Ryerson here. 

2016 laid us out more times than we care to count, but...  

2016 laid us out more times than we care to count, but...  

Still, the year also delivered some very bright moments to the lovely city of Charlottesville and its thriving food scene, so let's push back from the table, pour ourselves a healthy dose of War & Rust and celebrate those bright spots.

Six months ago, the four of us launched Pen + Knife. It feels like it's been much longer than that, which tells us we might be on to something because life slowed down once we fell into the habits of appreciation and reflection. Pro athletes talk about how the speed of the game eventually slows down for them. Maybe that's at play here (except the pro part) and we have developed an intimacy with the playing field. It sure as hell does not hurt when the players are the kindest, most soulful and communal in the league. Their generous vibe makes it easier to glimpse beneath the kimono at a creative and driven spirit that gains steam by the day.

We've loved getting to know this food town and can't wait to dance with it more next year. Until then, here's a look in the rearview mirror at some P+K highlights.     

The Hellboy Pizza @ Lampo has our hearts.

The Hellboy Pizza @ Lampo has our hearts.

Top three restaurants and a staple in your order at each?

Oakhart Social - Open-Faced Chicken Fried Octopus Sandwich  
Lampo - Hellboy Pizza
C & O - Duck Confit Gnocchi 

Hot on their heels: Tavern & Grocery's Squid & Eggs, Public Fish & Oyster's Lime Leaf Moules Frites, Tavola's Buccatini All'Amatriciana

Let’s talk favorite cocktails.

Baby, it's cold outside. Which might explain why our cocktail nods skew more toward 'brown water' and bitter flavors right now. These drinks bring warmth and comfort. They also inspire bouts of pause and reflection since the sophisticated flavor palette requires sipping and enjoying more so than slugging.  

  • Jota Jota @ C&O - Bulleit bourbon, chili and coffee infused Campari, Carpano Antica vermouth
  • Bitter Giuseppe @ Lampo - Cynar, Carpano Antica vermouth, lemon
  • Fashionably Late @ Public Fish & Oyster - Bulleit rye, demerara syrup, angostura + orange bitters, flamed orange peel
  • Smokey Rose @ Oakhart Social - Copper Fox Rye, lemon juice, rosemary simple syrup, ginger beer, Laphroaig 10 year float
  • Akrotiri Heat @ Parallel 38Espolon blanco tequila, piri piri syrup cinnamon berry, hibiscus soda, citrus
We're suckers for any experience led by Super Somm Super Mom Erin Scala.

We're suckers for any experience led by Super Somm Super Mom Erin Scala.

Best all-around experience?

Hands down, Flight Club night at Fleurie Restaurant in early November! While technically an outlier special event experience, we can't deny this was one of our favorite Cville dinners of the year. Local super-somm-super-mom Erin Scala went toe to toe on her home turf with visiting DC wine-world heavy-hitter, Matthew Carroll. As anticipated, the “brawl on the mall” lived up to our expectations and then some, with five deliciously executed food courses, 10 mystery wine pairings, and a packed house deciding the fate of the contenders at each step along the way. (Did we mention there was also a top-hatted emcee and dramatic lighting transitions between voting reveals?) 

While Carroll rolled into the evening packing some serious Spanish heat, Scala carefully curated a French offensive that would have made Napoleon proud. To make the evening all the more interesting, each mystery wine pairing was served in double blind format leaving even the somm contenders in the dark until the votes were tallied.

A strong showing by local food and wine biz personalities contributed to lively crowd participation and a great convivial atmosphere, with just the right amount of competitive spirit for the in-depth wine guessing game, optional with each course. In the end, once the flurry of wine knowledge dropping had cleared, Scala and the home team emerged victorious, along with everyone in attendance lucky enough to snag a seat.

There are many reasons we love Fleurie (more on this later), but it is times like Flight Club when those feelings are cemented. As one of the few remaining, truly fine dining establishments in town, we sometimes forget that at the core of Fleurie’s beautifully composed preparations, thoughtfully devised presentations, and highly attuned attention to detail (both in the kitchen and on the dining room floor) lies a warm, welcoming, and lighthearted vibe sustained daily by Erin and her husband, Joe. This truth was in no clearer light than at Flight Club. Needless to say, we are anxiously awaiting round two. 

Standout industry personalities?

Anthony Restivo @ C&O. On the stick at the coziest bar on the planet, Anthony brings layers of endearing personality to his craft. Among many interesting aces up the sleeve of his sweet vintage shirt is his production credit for this dope new Angel Olsen video. Sweet, cultured and well read AF, he always sends us off into the night with some new music or film suggestion, and occasionally a perfectly hand-rolled smoke.       

The Lampo Crew. It feels like a cop-out packaging these guys together, but most times we're there - usually lunch - they work at vampire speed, covering each other on the brick oven, gracefully tending the flow of action, and doing it all with so much confidence. There's an abstract Voltron thing at play here as their work is so seamlessly integrated. When you see Loren or Ian outside the lair, they smack of happiness with what's in front of them and intimate desires to take this town down another thrilling rabbit hole. These cats seem to have found the formula for Charlottesville, and we expect them to make game changing moves next year. Can't think of another gang we cheer for more!  

Patrick McClure @ Tavern & Grocery. The first time we saddled up to his bar, we were slightly irritated by how long it took Patrick to sling an order of drinks our party’s way. It turned out the wait was more about the deliberate love he dials into each drink - no going through the motions here - and turned out to be well worth it. During the stretch of research for the review, we got to know him and never tired of his travel and industry tales. Dude’s been around the block a few times and is, as they say, good people.       

Matt Greene @ JM Stock Provisions. The opposite of Will's element, he has to admit, is a butcher shop. He’d love to come off as natural and wise in such a carnivorous setting surrounded by so much macho meat, but he knows better than to even try to fake it. Thankfully, despite the bulging arms, tattoos and Brooklyn bad-boy backstory, Matt is a gentle giant who makes the whole meat-buying experience accessible, less intimidating and damn right fun.  

Juice Laundry has saved our souls on many a hungover weekend morning.

Juice Laundry has saved our souls on many a hungover weekend morning.

Guilty pleasure? 

Somewhere along the line we developed a Juice Laundry habit and find ourselves there more than we might like to admit. Thankfully they offer credit on bottle returns and a legit loyalty program, which slightly dilutes the financial cognitive dissonance. That and we truly feel good in the wake of pounding their goods the day after a night of eating and drinking too much. This is the fix your hangover is looking for. And we're thrilled to say the cadence of the joint, which puzzled us in our early days, is smooth and easy these days. 

Dark horse legit restaurant? Serendipity of the year? 

Tavern and Grocery. Some months ago, a last-minute change of plans led to a fortuitous Sunday night reservation at this subtle spot on W Main St. Several hours, one caviar service, and much food and drink later, the P+K crew exited crushing hard on everything T&G had to offer. A shapeshifter of the most traditional sort, this restaurant includes a speakeasy-inspired bar downstairs, a private room for big parties, and an excellent brunch menu on the weekends. We can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store for our T&G friends.

Restaurant you're dying to give a second chance?

Timbercreek Market. We went one night with giddy high hopes because the setup has all the trimmings for a really fun post - a local farm offering weekend popup style dinners in its adorable market in town. Alas, Chef Tucker Yoder was away that weekend, and sadly the experience and meal fell flat, so we tabled the review. We'll be back and, to be safe, will check ahead to make sure Tucker's running the show.  The Chicken Liver Mousse Tart is more than enough reason to return.    

Best fast/casual? 

Fry’s Spring Station. A favorite of ours thanks to its close proximity to one of our casas, Fry’s Spring is a true neighborhood hearth that has an excellent patio, delicious wood-fired pizza, a constantly revolving list of appetizers and specials, a great beer menu, and friendly, fast service. 

Feast! never disappoints when it comes to fast, healthy dining and "buy local" grocery shopping. We love that they post their daily lunch specials on their website and social media accounts -- many a virtuously packed lunch of leftovers has been left in the fridge thanks to their promotions.

Grab and go? 

At least once a week, usually Taco Tuesday nights, we drop in on Barbie's Burrito Barn for takeout. The no frills and cheap fare, loaded with fresh ingredients, is utterly addictive. Our kids dig on the tacos and burritos, while we are all over the Guac Tostada and Chopped Bowl. Barbie's slow-cooked pork and chicken are the perfect dose of love on a weeknight, and now that she's open Saturdays, a fantastic sate for your fast food craving that won't leave you feeling guilty. Plus, Barbie is funny and sweet and just downright good company while you wait for her to work magic on your order.        

Spots you have your eye on for 2017?

In the P+K works is a piece on Public Fish & Oyster. Then maybe Southern Crescent. We've tried Doma and think something’s going on there, so maybe pen hits paper on that joint. And it’s high time we get over to Sultan Kabob to get in on what Simon recently shared - we're very intrigued. Lastly, we need to spend more time at Keevil & Keevil. We've stopped by in this new grocery's early stages and have always admired Harrison’s dedication to advancing the local food movement here. It’s pretty inspiring.    

And then there's Tavola, and the bar behind it. Frequently acknowledged as some of the best Italian cuisine in Charlottesville, this past year they hosted a chef’s exchange program of sorts with their sister restaurant in Italy. As they don’t take reservations and parking in Belmont is never a treat, the P+K gang has yet to venture through Tavola’s doors. More generally speaking, P+K has yet to venture very far in Belmont at all, aside from Lampo and Keevil & Keevil at the very outskirts. Between local favorites Mas, Tavola, and a couple of other new spots popping up, Belmont will definitely be a focus for us come the new year.

After the horrible earthquake in Amitrice, Italy, in August that decimated almost the entire city, Parallel 38 perfected & offered the city's signature dish -- Buccatini all' Amatriciana -- and donated 100% of the proceeds from it to The Foundation La Stampa-Specchio dei Tempi. Food with a purpose -- we dig it!

After the horrible earthquake in Amitrice, Italy, in August that decimated almost the entire city, Parallel 38 perfected & offered the city's signature dish -- Buccatini all' Amatriciana -- and donated 100% of the proceeds from it to The Foundation La Stampa-Specchio dei Tempi. Food with a purpose -- we dig it!

Looking a bit further north, the P+K crew have long frequented Parallel 38 in Stonefield for their Mediterranean small plates and binder sized by-the-glass wine list. Co-owner Justin Ross quietly ranks as one of the most talented and decorated food & wine personalities in town. Incidentally, also one of the most genuinely hospitable and welcoming dudes in the business. 

Wishes for 2017? 

  • Rumors about the Lampo crew opening a steakhouse to be true. Not to be a gossip agent, but the grapevine told us it was the old Brookville space, not Bank of America building. Who cares? Bring it, guys!  
  • For existing restaurants to get more ballsy with their menus, service and vibe and for new ones to open with teeth out of the gate. We’ve been impressed with the authentic grit being expressed in menus and hope it’s a trend that continues. 
  • More chef collaboration dinners like the English Holiday Dinner at Oakhart Social - three bad ass cats with zero fucks to give having a blast in the kitchen. More of this please! 
  • Will wishes his blog partners would let him use more filthy language in some of these pieces. It’s hard wearing this PG rated mask all the time! (Just ask Ben Folds.)  (Editor's note: Will, see bullet above. You're fucking welcome!)
  • More food scribes to emerge. This town is hungry for food content to keep pace with the culinary moves and shakes. In this big collaborative community of Cville there is always room for more good stuff!
  • More Fleurie flight clubs. The first and only one (thus far) featured only French and Spanish wines -- we’re ready for some more geopolitical viticultural battles!  
  • We wish with all our hearts that the rumor of Sheetz coming to The Corner is not true.
  • A better brunch spot. We’ve had a couple spontaneous brunch successes at a smattering of random restaurants, but one has yet to emerge as the brunch spot. I want to wake up craving a bloody mary that we can only find at _____________ (fill in the blank.)     
  • Is it too much to ask that the Landmark hotel finally be turned into something other than a complete and utter blight on the entire downtown area? How is it that 2016 has claimed the lives of so many, and yet the weathered skeleton of that place continues to hang on? We can't say we would mind rooftop dining overlooking the mall one day… 

Any remarkable insights or lessons learned so far in your brief stint on this blog?  

Will: In her last piece as food editor for the Washington City Paper (before she took the wheel at The Washingtonian), Jessica Sidman brought readers behind the curtain on the life of a food writer. My favorite observation: "The things food writers like to complain about make them sound like assholes." That self-awareness resonates with me. There’s a duality about this venture that I struggle with regularly. Some days I do feel like an asshole for ever embarking on the endeavor because to wear the hat of critic intimates judgment, and I’m not totally comfortable with the concept of judging others’ livelihoods and writing about it.

That said, as we continue to evolve the identity of P+K, I wish we could find the right tone for doling out constructive criticism without worrying about ruffled feathers, because the litany of pats on the back lacks a certain credibility I'm accustomed to in good food writing (looking at you, Tom Sietsema). It’s a perpetual debate among our crew with each review - to blog or not to blog about less-than-meh components of any experience. Over the years, here and in DC, our industry friends have expressed a genuine craving for honest feedback because it keeps them tuned in and challenges them to retain their edge. I heard about a now dormant food blog (Mas to Millers) catching public hell from a local chef for being honest about a bad string of dinners. I also read and get Simon's philosophy on complaining. There has to be some middle ground here. I totally subscribe to the concept of restaurateurs promoting each other for the collective good of the town's food reputation and have said many times that I love that sense of community. By the way, I have no interest whatsoever in bashing restaurants. At the same time, if Charlottesville wants to spike the ball in the end zone of the bigger culinary arena, it might need to develop an appetite for occasionally raw writing and dispense with some provincial sensitivities.  

A few eggs will certainly be broken as we work on that omelette, but here's hoping the recipe develops and skins are thick enough around here to accept shades of bitter blended with the sweet.    

Anika: There are days we feel inspired and days that we do not. And, slowly, we've learned that that’s ok. Between work and life and catching a breath, the weeks slip by and drafts sometimes stagnate in our Google Docs folder. But then, somehow, it all comes together in a quick rush of final edits, photo selection, “ok we’re live!” texts and social media promos with as many #instafoodworthy hashtags as we can think of. It may not be the best - or most timely - process, but it works for us. 

When we started this blog, I thought we were writing for others, for an audience, for whoever wanted to come visit our little space in the vast and oversaturated blogosphere. Not even a year later and it’s quickly become clear to me how wrong my initial notion was. First and foremost, I've learned that we write for ourselves and for each other. This blog has created a safe space for us to rant and rave and love and joke about things far beyond what we cover in our posts.  It sparks group texts that make Monday afternoons bearable. It brings the four of us together almost weekly, and as much as we focus on the editorial and our vision, we also just genuinely enjoy each other's company. Since our P+K journey began, living intentionally has become a habit rather than a goal. I couldn't have asked for more from the year 2016.

The Fog of Thanksgiving: Redux

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This Thanksgiving we're hosting a small gang of friends who are family and family who are friends. When it comes to the holidays, I'm consumed by the internal debate over which I prefer more -- the approach and giddy anticipation of the event or the actual event itself. Both have their merits, so 'all of the above' is a completely reasonable call, but if I'm being honest, this debate is really just a distraction from the anxiety and fear that comes with an event's recession into memory. I've developed an acute, if dysfunctional, barometer for the moment an experience peaks and becomes the past. Every summer at the beach I lay flat on my back in the sand to let the surf wash over me, indulging in its zen warmth; then, just as quickly as it arrived, it recedes, leaving my skin prickly, my soul shivering. That's the most poignant living metaphor for this real-time separation anxiety I experience. It's something of a curse, for it probably holds me back from absolutely embracing the present. I like to think that as I get older this will dissipate, but it hasn't yet. In the meantime, I spend much of life in reflection mode -- revisiting experiences, reveling in memories -- which really isn't so bad. These days I put a lot of stock into what Paul Auster once said: Memory is the space in which a thing happens for a second time. So I live with it. 

Looking ahead to the next, I've been sorting through my own Thanksgiving memories and asking friends about theirs. Processing these conversations, I discovered a common thread: the absence of many, if any, specific monumental memories. Most of the stories seem to be generic amalgams and generalizations that amount to little more than accounts of Thanksgiving's Greatest Hits -- food and football. Yawn. I think two things might be at play here: we're going through the motions too much instead of stamping the day and/or we're just getting too plastered to remember much about it. 

This year I feel the need to have a game plan so I developed a few Thanksgiving mechanisms and strategies. Most of the following suggestions stem from regrets and some lessons learned the hard way.  

Balls Out

Football is the traditional sport of this holiday. I get that. But it's not exactly universal since typically the teams in these friendlies consist of men and boys. In this post-election world, where lines have been drawn in the sand and family members have sufficiently alienated each other on Facebook because of politics, may I suggest a game that all sexes and ages can enjoy regardless of athletic ability, one that evokes the nostalgia of everyone's less complicated childhood days? I'm talking about a good old throwback round of kickball. 

Last year our crew donned ragged clothing and had such a wonderful time working up an appetite while the bird clocked its final hour in the oven. A new kickball has been purchased for this year's game along with a mobile bar set for quick refreshment between innings (see below).

An added benefit you can't really embrace in a game of touch football, one that I think politically shattered families across the country might get into: kickball is the perfect passive-aggressive avenue for taking shit out on others. Say your uncle voted for a certain orange-haired hamster and has rubbed it in ever since November 9. Now, say he's rounding first, inexplicably trying to stretch a bloop single into a double on a bum knee. Bearing down on him from right field, you could just score the out with a harmless bounce pass. Or you could unleash a heater that takes his legs out and drops him to the hard frozen tundra. Wouldn't that feel good? (Sure, this could go both ways, but this is my fantasy. Get your own.)

 

Punch the Clock

In six weeks when we're fat and slow, cursing the fact that our skinny jeans no longer fit, and perusing the health club's fitness class schedules, we'll quickly point fingers at the buffet tables that flanked the room of every holiday gathering we attended. But we all know the siren that sang us to self-loathing shipwreck was not the food -- it was the booze. Not only does alcohol obviously crank up the calorie count, it blurs and slurs the whole experience. The older I get, the more that whole adolescent warning about alcohol killing brain cells matters. It may be too late for me in the grand scheme, but I've developed a novel ambition to hold onto what I have left in the tank.

None of this is to say I won't be hammered Thursday -- I just want to pace myself down that road, which is why I hit up my friend and cocktail mad scientist Jeff Faile back in DC for a punch recipe to kick off the day. It's goes without saying that an open bar straight away will leave you and some guests too drunk when the bird lands on the table.

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We're calling this punch the Doppler Effect, because it seems to encapsulate the whole motion of approach, pass and recede that haunts me these days.  

Ingredients: 

6 ounces Aperol
5 ounces Jim Beam
8 ounces prosecco

8 ounces soda water
2 1/2 ounces honey
2 1/2 ounces hot water
4 grapefruit wedges
3 sprigs rosemary

Directions:  

  1. Pour Aperol into a glass, add one rosemary sprig, cover and set aside for 24 to 48 hours at room temperature.
  2. Fill a medium-sized container or pan with water and freeze to make a large ice block.
  3. In a shaker, mix honey and hot water and shake well.
  4. Chill rosemary-infused Aperol, whiskey, and honey syrup for one hour then add to a punch bowl with the ice block. Squeeze grapefruit wedges into punch bowl and throw in the rinds. Add rosemary sprigs to garnish. Finish it off with the prosecco and soda water. 
  5. Taste and adjust as necessary.

Pass on the Grass

Chances are, your hosts have been project planning and grinding for several days on the preparation, cooking and staging of this big day. By the time you and other guests arrive, they are running on not much more than fumes of adrenaline. They are all smiles but underneath it whimpering with exhaustion, pining for a second wind. If for nothing else than respect for them, lay off the weed at least until after dinner. You'll be doing yourself (and your date) a favor by not being the loser at the table scarfing everything down, failing to savor a single bite because munchies turned you into a slob. Your hosts didn't cripple themselves for this dinner party so some cat could go Cheech & Chong on the fruits of their labor. If you want to contract the munchies and gorge yourself, save it for any other day and Taco Bell.     

That being said, fire and brimstone probably won't rain down if you sneak out for a one-hit in the window between the table clearing and the spread of pies being set. It's possible you'll need those munchies to excavate space in your gut for more food anyway. Just remember that if it's cold outside, the reefer stench will especially stick to your clothes, so beware who you chat up when you re-enter because they will smell it all over you.   

Show and Tell

By now you should know not to show up empty handed to any party, not just Thanksgiving. If you don't, you can saddle up to the kid table. It's fine in some cases to grab a random bottle on your way to a dinner party, but for special occasions it's better to put some thought and heart into it. If it's wine you brought, at the table you might share some context about the bottle you chose. Say it's one of your favorites -- tell us when you discovered it and what you love about it. Or if it was recommended by the wine expert at your liquor store, share what you gathered from him/her. I know very little about wine -- that's my wife's department -- but I love learning from friends about wines they love. Those wines stand out to me when I'm roaming a liquor store and take me back to the dinner when I first tasted them. 

The same goes for whatever dish you contribute to the feast. Presumably there is some history or family tradition behind the side you offered to bring. Sharing that with us can only elevate the dish because of your thoughtful and loving disclosure.  

If you brought weed, the safe bet is to keep that to yourself. Not everyone is cool with the mule.  

Up your 'Thankful For' Game

It's unbearably cute when it's my son's turn to share what he's thankful for and he says that he is most thankful for his family. When a grownup says the same and passes the gavel it's a little unbearable. You've been around how long now and that's the best you can come up with? Ok, it's fine if your family is on the list of what you're thankful for, but it can't be the only thing. Give this one some serious thought and feel free to break the mold with any sort of heartfelt tangent. Odds are you've been engaged in little more than idle chitchat at the party up to this point. Greater odds are you hardly speak to your grandmother during the year in any way that leaves an impression of who you really are. This is your chance to move people, to give them a look behind the curtain. There are only a few times a year when you will be at the table with family and friends who matter to you the way these do, and you're running out of years. Tattoo the occasion with something that will make your grandmother well with tears, your mother blush, your kids giggle and your wife love you even more. Go out on a limb with this moment. You have it in you.

Surprise People

Throw a curveball this year. If you're the guy who perennially disappears to the television right after dinner and with age have developed a shred of self awareness, volunteer for the dish corps. You'll raise a few eyebrows and score some credibility. Maybe you typically ignore the kids bouncing off the walls at these gatherings. Chat one up this time around. It will endear you to the parents and you'll catch a spark of that buzz that kids can radiate.  

On the topic of dishes, my wife chimes in from the peanut gallery to say that the new black is guest helpers who can package and store leftovers. Apparently dish help was so 2015, and this year it's all about the mad Tetris skills in the kitchen.  

I'm setting the over/under for my own achievement of these suggestions at 2. My ambitions only go so far these days. In the meantime, I wish everyone a safe and warm Thanksgiving. 

 

Editor's Note: Most of below is a post from Will's (dormant) personal blog, written last year and recycled for this year with a few upgrades. Wisdom like this tends to age well, so we're uncorking it and letting it breathe again here on P+K. Bon appetit!

Ten Ways To Kill Time Waiting For A Lampo Table

10. Tell your kids to go play in the parking lot while you & your husband sit at the bar and drink Negronis. Essentially, be that 1950s parent. Throwing rocks is fun, right?

9. People watch. Specifically, watch the look on people's face as their wait time for a table hits them like a bucket of cold water to the face. 

8. Read a book. Seriously. Your phone can only be so interesting. (Patt, pictured right, didn't get the memo.)  

7. If you're Patt and it's 90 degrees out, start seriously regretting your boot/wool sock choice. 

6. Check out the latest Snapchat filters. Take a couple selfies with the mural wall (to the right of the entrance).

5. Throw shade on other people waiting for a table. Decide social pecking order, and just exactly what you'd be willing to do for your dinner. 

4. Dream about making Spudnut Coffee into a collaboration waiting area for Lampo in order to eat #allthedonuts.

3. Get your peeping Tom on and check out the resident Airstream trailer. 

2. Eavesdrop on conversations at nearby tables and try not to be too judgy. 

1. Check out Pen + Knife's latest posts on your phone. :) 

What are we missing?