Charlottesville Residents and Visitors Have Wealth of Dining Options

By Anne Gillem on May 9, 2011 at 7:33 pm EST
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PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Cherry

During his lifetime‚ Thomas Jefferson was a passionate wine connoisseur and gourmet. So the nation’s third president no doubt would be pleased with the multitude of fine dining and wine choices available today near his beloved Monticello.

From 10-year-old Hamiltons’ at First and Main to newcomer Vavino‚ a wine bar exclusively carrying Virginia wines‚ locally owned establishments are plentiful here – and the offerings are first rate.

“I’ve heard it said that Charlottesville is unique for the diversity and the quantity of its independent restaurant offerings‚” says Larry Banner‚ former vice president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Banner says “there’s competition‚ obviously” among the dining establishments‚ “but they find their own niche.”

Many eateries are located on or near the popular Downtown Mall‚ which has blossomed in the past decade‚ and others are scattered across the city.

Types of cuisine vary at such dining spots as:

* The upscale C&O Restaurant‚ housed in an East Water Street brick building where a predecessor restaurant catered to rail passengers

* Fuel Co. on East Market Street‚ where patrons can satisfy their hunger pangs at a bistro or café‚ shop for Virginia wines and even fill their gas tanks

* Hardware Store Restaurant‚ located on the Downtown Mall and housed in a former you-know-what

* Starr Hill Restaurant and Brewery on West Main Street‚ which pairs contemporary American cuisine with microbrews

* Fox’s Café on Avon Street‚ offering home-style menu choices

* Prospect Hill‚ a Virginia plantation inn on Poindexter Road that harkens back to Jefferson’s time.

In fact‚ diners face a rather daunting task of deciding which of Charlottesville’s many restaurants to try.

Celebrating a decade in business in 2006 is Hamiltons’ at First and Main‚ opened by Bill Hamilton and his wife‚ Kate‚ in a former shoe store on the Downtown Mall. Hamiltons’ is known for its American contemporary cuisine and excellent wine list.

“The restaurant has been a great experience for us‚” says Bill Hamilton‚ who also owns two Sticks Kabob Shops and Gearhart’s Fine Chocolates here. “Our son is 10‚ so we basically opened the restaurant with a newborn. My wife ran the front of the house‚ and I was the chef.

“It was a great‚ warm‚ busy‚ crazy year‚” Hamilton says. “We didn’t take a day off for probably six months after we opened.”

Feast!‚ a specialty grocery and deli located in Charlottesville’s Main Street Market‚ more than doubled its space just 2 1/2 years after opening in 2001‚ including the addition of Café Feast‚ says Cate McConnell‚ business development director. Feast!‚ noted for its extensive cheese selections‚ was named one of Saveur magazine’s Top 20 Favorite Cheese Shops in 2005.

“One of our focuses is on providing local artisan products‚ including cheese‚” McConnell says. “The focus of the business started as cheese‚ and it’s still a big part of the business. In season‚ we also have lots of fresh produce coming in from local farmers.”

Plans for 2006 include expanding Feast!’s catering and gift-box businesses‚ McConnell says.

After working in the wine industry for 11 years‚ Christie and Michael Shaps and Ellen and David King of King Family Vineyards opened Vavino‚ which offers tastings and classes and includes a retail store. “We decided it was a good time in Virginia to have an exclusively Virginia wine bar‚” Christie Shaps says. “There isn’t anything else like it.”

At Vavino‚ patrons may sample any of the 30-40 wines that are available for tasting daily. Vavino carries more than 150 wines‚ from most of the 100 wineries in the commonwealth.

“The response to Vavino has been great‚” Shaps says. “The wineries are very supportive; the public has been very supportive. We’re something unique and different‚ and we’re supporting a local industry.”

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