Charlottesville eats.

Thanks to all of you who fired over suggestions for my two meals in Charlottesville. (Except the guy who suggested Jimmy John’s. Why not just tell me to go to McDonald’s?) I wish I could have tried more places – and spent more time in Charlottesville, which looked like a very cool town with plenty of interesting places to eat.

Three popular suggestions from regulars that I didn’t try but wanted to pass along are Wayside Chicken (classic southern fried chicken), Bodo Bagels (although I am highly skeptical of claims that the bagels are better than any in NYC … come on) and Bellmont BBQ (known for their pulled pork). If and when I get back there – the one drawback of Charlottesville is it’s not that easy to get to, what with an airport straight out of Wings* – those places are at the top of my list.

*Before anyone gets the wrong idea: I hated that show.

The two I did hit were Peter Chang’s Chinese Grill and Mas Tapas. Peter Chang is both famous and infamous, earning a Wikipedia entry largely about his peripatetic ways and a New Yorker profile by Calvin Trillin titled “Where’s Chang?” The chef focuses on Sichuan cuisine, quite different from what we ordinarily and inaccurately refer to as “Chinese food” (making us, I suppose, a nation of synecdouches), generally spicier and with stronger flavors. I have very little experience with Sichuan cooking, so I can tell you that Peter Chang’s was fantastic but can’t speak to its authenticity.

After some discussion with the waiter, who seemed to know the menu but wasn’t all that quick to offer suggestions, I ended up with the spicy fragrant duck, a Peter Chang signature dish that delivered on both adjectives. This was probably a 60 on the 20-80 spiciness scale, about where I get off the spicy train. The duck is cut into chunks, mostly bone-in, coated in a thin layer of flour and cornstarch, deep fried (skin and all), and covered in a spicy rub or paste heavy on red chili and tossed with cilantro and garlic. It’s not for the light eater, but it’s big and bold and more than just hot, with the duck remaining tender through the heavy frying and the skin becoming impossibly crispy. I started with a hot and sour soup that gained its spice from red chilis rather than the traditional American-Chinese version with black peppercorns, giving it a more well-rounded flavor.

Mas Tapas does tapas right, heavy on the traditional Spanish fare, but also making good use of the wood-fired oven right behind the bar. (I was fortunate enough to sit in a little corner that looks directly into the fire.) I went with four of their most popular dishes, three hits and one miss. Their boquerones – white anchovies marinated in good olive oil, garlic, herbs, and vinegar – were solid, maybe just a touch fishy but I figure those are just the omega-3′s doing their thing, and if you get those you must get their house bread, a crusty, cold-fermented European-style loaf perfectly made to sop up the oil and vinegar from the fish. I am guessing that these boquerones were preserved rather than fresh, since I’ve only had fresh at one place (Toro in Boston) and they’re not easy to find in the U.S. Mas also has a bacon-wrapped date dish, not quite as good as Firefly’s (where they stuff the dates with almonds) but perfectly cooked; the way I see it, the omega-3′s from the fish cancel out the copious amount of bacon fat I consumed about five minutes later.

The one miss was the croquetas de jamón, thick grilled cakes of potato, Manchego cheese, bacon, and jamón serrano, dusted in cornmeal on the outside. The edges were crispy with a little sweetness from caramelization but the interior had the texture of baby food. If I could do it over again, I’d swap these out and try their tortilla española. I’ll also give bonus points to Mas for having Guinness on tap and not too cold and for plenty of eye candy on a Friday night.

Comments

  1. You really missed out by not grabbing a sandwich from Littlejohn’s. They have some of the best sandwiches in the world.

  2. No Spudnuts?

  3. George: A good sandwich, even a great one, just doesn’t excite me that much.

    El Angelo: No. I was way too full from lunch to eat anything until after the game, and even then still wasn’t that hungry.

  4. I was just in C-Ville last weekend. Bodos was good, but not better than NYC. Blue Mountain Brewery, out in Crozet, had decent beer, impressive pizza, and spectacular views. Definitely was worth the 20min drive from C-Ville.

  5. myself, a fellow Smithtownian (circa 1992, Youth and Government attendee with East and West involved) was directed to your blog by my husband, an avid reader of yours because you mentioned C’ville. i spent 10 years in C’ville… undergrad and then back for more for my phd. you should have gone to Bodo’s– the bagels really are the best bagels i’ve ever had. better than anything on long island, in nyc, and even in brookline, ma (where i used to live). if you go back to C’ville, definitely grab a bagel. and a sandwich at Little John’s… delicious! if i went back (soon hopefully) i would also go to Shabeen (for south african fare) and Bang! for a great cocktail and some appetizers!

  6. Allison – I definitely remember your name, and it looks like you may have followed me since we lived in Brookline too (in ’95-96). If I’m in C-ville for breakfast, I’ll try Bodo’s. This trip was in Friday morning and out today on a 6:50 flight – I’m on the plane back to Phoenix as I type.

  7. love living 2 blocks away from mas. do you have any complaints about the service there? i don’t mind the relative lack of attention from serving staff, but last time i was there, some of the people in our party were very upset about the service.

  8. You really didn’t miss out on anything by not going to Bodo’s, I grew up right outside of NYC, and went to UVA for college and there really isn’t any comparison. Those who say that their bagels are better than bagels in NYC clearly have not been eating the right NYC bagels. Bodo’s is good for what it is, but definitely not worthy of the hype or worth going out of your way for. Also, fine choice on Mas, that has become my go-to restaurant when I visit Charlottesville these days. There are two great sandwich places in town if and when you go back, and neither of them is Little John’s (that place is just full of nostalgia for all of us who went to school there). Take-It-Away and Baggby’s both are vastly superior.

  9. Great post. Hopefully UVa’s building a program that will have you returning more often over the next few years and you can hit the rest of the recommendations. You also need to get to Montana or Idaho and find some airports 1/3rd that size. Or flying into Richmond is only about an hour drive.

  10. Long time, no comment, but I still keep up with the feed and I’ve been loving you on Baseball Today now that I realized you do regular spots there. Your mention of Peter Chang definitely piqued my interest since that’s one of my recent (~5yrs) favorite Trillin pieces (up there with the fantastic one from around two years ago about street food in Singapore). Next time you’re in Chicago, you should try Lao Sze Chuan if you liked the authentic szechuanese. It’s inexpensive (not cheap!) and they not only have really good szechuanese but they do just about the best renditions of certain americanized chinese dishes you’ll ever have (their Orange Beef is absurdly great). Anyway, keep up the great work.

    -JG

  11. Ross Garrison

    I love Bodo’s but don’t waste your time going there. It’s a great place to go and grab a very good sandwich, but not much more than that. You can find similar places in a lot of cities.

    Wayside, on the other hand, is essential. If you go back, pass on Bodo’s and head to Wayside. Cheap, fast, delicious. The perfect mix of spice and crispiness. The best fried chicken I’ve ever had, and I’m not from C-ville, so that’s not just local pride talking.

  12. Whoops. I’m the one that suggested Jimmy John’s. I meant Littlejohns. My bad!

  13. If you’d like another Sichuan suggestion, next time you’re in NYC try Grand Sichuan, at the base of the Manhattan Bridge. There are a number of different restaurants all by the same name throughout the city, but the one at the Manhattan Bridge is the most authentic. I recommend the Spicy Double-Cooked Pork, the Sichuan Broccoli, and the Spicy Eggplant. Amazing.

  14. Keith thanks for the try-out at MAS Tapas. sorry the croquetas struckout with you. with no deep-fryer we pan-fry them without the creamy bechamel center you find in traditional Spanish fritters. but don’t worry they come in many flavors, with a somewhat firmer texture than the Jamon and queso: salt-cod, shrimp and plantain, lobster, and plain old cheese. the boquerones are indeed blanched in vinegar which gives them an edgy flavor but it’s clean and unsalted, and light enough to pair with some crisp fino sherry or a cold lager. Bacon, dates, they don’t really need anything else do they? appreciate the comments, give us another look next time you come to Cville. this is a great baseball town! Just ask the Hoos!

  15. Tomas: Fear not. I will be back one way or another. Everything beyond the croquetas was outstanding. And UVA has more prospects in their pipeline.

  16. The problem with Bodo’s is that a bagel place is still a bagel place. I wouldn’t recommend it to somebody as a best of Charlottesville place, but if that person was short on time before leaving town and happened to stop there for a bagel and a cup of (great) coffee, then they would probably be reminded again that there are a lot of places in Charlottesville that do it right.

    As for NYC and your bagels, I’m onto your hoax. Nobody from New York loves their bagels until they find themselves eating one in another town. When you’re in the city you see how much they take them for granted, they aren’t treated with any more reverance than the ubiquitous convenience food they are. So if you think of Bodo’s like that, you’re more likely to really love them. I think I’m one of the world’s biggest bagel lovers, but they aren’t destination dining anywhere, especially New York.