virginia

Restaurant Review: The Whiskey Jar

Last summer I travelled round the Deep South, interning for Morgan Murphy on this book. I wrote an extensive blog when I was there, as well as snapping a lot of pictures, and since the book is finally out I am publishing a few of them on here.

The Whiskey Jar

Charlottesville, Virginia

22107079086_e2098a4c2c_oMason jar cocktails and exposed brick walls mark this place out as a hipster haven from the get-go, and its sanded wooden tables and farm-to-table menu seal the deal. As does its edgy bearded owner, keen to tell us all about making his son’s baby food from scratch and their seasonal dessert changes. Sneer as I might, it is he who is laughing because this affected approach clearly works – The Whiskey Jar is just great. Located in a shady, pedestrianised walkway in the student town of Charlottesville, it rocks sun-drenched tables near its French windows and booths cloaked in shadow the further you advance into its depths. A well-stocked bar occupies a pleasing middle ground, and produces even pleasinger concoctions with a speciality in moonshine based delights. Yes, moonshine is marketed as a spirit in the south, and it’s great.

The food, however, may well surpass the alcohols on offer. We sat down to a smorgasbord of fancy yet wholesome dishes like one big hungry family whose father figure gets the first bite of everything before the kids fight over the remains. A glassy-eyed trout served whole with the bones looked amazing on the plate and the camera screen, and tasted even better. Stewed ochre and tomato soup, slightly spiced and perfectly warmed. And the greatest tomato sandwich I have ever consumed. I don’t even like tomatoes. This sandwich was out of this world, I cannot even describe it (some food critic I am). But the crowning glory of the whole meal was a cobbler that has taken resident baker Rachel Pennington three years to perfect, and disappeared within minutes of first taste. Filled with in-season peaches, bathed in vanilla ice-cream, and topped with a crust that was literally a giant cookie, I have never seen such aggressive fork-work on this trip before or since. That thing was phenomenal, and she was persuaded to share her closely guarded recipe so we can all take turns in failing to replicate it.

The staff at The Whiskey Jar are friendly if reserved, and one of them sports a fab little mason jar tat that graced Morgan’s Instagram (courtesy of your’s truly’s overactive iPhone). Owner Will was more than happy to point us towards the best bars in town – one of which is conveniently owned by him – and we spent the rest of the golden hour wandering through Charlottesville’s twee little shops and sipping margaritas. Very civilised.

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Restaurant Review: Salt’s Artisan Market

Last summer I travelled round the Deep South, interning for Morgan Murphy on this book. I wrote an extensive blog when I was there, as well as snapping a lot of pictures, and since the book is finally out I’m going to publish a few of them on here.

Salt’s Artisan Market

Charlottesville, Virginia

19536122529_6c7984cf5c_oMorgan tells us that the internet barely ever produces good eating spots; he bases his schedule on hearsay and restauranteurs’ recommendations, and, less predictably, the advice of “air stewardesses and antiques dealers who always seem to know where to eat”. Salt’s was the result of a frantic morning web search following the eponymous owner of Big Al’s Seafood failing to call us back, so we rolled up to its crossroad location with few expectations and a car full of unsettled stomachs from Virginia’s winding country lanes. And how pleasantly surprised we were. Two steampunk city gals from the DC political scene headed rural, to convert an old gas station near Thomas Jefferson’s estate into a cafe that serves the most amazing chicken salad sandwich imaginable. The place is tiny and incredibly twee, all checked tablecloths and wildflowers in mason jars, but the people that run it are down-to-earth and friendly as can be. Picnic tables look out over Virginia’s rolling hills and vineyards that stretch as far as the eye can see, and a cluster of oaks provides gloriously dappled shade away from the brutal American summer.

Humble beginnings meant that half the furniture was either inherited from Salt’s previous incarnation or donated by its patrons, from the sanded down candy cabinet that displays home-made sauces and snacks to the painted stools on the porch left over from a barn dance. A rocking chair under the creaking farm sign was pulled from the boot of someone’s car. A bench is in fact an old pew from the pretty red-roofed church opposite. And although the location and the vibe are of course half the deal in a good place to eat, it’s the amazing sandwiches that seal the deal here – if Oxford has taught me anything it’s that a good sandwich can be a delight and a pleasure, and Salt serves GOOD sandwiches. The best (and only) tofu sandwiches I’ve ever tasted, as well as plates of cheese and cold cuts and perfect little blackberries that are no doubt organic and handpicked blah blah. And the most amazing cranberry-stuffed dark chocolate that melted across our hands and faces in the least dignified way possible.

We loved the food, and everything about the place down to Barrett’s exquisite belt buckle made by her chef and co-owner – best friends? lesbian lovers? – and it was unsurprisingly filling up for the lunch rush as we snaked away towards Monticello. A lovely little find – even if it was from the internet.

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