Take a quick glance at our bios and you’ll realize that the gang behind P+K is still relatively new to Charlottesville, our time served varying between two and four years. We’re continuously sorting out the culinary nuances of this town and getting familiar with what makes Cvillians tick. One thing we know for sure - there’s a real movement taking place here. Food entrepreneurs are bringing creative concepts that are welcomed and celebrated, and locals are bringing big city accolades to this small town. We’ve enjoyed the ride and have developed a deep appreciation for what feels like a localized revolution of sorts.
That said, you will have to forgive us if the recent fanfare surrounding the opening of a grocery store chain left us scratching our heads. Don’t get us wrong, we love a dynamic grocery shopping experience as much as the next cat, but the hype seemed a little over-the-top. According to reports, hundreds of people lined up, some actually camped out in the parking lot, to get first dibs on Fifth Street’s new retail resident, and thousands paraded through during the first day. In our minds, it sounded like the mother of all big box Black Fridays, one we were happy to bypass in favor of another kind of grocery that is quietly and unexpectedly becoming one of our favorite spots in town: Tavern & Grocery.
On the sleepy, unremarkable stretch of West Main Street between The Corner and the Downtown Mall - a haunted swath of bygone thoroughfare - sits this curio of a dining venue that pleasantly mystifies and regularly draws us back in search of clues as to what the place wants to be. After several visits and many wine-fueled conversations intended to distill our experiences, we find it to be a restaurant analog of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" book series we devoured as kids.
Before P+K’s launch, we had not studied up much on T&G in the wake of its late January 2016 opening. What we did catch here and there led us to believe it was just another restaurant in the long line of local play-it-safe spots offering traditional Southern fare with flare - another peddler of fried chicken and waffles. “They have great sandwiches!”’ was one friend’s comment. Not exactly tractor beam material there. “The service is super friendly,” said another, triggering a scowl reflex we find ourselves wearing when too often it seems that Southern hospitality is expected to excuse otherwise middling quality.
Much to our delight, the truth of T&G couldn’t be further from our cynical preconceptions. It's the real deal and has picked up steam in its inaugural year.
Recs + Rants
Pick your poison. T&G aims to please and is happy to role play whatever your visit requires: pre-game drinks, date night, stopover on a night of bar grazing, chill dinner with the kids, rowdy dinner with a crowd, night caps and brunch. (You’re probably used to your Bloody Mary’s being red - at T&G, go green!)
Raising the bar. Have you figured out that our crew loves saddling up to the bar for dinner? On the stick, and wearing several hats including GM and head mixologist, is Patrick McClure who has run restaurants in Charlottesville with his brother, T&G owner, Andy McClure, since 2001. Patrick is a well-traveled cat, having worked in New York, San Francisco and DC, and brings to the craft a creative confidence and thoughtfulness that shines in the cocktails. You’re missing out if you don’t chat him up - his character and charm make you want to wear out your welcome. Aside from charged chitchat, each drink is crafted delicately, and he dares you to let him riff on what you order. Our advice is let him - he took a Mezcal Negroni to delightful heights with Vida mezcal, Ramazotti amaro and Aperol. It was brilliant, an instant favorite for our fall into winter.
Wisdom is served. The front of house - they got smarts. One server could be a ghost because he just knows too much, as if he’s been lingering in the place for ages absorbing each and every intricacy. We’re talking about Michael, the Paul Auster doppelganger, whose descriptions of each dish are so detailed and riddled with passion that you almost feel as if you are looking over Chef David Morgan’s shoulder in the kitchen. There’s a theatrical vibe to his presentation that at first comes off as affected, but soon translates as nothing but genuine. This cat has fun at his profession regardless of the scene - slow or jumping, he brings the same gusto. It’s a contagious joy.
Earl-approved. Generally we don’t bother with sandwich options unless the sole reason for venturing out is to grab one (or it’s the chicken fried octopus down the road at Oakhart). Alas, the Steak & Fromage sandwich rarely fails to flip that script on us. Dry-aged four weeks, cold smoked, seared, then sliced paper thin before being married with brie, caramelized onions and garlic aioli on a crusty roll from Albemarle Baking Company, it’s a labor of love that you will savor. The Crispy Chicken Sandwich is a beast of a southern classic, sliced into three portions, the third of which you will more than likely take home.
Sunday Night BBQ. We unintentionally timed our first double date at T&G perfectly, as it was the very Sunday night they decided to unveil their house-made BBQ platter. After Michael’s description - house-smoked brisket, braised pulled pork, freshly prepared coleslaw and baked beans, all offered together for the insane price of $14 - we had to jostle our minds from collective BBQ euphoria and remind ourselves that, for the purposes of blog research, all four of us couldn't order identically. So be it. We made do with one, and it more than exceeded expectations. Hearty, carefully spiced meat, punctuated perfectly by a homemade coleslaw crunch - we’re relieved to relay that this dish will become a Sunday night (only!) regular at T&G.
Egg sluts, rejoice! Our favorite protein shapeshifter, the farm-fresh egg, graces several offerings on the dinner and brunch menu (below). Atop the list is a WTF! dish that elevated eyebrows around the table: Squid & Eggs. Braised in a red wine reduction jazzed up with pickled jalapeños and green olives, the squid is topped with a 62-degree egg so artful that you almost feel bad about shanking it to spill its yolky richness into the gravy. But when you do it blends with the other components so well that you want to lick the bowl. Thankfully it comes with a crusty hunk of bread to soak it all up so you can appear civilized. We are most thankful to Michael for encouraging us to order this our first night, as even the bravest eater among us casually passed over the dish initially. Unbeknownst to us at the time, this apparent oddity is rooted intimately in the happy highlight reel of T&G owner Andy’s past culinary adventures:
“Walking along La Rambla in Barcelona... we sat on a stool that looked inviting. A good-looking man pops his head up from behind his skillet and smoke and asks what we'd like. Wine...obviously, we reply, and whatever dish is best. He replies quickly and confidently: ‘You've got to have the squid and eggs.’ Not only was this dish amazing, but after talking to some people and reading a few things, we quickly found out that this dish and this man were quite famous in Catalonia, and maybe even in all of Spain. He made what he loved and shared it with whoever wandered by. And while there have been many awards and accolades for him and his dish, most of us don't even know that he exists or that this dish is even a ‘thing.’ Turns out it's quite a thing, and we were lucky to find it.” - Andy McClure, T&G Owner
Brussels beware. We’re near the point of Brussels sprout fatigue. Everyone does them - even year round now - and sometimes it seems like chefs are just checking a box when adding them to a menu. Chef Morgan’s Crispy Brussels riff is just the shot in the arm this usual suspect needs, halved and fried alongside sweet Chinese lap cheong sausage and then drizzled with a sticky sweet soy reduction. Patrick says it best, “The result is more reminiscent of a Chinese dish like Beef with Broccoli than any Brussels dish we've tried." If you close your eyes, it’s the dopest beef and broccoli dish this side of Peter Chang’s.
Parlez vous quelle?! On a recent P+K visit, we never expected to stumble upon one of the best Steak Frites in town. Like the scrawny kid chosen last for a pickup game of sandlot baseball, the order was an obligatory choice to cover the bases for research and ended up being utter serendipity. It could be that we are suckers for chimichurri or that we’ve never met hand-cut frites we didn’t fall hard for. Either way, when you merge these on the plate with a tender fan of sliced hangar steak and a bed of sautéed spinach, there’s a je ne sais quoi that has us hooked.
Brunch you! Let's be honest, many brunch experiences are forgettable at best. It's the sad reality of a meal all too often devoured following a late night when one is still shaking off symptoms of the old Irish flu. While we appreciate with the best of them the occasional smothered, covered, and chunked American morning self-loathing indulgence, the Francophile in all of us is drawn to T&G's Sunday offerings. From inventive Quiche of the Day selections to another cameo by our friend the 62-degree egg, we were happily taken by the thoughtfully orchestrated lineup. Having also logged more than a few miles on our Croque Madame research odometers, T&G's sits squarely towards the top of our ever-evolving domestic list of favorites. Did we mention that morning Caviar service is offered as well? What good is the rest of Sunday afternoon if you can't attack it with a belly full of fish eggs and heightened sense of bougy badassery? (Incidentally, the caviar often graces us with its presence for dinner as well.) Front to back, it's a thoroughly enjoyable brunch experience, and don't just take it from us either - Simon says so too, so you better believe it.
Bust a cap in the night! The darkened stairwell at the back of the joint leads downstairs to the ideal spot to cap your night with a range of specialty and classic craft cocktails - a speakeasy style bar called Lost Saint.
It's the little things. One Sunday morning, the waitress (unprompted) brought out a fresh plate of bacon for the dog hanging out under the table next to ours. Safe to say that pup will be insisting on T&G for brunch for the rest of his life. Another night at dinner, one of our 9-year-old dining companions requested some chocolate sprinkles with his ice cream. The dish was delivered to the table with chef-grated dark chocolate shards topping the ice cream in lieu of store-bought sprinkles. The thoughtfulness of T&G extends far beyond its dishes and drinks.
Perhaps the best way to wrap up our feelings about T&G is with a quote from Michael. After welcoming us back for yet another Sunday-night BBQ plate last weekend, he noted, "For us - and for anyone in this industry - the very best compliment we can receive is when our patrons return again, and again, and again. That's what makes this all worth it."
We couldn't agree more, Michael. You'll definitely be seeing this P+K gang again, and again, and again.