The chefs at Belle — the beloved brunch locale — show promise with their new French-American “Brasserie” dinner. I dined at Belle during Charlottesville Restaurant Week, where I ate an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert for $35. Though this deal has passed, it’s still worth a visit to Belle to taste their dynamic menu in their cozy, refurbished dining room.
Belle is nestled in Charlottesville’s Belmont neighborhood on Monticello Road — about a 10-minute drive from central Grounds. They are open every day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, and a brunch menu is available on Sundays. Belle also now serves dinner and drinks between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Dinner guests can book reservations online with Resy.
John and Scott Shanesy opened Belle in 2019. The brothers originally envisioned for Belle to operate as a café by day and a French bistro by night. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, only half of that plan came to fruition — but not to the detriment of Belle’s success. Belle became a local brunch staple with their coffee, bakery delights and popular sandwiches.
Three years after the start of the pandemic, the Shanesy brothers were able to realize their full vision for Belle. They entered the local dinner scene in May 2023 with a fresh dinner concept and a redesigned space. Now in the evening, Belle becomes a “Brasserie” — a relaxed, French-style eatery that serves simple, hearty food. The cooks use local ingredients and American flavors to infuse French dishes with southern charm, crafting a French-American cuisine unique to the restaurant.
Unlike their fixed breakfast, lunch and brunch menus, Belle’s dinner menu is “chef-inspired” and changes on a regular basis. As such, the three-course menu I encountered during Restaurant Week will soon be reimagined and replaced. However, our waitress pointed out a few Restaurant Week selections that also appear on Belle’s current à la carte menu.
I arrived at Belle Saturday with my date for an early evening dinner. Walking into the dining room, we were met instantly with Belle’s warm ambiance. The room was small — only seating around 10 parties — giving it an intimate feel. The space was restored in earthy tones, furnished with dark turquoise chair cushions, wooden tables and curtains the color of corduroy brown. Classic country music rounded out the rustic elegance of the place.
I started my meal with the potato and leek soup — the only dish I tried that is on Belle’s current dinner menu. To be candid, I would not recommend this dish to prospective diners. Though the soup had a pleasant, creamy texture, I had gripes about its taste and presentation. A hint of floral honey made for an unflattering addition to the starchy, root vegetable puree. A garnish of whole hazelnuts and minced chives felt like random embellishments that muddled — rather than enhanced — the flavor profile. The soup also came out lukewarm, and I was unsure whether it was supposed to be chilled or hot.
Fortunately, my second course of roast duck redeemed my disappointment in the soup. The duck was tender and juicy with a crispy skin. It laid atop a bed of smooth mashed potatoes bathed in a Calvados brandy jus. Layers of caramelized apple and onion added sweetness and crunch to each bite. The course was a medley of hearty, warm flavors — far more cohesive than the soup. The components complimented, rather than contradicted, one another.
To finish, I tasted the chocolate torte, which was easily the highlight of the meal. The chocolate cake arrived with a wintry dusting of powdered sugar. The cake was fudgy — almost ganache-like. But it was not too dark nor too dense — the cake struck a delicate balance between sweet and velvety rich. Beside the torte sat a scoop of pillowy vanilla cream. The dish masterfully elevated the unassuming chocolate and vanilla pairing. My date and I later joked that we wished our meal had been three courses of cake.
I enjoyed my evening at Belle. Though the meal suffered a discouraging start, the courses progressively improved. As with any rotating menu, there will be successes and failures. But therein lies the fun of Belle’s dinner concept, at least in my opinion — every time you visit, there is something new to try. I would certainly return to explore their updated dinner menus — and delight in more of their desserts.
From the charming interior design to the — fairly — refined dishes, Belle becomes worthy of her name. I’d recommend an outing to the “Brasserie” for a quaint, intimate dinner with loved ones or friends.