Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wine Review: Seven by King Family Vineyards

Let me preface this review by telling you that I have never been a huge fan of after-dinner wines.  That being said, King Family has definitely won me over with their Seven.  As they will always mention at the tasting room, the wine is named after the "Seventh Chukker" in polo - which apparently is like the "19th hole" in golf - a very appropriate name for an after-dinner wine.  Seven is made from 100% Merlot, which is fortified with brandy and aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels for two years.  The result is a complex and luscious port-style wine.  Seven has hints of oak and smoke on the nose.  The flavors of the Merlot fruit can be identified in the wine, which then finishes with touches of caramel and vanilla imparted by the bourbon barrels.  A word of caution - Seven clocks in at 18% alcohol by volume, so be careful!

Now, this is not a review of King Family Vineyards themselves, but I will mention one of the most unique aspects of King Family.  The winery has a polo field located just outside the tasting room, where they host the extremely popular summertime Roseland Polo events and the annual Pink Ribbon Polo Classic.  Polo kicks off May 26th this year with the Pink Ribbon Classic on June 16th.

Overall Impression: Slightly sweet, subtly smokey, and dangerously smooth - Seven is the perfect finish to just about any meal! 

Wine Rating:  

Contact Information:
          King Family Vineyards
          6550 Roseland Farm, Crozet, VA 22932


Eppie's is a Charlottesville legend that serves classic, down-home comfort food on the Downtown Mall.  Allie's mother wanted to take us to lunch recently, and we picked Eppie's.  I ordered the jerk chicken, which I had never had before, with mac-and-cheese and coleslaw.  The chicken was less spicy than I would have preferred for something labeled "jerk."  Even so, it was flavorful and the meat was tender and juicy.  The coleslaw was vinegar-based and easily made up for the lack of spice on my chicken.  The mac-and-cheese was a cup of gooey, cheesy deliciousness.  All of the chicken plates are also served with a piece of cornbread.  Eppie's cornbread is among the best I've had in Charlottesville - with pieces of real corn baked right in and served warm.

My mother-in-law opted for the lemon pepper chicken plate.  She liked the flavor on her chicken, but unlike mine, felt that the meat was too dry.  She chose a sweet potato and collard greens as her sides.  She raved about the sweet potato - saying that it was so sweet and juicy that she didn't even need to put butter on it (which is definitely saying something!).  She also really enjoyed the collards.

Allie ordered her favorite item from the Eppie's menu - the Santa Monica salad.  The salad is definitely big enough to make a meal out of and filled with fresh veggies.  Eppie's starts with crisp spinach and tops that with tomatoes, freshly sliced-off-the-cob yellow corn, goat cheese, and dates.  The salad comes with a side of champagne vinaigrette, which Allie says compliments the fresh veggies with the perfect amount of sweetness and acidity.  The salads at Eppie's are served with one of their famous pumpkin bread muffins. (Side note: If you haven't had it before, you should definitely try Eppie's ham biscuits - Kite's "pink salt" country ham layered on pumpkin bread - delicious!)

Overall Impression:  Eppie's is the place to go for good ole' down-home country food!  Though the chicken was cooked somewhat inconsistently at this visit, all of the flavors were spot-on! 

Food Rating:  

Contact Information:
          412 East Main Street, Charlottesville, VA 22902 (on the Downtown Mall)

Eppie's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wine Review: Virginia Fizz

For Valentine's Day this year, I picked up a bottle of our favorite local sparkling wine - Virginia Fizz from Thibaut-Janisson Winery (to pair with a plate of local cheeses and jams, homemade chicken all'Arrabbiata, and chocolate-whiskey pots de creme!).  Virginia Fizz is a cremant-style sparkler made from 100% Chardonnay grapes sourced exclusively from local Monticello AVA vineyards.

Virginia Fizz is crisp, refreshing, and slightly sweet (with 1.5% residual sugar).  It has a vibrant acidity and subtle notes of apple and pear.  And oh so many tiny bubbles that enchant the tastebuds and delight the tongue!   (Trivia: Did you know that the average bottle of champagne has around 50 million bubbles? Wow!) 

Overall Impression: Fizz, Fizz, Fizz!  Virginia Fizz remains our go-to Virginia sparkling wine!

Wine Rating:  

Contact Information:
          Thibaut-Janisson Winery
          Charlottesville, VA - Unfortunately, T-J does not have a public tasting room
          (434) 996-3307

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sweet Reasons Cupcakes

Yes... it's another cupcake review!  Allie and I were in Fredericksburg doing some shopping and couldn't help but notice Sweet Reasons tucked into a strip of the Central Park shopping metropolis.  When we stopped in to satisfy our mid-afternoon sweet tooth, Sweet Reasons was packed!  I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in the flavor selection, having seen their Facebook page which mentioned such past selections as: caramel macchiato, bananas foster, strawberries & champagne, and the boss hog (a maple brown sugar cake with bacon!).  The weekly specials when we visited were much less inventive and included hot chocolate, blueberry pancake, and cinnamon roll.  Regardless, we made our selections and settled in at a high-top table to indulge ourselves.

I opted for the turtle cupcake... a chocolate cake with caramel center, pecans, and chocolate buttercream frosting.  The cake itself was really moist and tasty, thanks in large part to the perfectly salty caramel sauce poured down the middle.  The pecans added a nice crunch and the chocolate buttercream was smooth and delicious.  Allie went with the cookies and cream cupcake.  In case you couldn't guess, that's a vanilla cake with pieces of Oreo in it and topped with vanilla buttercream.  Allie's cake wasn't quite as moist as mine, but certainly wasn't dry by any means.  She enjoyed the sizable chunks of cookie (and Oreo cream filling!) in the cupcake, but felt that the cupcake as whole was just a touch too sweet. 

Even though Sweet Reasons' cupcakes (like those from Sweethaus) don't beat our all-time favorites from Bubblecake in Roanoke, they are definitely not a fad that's going out of style anytime soon.  And always remember - Love thy cupcake!

Overall Impression:  Really tasty (though not the most unique) cupcakes that we will definitely try again next time we're in Fredericksburg!

Food Rating:  

Contact Information:
          Sweet Reasons Gourmet Cupcakes
          1672 Carl D. Silver Pkwy, Fredericksburg, VA  22401

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fry's Spring Station

I can remember when Fry's Spring Station was actually a gas station/mechanic shop.  Now it has become a fun neighborhood hang-out with great pizza and local beer.  It's especially lively when the weather is nice - they have a large patio (with a firepit) and they open up the garage doors and make the whole restaurant open-air.  The restaurant itself is clean and modern - you would never guess it was a working auto shop just a few years ago!  It also features a large open kitchen where you can watch the pizzas going into and out of the brick oven fire.

Now... first I want to talk about the food - and I will get to the service in a minute.  Allie and I started our meal with the Fried Green Tomato and Mozzarella Stack.  It's pretty much a riff on the classic caprese salad but with fried green tomatoes instead of raw tomatoes (and who doesn't love fried green tomatoes?).  As you can no doubt see, they actually stack the fried green tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and layer them with basil pesto.  When you get all of the elements (including the balsamic glaze) in one bite, it is the perfect balance of crispy, creamy, salty, and tangy.  My only complaint is that the fried green tomatoes were room-temperature.  I think the dish could have been elevated to the next level had the tomatoes been hot out of the fryer and made the mozzarella get just slightly melty. 

The pizzas at Fry's Spring are definitely big enough to share - especially if you have appetizers and beer too!  Allie and I opted to try one we hadn't had before - The Greco (though we omitted the kalamata olives - I'm not a big olive fan).  Instead of a traditional red sauce, this pizza has a tangy but slightly-sweet balsamic glaze as its base.  It's then topped with earthy artichoke hearts, juicy and just slightly shriveled grape tomatoes, and creamy feta cheese.  The best part, though, is the spicy Merguez lamb sausage - I only wish there were more of it on the pizza!  And all of this is, as always, layered atop the soft but perfectly charred fire-roasted pizza dough.  Yum!

Now, about the service.  On my multiple visits to Fry's Spring, I would say that the service has been great 50% of the time and no-so-great the other 50% of the time.  On this particular night, the service was okay, but not exceptional.  When we first arrived, we were told that there was about a 30-45 minute wait.  We agreed to wait and headed to the bar to order some beer.  We had just settled in and were still waiting to catch the bartender's attention when the hostess approached and said that our table was ready.  Now I'm certainly not complaining about only having to wait 5 minutes, but I can't quite understand how they could be so far off in their estimate.  Regardless, we headed to our table instead and I selected a local beer on draft from the menu.  When our waitress appeared, she informed that that beer was among 3 of the 6 draft beers that had been "substituted out."  Now again, I don't mind Fry's Spring rotating through a wide variety of local beers, but I feel like they should update their menu accordingly.  Luckily, Allie's selection - the Wild Wolf Blonde Hunny Ale - was available, and she enjoyed it very much!  The service for the rest of the night was pretty average. 

P.S. - Has anybody tried the weekend brunch at Fry's Spring?  I'd love to hear what you thought of it!

Overall Impression:  Fun atmosphere, great pizza and local beer, but the service can be hit-or-miss.

Food Rating:  

Contact Information:
          Fry's Spring Station
          2115 Jefferson Park Avenue, Charlottesville, VA 22903

Fry's Spring Station on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sweethaus Cupcake & Candy Shop

We needed cupcakes... and we needed them bad!  So Allie and I headed over to Sweethaus Cupcake and Candy Shop.  Sweethaus is located in a strange-seeming location, inside of the old Charlottesville Tire building on West Main Street.  From the outside, it doesn't necessarily seem like it would work, but once you're inside, it really does!  The Sweethaus team has transformed the space into a rustic yet inviting bakeshop.  The cupcakes are displayed behind a large glass case next to the coffee bar.  Next to this is a small retail area with everything from t-shirts to cards to baking supplies (Allie fell in love with all of the "cute party supplies").  And, of course, there is the candy!  Sweethaus has dispensers with a rainbow of colored chocolate candies (so you can make your own mix of colors) and candy treats ranging from swedish fish to chocolate-covered pretzels to cayenne pepper truffles.  Sweethaus has also put in a large picture window that looks in on the bakery, so you can watch owner Tara Koenig and her team in action.  There is also a space in the back with tables for enjoying the goodies, or hosting a party.

I chose to order the Special of the Day cupcake - called the "Salted Caramel."  Allie went with the vanilla coconut.  The salted caramel was very tasty - moist marble cake topped with caramel buttercream, chocolate, and a salted caramel swirl.  The perfect blend of sweet and salty.  Allie's vanilla coconut cupcake was just as good.  The cake was very moist and flavorful and the cupcake was topped with creamy, not-too-sweet buttercream and then sprinkled with grated coconut.  Allie also ordered an espresso, which paired nicely with her cupcake.  All in all, Sweethaus' cupcakes were moist and delicious, and certainly rank among the best in C-Ville (though I must admit that they still don't quite stand up to my all-time favorites from Bubblecake in Roanoke).

Salted Caramel

Vanilla Coconut

Overall Impression:  Really good, fresh cupcakes from a charming little bakeshop that's definitely worth a visit!

Food Rating:  

Contact Information:
          Sweethaus Cupcake and Candy Shop
          843 West Main Street, Charlottesville, VA
          (434) 422-2677

Sweethaus on Urbanspoon