The Weekender: Charlottesville

So much more than a college town.

Downtown mall in Charlottesville.

Photo by Thomas Hill

Smart, chic and modern, Charlottesville also manages to be simultaneously down-to-earth and inviting, effortlessly blending metropolitan culture with small town charm. And the views? Nestled against a backdrop of Blue Ridge Mountains, the landscape was enthusiastically exalted by Mr. Jefferson himself as the most desirable the nation had to offer. We thoroughly agree. Great restaurants, wineries, breweries and shopping add to the scene, making it one of our favorites for a winter weekend getaway. 


C&O Restaurant

Founded in 1976, C&O Restaurant is nothing short of legendary for in-the-know locals. While the eatery draws its roots from French country cuisine, current chef and owner Dean Maupin has expanded the menu to include fresh pasta dishes and creative Southern comforts. Having developed relationships with area farmers, vintners, cheese-makers and artisans since the very beginning, the restaurant touts itself as a forerunner of the eat-local movement. Vibe-wise, the historic bistro has an old-world feel, featuring reclaimed lumber from barns dismantled in Albemarle County in the 1970s. Staff favorites are the Chesapeake striped bass, with port-sherry butter sauce, roasted garlic mushrooms and wilted fava greens, and also the duck breast, featuring a red wine huckleberry sauce, butternut squash and creamed Brussels sprouts.

Hill and Holler

Founded by certified sommelier, event planner and local foods advocate Tracey Love, Hill and Holler is a mobile farm-dinner event company which, according to Love, seeks to connect regional “farmers, chefs, winemakers and community members with the goal of enjoying a farm-crafted dinner while raising funds for local food and agricultural organizations.” Events are held at beautifully rustic area venues—vineyards and farms, for instance—offering fine dining in a non-traditional atmosphere. As a high-end showcase of regional agriculture and culinary talent, local farmers provide ingredients while local chefs do the cooking. Bringing the table to the farm, Hill and Holler sells dinner tickets and donates its profits to a featured non-profit. Keep your eye on the website for upcoming events.

Mas Tapas

Conceived by chef Tomas Rahal as “an opportunity to feature slow, organic, artisanal foods and wines,” Mas Tapas offers an array of simple (but delicious) traditional tapas dishes made from the finest ingredients the region has to offer. Featuring a downhome neighborhood vibe, despite being routinely named ‘Best-of-the-town’ by local publications for much of the past decade, this distinctive restaurant feels more like a well-kept local secret. Staffers say the pierna de cordero—braised lamb shanks with heirloom tomato mermelada and creamy potatoes—is a favorite. Also, the cocochas de halibut, which features tumescent halibut cheeks from Alaska pan-fried with a citrus fume and organic mache are a must-try.


Barboursville Vineyard

Barboursville, which broke ground in 1978, was the first vineyard to call Virginia home, and has, according to many, set the standard for Virginia wine. Located on a gorgeous 18th century estate outside of Charlottesville, the vineyard’s tasting room provides visitors with pastoral views and an elegant setting. Sample some of the best wine the Commonwealth has to offer while basking in the decadence of a rural Blue Ridge sunset. Be sure to check out the 2014 Vermentino Reserve, a white wine honored with a gold medal at Virginia’s 2016 Governor’s Cup.

South Street Brewery

A hometown staple teeming with the kind of ambience bar-hoppers and beer lovers go out of their way to find, South Street Brewery features a lot of hardwood, a beautiful bar, high-ceilings and a working fireplace to set the mood. On the menu are a tasty array of 12 brews crafted on-site. In 2014, the national award-winning Blue Mountain Brewery purchased South Street and handed over operations to their brewmasters; since then, the beer has become more inventive and tastes better than ever. In the mood to experiment? Try the Twisted Gourd—an imperial chocolate chai pumpkin ale that’s caramel colored, medium bodied and amply spiced.


Historic Monticello

Monticello in the fall.

Photo by Bill Bergen

While Monticello tends to be thought of primarily as Thomas Jefferson’s historic home, a visit to the house itself barely scratches the surface of what the site has to offer. Take a tour of Jefferson’s heirloom seed garden and learn about America’s first effort to safegaurd seed stocks from Europe. Led by groundskeeper Gabriele Rausse, who has been heralded as the ‘Father of Virginia Wine,’ the tour is both informative and entertaining.

Jefferson Theatre

Theater entrance.

For a taste of the downtown nightlife, check out the historic Jefferson Theatre. Located smack dab in the heart of the city’s downtown outdoor mall, the theater hosts nationally and internationally acclaimed acts like Trombone Shorty, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Younder Mountain String Band, and many more—performing in an intimate, gorgeously renovated space. For a funky throwback, check out Who’s Bad, a Michael Jackson tribute band on February 11.


La Vache Microcreamery

La Vache caramels.

Hand-crafted by owner, candy-maker, wrapper, packer and shipper, Stephanie Williams, a La Vache caramel isn’t your average sweet. Using what she describes as the highest quality seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, Williams works hand-in-hand with nature to craft a product that is sensually engaging. Taste-seekers can expect earthy embellishments like lavender aromas, overtones of honey and textures provided by cream from grass-fed, free-ranging vaches. Find them at Feast! (416 West Main Street) and JM Stock Provisions (709 West Main Street). $3.99 per 4-piece pack or $8.99 per quarter-pound.,,

Monolith Studios

In the market for kitchen cutlery? Forty-four-year-old Zack Worrell of Monolith Studios has you covered. After taking leave from a career in graphic design in 2008, Worrell decided to reinvent himself and took up the family craft of knife-making. Inspired by his grandfather—a butcher from Bristol, Tennessee—he began hand-crafting kitchen implements. Calling his process a mix of old-school craft and modern precision, Worrell describes the style of his carbon steel knives as “utilitarian” and “industrial revisited.” Monolith’s products are available for purchase at Timbercreek Market in downtown.,  

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