And so ends Restaurant Week, the twice annual occasion when otherwise great Charlottesville standbys cut corners and costs to deliver uninspired prix fixe menus to the masses at $26 a pop. Restaurant Week almost invariably means lower quality ingredients, large crowds, and lousy service. Throw in the extra cost of wine, beer, or cocktails, and $26 really isn’t much of a deal.
This is especially true of the Charlottesville dining scene, where cheap, delicious food is easily had. Here, in no particular order or category, are a few of VLW’s favorite cheap eats: a short order short list for the starving, debt-ridden foodies among us.
Shanghai Soup Dumplings ($8)
Taste of China
612 Albemarle Square Court (Off Route 29)
Local food blog Mas to Millers once called Peter Chang’s brief tenure as C’ville’s favorite Chinese chef and cult figure a “roller coaster.” Now that there are rumors of a return, it’s starting to feel more like a full-blown saga. Meanwhile, his former restaurant, Taste of China, continues to turn out dazzlingly authentic Szechuan food. In fact, change has been a very good thing for Taste of China: most notably, in the form of these Shanghai-style dumplings. Filled with a rich, gingery broth and a blend of pork and crabmeat, each bite ends in an explosion of fatty goodness.
Polyface Chicken Salad Sandwich ($9)
416 West Main Street
Sure, there are other sandwicheries in town (Padow’s, Bellair, Take-it-Away, etc.), but Feast! is a gastronomic experience unto itself. For one, you get that warm feeling of smugness from the locally-sourced ingredients (as designated by Virginia food maps which double as placemats). Better still, you can devote the entirety of your waiting time to lining your cheeks and pockets with free samples of gourmet cheese, olive oil, chutney, and butter – it’s not stealing when the butcher cheerfully hands you five samples of charcuterie; it’s called enabling. If you still have room, try the out-of-this-world chicken salad sandwich: shredded chicken from the mythical Polyface farm, aged gouda, crispy romaine, on a chewy cibatta roll.
Everything Bagel with Lox and Cream Cheese ($4.40)
1418 Emmet Street
505 Preston Avenue
1609 University Avenue
I suspect that most New Yorkers have no idea what an “Authentic New York Water Bagel” is. Maybe it’s the boiling, or maybe it’s that chewy, salty mouthfeel. Whatever the secret, the folks at Bodo’s understand that a good bagel is damn near impossible to find outside of the five boroughs. But a Bodo’s water bagel is the genuine article. Add some lox and a slathering of fluffy cream cheese, and it’s enough to make a former New Yorker a little less homesick.
Artisan Bacon ($4.50)
Blue Moon Diner
512 West Main Street
This charming little diner has been racking up karma points for the last four years: they sponsor the local roller derby team; they host a womens’ arm wrestling tournament for charity; and their chefs create Willie Nelson and Christopher Walken-inspired pancakes. They also have the best damn bacon this reviewer has ever tasted. Although the sourcing varies by season, Blue Moon is currently serving up “Bayou Bacon” from Nodine’s Smokehouse in Connecticut: thick slabs of fatback coated with cayenne and Cajun spices, smoked spicy-sweet in hickory hardwood. Sublime.