With the months-long Bicentennial celebration underway, alumni point to the people, memories and traditions that made the University feel like home. However, one University trademark often overlooked is the food in Charlottesville.
One dish in particular seems to evoke strong emotions from alumni. The Grillswith, named at University Diner sometime in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s, consists of two grilled donuts and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Although not the most elegant or innovative dessert, it was definitely a fan favorite. As the perfect treat after a night out, the dessert is rumored to be best when eaten after 2 a.m.
University Diner was an iconic place on the Corner famous for its late hours and no-nonsense waitress Ms. Ethel. The Grillswith was so well loved that when University Diner closed in 1985, other Charlottesville restaurants began serving it, so that students would not have to go without it. The White Spot, Blue Moon Diner and Mel’s Diner all started serving the Grillswith to both honor the memory of University Diner and satisfy students’ late-night cravings.
The most recent restaurant to start serving a Grillswith is Fig, whose name is an abbreviation for “food is good.” This is perhaps the most special revival of the Grillswith because Fig is located in the same building — 1331 West Main Street — as University Diner was many years earlier. Current owner Anja Andelic learned of the Grillswith’s relationship to Fig when a group of alumni came into the restaurant, asking about the Grillswith and Ms. Ethel. Although Andelic had heard of the Grillswith before, she did not know its origin.
“I learned that the home of Grillswith, which is the famous dessert, was born here within Fig’s walls,” Andelic said. “Ms. Ethel was well known because she would kick drunk fraternity boys out if they couldn’t put a sentence together, which usually they couldn’t. She had that fly swatter she would hit them [with.]”
Fig serves New Orleans Cajun cuisine, yet owners try to create the same sense of community that was found in the University Diner.
“Fig is fun,” Andelic said. “I like to think of that F as [standing for] family and friends and good things.”
Ruthie Rosenfeld, Fig waitress and second-year College student, agreed with Andelic’s sentiment.
“I always have fun when I’m here … And everyone who works here is so nice and fun,” she said.
Although University Diner’s Grillswith was simply two grilled donuts with vanilla ice cream, Fig’s version is a little more sophisticated. Served in a cast iron skillet, the dish consists of two glazed donuts in a sauce made of butter, brown sugar, bourbon and a few other secret ingredients, topped with organic vanilla ice cream and four different melted chocolates. Sprinkled with powdered sugar, Fig’s Grillswith looks almost too good to eat — key word being “almost.”
I made sure to order donut, sauce, chocolate and ice cream all in the first bite, and I’m glad I did. The warm donut goes perfectly with the ice cream, and as someone who is not a huge vanilla person, I greatly appreciated the chocolate. The highlight of the dish for me was the sauce — rich and warm, it wrapped the dish together perfectly. Because of how sweet it was, half of a Grillswith was plenty for me. This being said, I was enjoying it at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday, instead of the traditional 2 a.m. on a Friday.
All in all, if you have a big sweet tooth I would definitely recommend Fig’s take on this University classic.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Fig’s Grillswith is the price. On the dessert menu, the Grillswith is listed without a price, leaving customers with questions for their server.
“[The Grillswith is] pay as you can, pay as you will, pay as you wish,” Andelic said. “There’s not a correct price or a wrong price whatsoever. Whatever you think it deserves, it deserves.”
Customers gives the Grillswith the price is deserves — usually somewhere between $8 and $12. The Fig dessert menu lists the Grillswith as having a price of “1K.” Andelic said the most important part of the pay as you wish pricing model is that is leads to conversation between the guest and server and allows people to reminisce.
“Whenever people ask about desserts, that’s the one I recommend,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s a fun story, so it’s always nice to talk about that one.”
Clearly University Diner has left a legacy worth noting. I can only hope that, in another 200 years, students will still be eating the Grillswith on the Corner — or maybe some restaurant will be letting you pick a price for its knock-off of the .