Like the farm-to-table menu it boasts, Tavern & Grocery, located at 333 West Main Street, is considered a classic among Charlottesville residents and University students alike. This year, the tried and true restaurant participated in Charlottesville’s Restaurant Week. I stopped by during the week to experience Tavern & Grocery’s special menu for the occasion, which comes with the choice of an appetizer, entree and dessert for a set price of $45. Needless to say, I found the restaurant, service and meal to be wonderfully satisfying and a jewel of the Charlottesville restaurant scene — no matter your taste, they have something for everyone.
Although I have dined at the restaurant on numerous occasions, I was not aware of its rich history until recently, which explains its antique Virginian character. Built in 1820, the restaurant is named after its original purpose as a grocery, tavern and boarding house. It was also the first African-American business in Charlottesville and was owned by free enslaved laborers. One of the upstairs dining rooms is named the “Booker Room,” after Booker T. Washington who stayed as a guest there. Their website details more of this fascinating and noble history.
Once seated at a cozy table in the corner, framed by exposed brick walls, my date and I were greeted with a substantial wine list. Although the restaurant is typically busy on any given night of the week, it has ample room for seating, with a main floor, private rooms, an upstairs area and a downstairs speakeasy. The downstairs operation is complete with a cellar cocktail bar, as well as a full dining menu and kitchen that remains open later, something night owls or last-minute diners can appreciate.
For my first course, I chose the beet salad complete with a tart yogurt sauce, sprouts and crushed pistachios. If you are looking for a lighter choice, then I recommend this salad over the other options, which are richer. However, it is not for the faint of heart — beets are an acquired taste. Only order this dish if you are enthusiastic about the root vegetable, otherwise, you will have difficulty with the bitterness. My date ordered the lobster bisque, which he commented was creamy without being too thick.
I landed on the salmon for my entree, which was served crispy over sauteed spinach and caramelized onions. It also came with a side of thin, shoe-string garlic parmesan fries, which I typically do not see paired with salmon — I appreciated this pleasant surprise. The crunchy, garlic fries alongside the savory and smooth salmon was a delectable combination.
My boyfriend opted for the butternut risotto. The dish was served in a sizable bowl and prepared with brown butter and parmesan fonduta. Creamy, cheesy and garnished with sage, it proved to be a large and filling portion, and he could only get through half of it. The bite I had was rich, flavorful and delicious, but not something you can consume in excess. Order this dish when you desire an extremely filling meal and plan to sleep after — not if your night’s agenda is drinking and dancing.
For dessert, I indulged in the chocolate tart, which was elevated with a chocolate graham cracker-esque crust and a layer of caramel. I appreciated that it was not too sweet or too bitter and was rounded with a salty flavor. My boyfriend had the “financier cake,” similar to a pineapple upside-down cake, complete with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a restaurant week special.
Although I prefer chocolate to fruity desserts, I think this was the right order. Spongy, moist and sweet yet tangy, it was a unique dessert that you do not see often. With the third option being a honey-thyme creme brulee, there was something for every sweet tooth.
Given that our order was from a set of options on their restaurant week menu, the courses were prepared fast. The service was friendly, efficient, and attentive, and the overall atmosphere was warm, inviting and laid-back. And although my boyfriend and I ended up ordering completely different dishes, we both enjoyed our meals immensely and were satisfied with the selection.
I’d highly recommend paying Tavern & Grocery a visit when you’re looking for a classic, elevated dining experience in the local Charlottesville community.