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Tonic puts a contemporary spin on comfort food

Seasonal ingredients inspire the restaurant’s modern, dynamic menu

<p>The restaurant’s lead chefs, known as “<a href="https://www.tonic-cville.com/"><u>creatives</u></a>,” include executive chef Chris d’Avino and Cris Morales, head bartender and assistant manager.&nbsp;</p>

The restaurant’s lead chefs, known as “creatives,” include executive chef Chris d’Avino and Cris Morales, head bartender and assistant manager. 

This is the first review in the Life desk’s 2024 Charlottesville Restaurant Week series. Food writers also dined at Birch & Bloom, Belle and The Melting Pot.

Grounded in a farm-to-table focus, Tonic serves up modern takes on southern kitchen staples. My two friends and I dined there during Charlottesville Restaurant Week, spending a total of $77 before the tip. Crafting a casual yet classy ambiance, Tonic is the perfect place to share fresh food with friends or family.

Located just past the Downtown Mall on Market Street and about a 35-minute walk from central Grounds, the restaurant is open Mondays and Thursdays between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. and Sunday between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. Patrons may dine either in their sleek indoor dining room or homey outdoor patio.

The restaurant’s lead chefs, known as “creatives,” include executive chef Chris d’Avino and Cris Morales, head bartender and assistant manager. Together, they strive to serve inventive dishes using produce cultivated by local farmers. Since seasonality inspires the chefs’ creative process, Tonic’s menu changes weekly with new specials announced every Thursday. 

When we arrived, we settled at a table on the roofed patio. The outdoor space was furnished with string lights and landscaped with tall trees and garden sculptures. Even though we dined on a chilly Thursday in February, it felt like a warm summer night — the cute and comfortable environment was well-suited for enjoying food outside with friends.

For our appetizer course, we ordered a customizable three-in-one snackboard packed with flavor for $16. The first dish included in this snackboard was Tonic's grilled sourdough bread and whipped shallot and herb butter. The warm, crispy bread paired nicely with the garden-fresh taste of the light butter. Next, we sampled the deviled eggs. Their creamy texture and savory hints of garlic easily won the favor of our crowd. Lastly, we enjoyed Tonic’s “Dilly Beans” — green beans pickled in a hot and sour vinegar mixture. The beans refreshed our palates, offering a sharp contrast to the other snackboard selections. Though the beans were a little overpowering on their own, the more subdued bread-and-butter combo countered their acidity and balanced the flavors on the board.

Offering multiple pieces of each snack, the customized board saved us from the hassle of splitting foods and incurring the extra cost of ordering several dishes. For those who plan to try it, I would suggest ordering one of the grilled breads and one of the more acidic pickled dishes to get a nice mix of flavors. The contrasting elements contained in these pairings complement each other well and are a tasty start to your meal.

For the main course, my friends and I admittedly all ordered the same dish — the salmon burger complete with garlic aioli, lettuce and dijon mustard. As soon as we bit into our burgers, though, we knew we made the right choice. The salmon was savory but not overly flavorful, allowing the garlic and dijon sauces to shine. The entrée also struck an ideal balance — substantial enough to satisfy us, but not so filling as to risk a food coma. Notably, each burger was $17, which elevated our experience by leaving the tab relatively affordable.

What we lacked in variety with our main course we made up for in different side dishes. I opted for sautéed spinach, while my friends ordered house chips and a side salad. The spinach came with a sharp citrus vinaigrette — a nice touch, but a little overpowering coupled with the previous acidity of the dilly beans. I preferred the house chips, which were deliciously crunchy and well-seasoned.

Although we did not get a chance to try the drinks, Tonic offers a unique array of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails. From “Sweater Weather” to “Whiskey Business” to “Old Friend,” their mixology seems like a fun way to unwind with friends — underscoring the classy yet casual ambience cultivated by Tonic’s atmosphere.  

By the end of our visit, it was apparent that Tonic’s strength lies in the chefs’ balanced dishes, which are both flavorful and fresh. The experience was exactly what my friends and I needed to fuel us through the rest of our Thursday night. 

Tonic delivers a casual, flavorful dining experience backdropped by an upscale, contemporary environment. It’s a great escape from busy everyday life on Grounds and perfect for a tasty evening getaway with friends. If it is not already, Tonic promises to be a Charlotteville culinary staple.

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