Cobb's New York Pizza & Grill...again

subject: Cobb's New York Pizza & Grill
take-out vehicle: pizza box

cost: $2.73

So I made it back for a slice of pepperoni pizza. I have to say it wasn't quite worth the drive across town, but was certainly good enough to eat if I were in the neighborhood and needed a pizza fix. Though I try not to drink much of it if I can help it, I could also see this pizza pairing well with a light beer.

The crust of very droopy and the cheesy was stringy and dense. The pepperoni could've been a little more plentiful, but its flavor came through. As I'm used to the prices downtown, I thought the price I paid for the slice I received (1/6th of an 16" pie) was fair, but it turned out my pie was cut incorrectly and normally the pies are cut into eighths. Lucky me, I guess, but I'd be hesitant to pay $2.50 for such a slice in the future. If I eat pizza here again, I'm getting a whole and more reasonably-priced pie...and a pitcher.


Vita Nova

subject: Vita Nova
take-out vehicle: pizza box
cost: $7.25

I've noticed that a lot of people are pretty polarized when it comes to liking either Christian's or Vita Nova. I'll admit that I've been no exception (I'm on team Christian's), so today I decided to make a good-faith effort to become one.

I haven't been to Vita Nova in a long time, so I was surprised by how similar the two places were, at least in person. Vita Nova's pizza menu, according to their website, is much more extensive. Notable pizzas offered only at Vita Nova included the Thai chicken pizza and several seafood pizzas (I did not see any of these during my visit, however).

Though tempted by a slice of Thai chicken, I opted instead for a slice of grilled vegetable and a slice of pepperoni. The grilled vegetable slice was flavorful and piled high with chopped fresh spinach, grilled zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, bell peppers, carrots, and olive oil. Though hard to eat at times (the vegetables frequently slid off the crust, even with the cheese I requested), I enjoyed it very much. The grilled flavor didn't really come through at all, and the olive oil may have been a touch overused, but the flavor of each vegetable was fairly distinct and they blended well.

The pepperoni slice was also pretty good, but not my favorite. The crust was thicker than it needed to be and made the overall slice much more filling than I would have liked. Granted, they're big slices, but I felt like the heft of the crust distracted from the sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. The pepperoni was spicy, which I appreciated, but I wish it had been a little more cooked. Some may disagree, but I think pepperoni grease is one of pizza's great pleasures, and it was sorely lacking here.

Overall, I don't think I tasted anything that will pull me away from Christian's permanently, but I remain intrigued by their greater selection. I'll have to return to try the Thai chicken slice, and if I ever get the craving, the pasta as well.


Cazon Tropical

subject: Cazon Tropical
take-out vehicle: styrofoam boxes
cost: $10.33

I've known about Cazon Tropical for a long time, but it had been almost impossible to remember to go there...until yesterday afternoon. Finally reminded, I was soon faced with another challenge: deciding what to get.

After staring at the menu for much longer than I should have, unable to choose one main dish, I decided to order three items from the appetizer list: the pupusas (one pork and cheese, one zucchini and cheese, and one bean and cheese), a pastelitos de carne, and the empanada de plantano.

(It's worth mentioning that it took an incredible amount of willpower to not eat this food on my way home from the restaurant. Its aroma was absolutely incredible. It's probably fortunate that all food doesn't smell that good...if it did, we'd have all died from obesity long, long ago.)

Through a happy stroke of luck, I ate the pupusas in order from least tasty to most. The bean pupusa, which I ate first, seemed to lack any bean flavor, and the combination of the mushy beans and cheese made the pupusa heavier than I would have preferred. The zucchini pupusa, while having no zucchini that I discern, seemed lighter and somehow fresher. Perhaps the zucchini was peeled and grated? If so, its color would have almost matched the cheese's and would explain why I didn't notice it. The last pupusa I ate was the pork pupusa, and it was very good. The pork provided a nice bit of texture against the cheese and the slight doughy-ness of the pupusa, and its meaty flavor came through well.

The pupusas were served with curtido and the house red sauce. The curtido was pretty mild but interesting, and though vastly dissimilar to the Mexican variety at La Michoacana, it definitely provided some much needed contrast to the grease of the pupusas. The red sauce didn't do a whole lot for me, however. It was pretty thin and consisted (I think) of tomatoes, a touch of vinegar, onion, salt, and some other spices, but overall its flavor was pretty weak. I appreciated it the most with the bean pupusa and the pastelitos de carne.

Unlike with the bean pupusa, where it simply added flavor, the red sauce was a nice complement to the pastelito, which was very meaty. Filled with beef and peppers and ever-so-slightly crisp on the outside, it resembled a cross between a beef taco and a donut. I was a fan.

Lastly, I came to the empanada. It was a lot softer than I expected, but it tasted better than I had hoped. Imagine a warm Twinkie made from a deep-fried plantain instead of chemically-tasting cake. The exterior coated with course sugar, and the center filled with a thick milk-based cream, I suspect it was the origin of the wonderful aroma that filled my car on the way home, and it tasted every bit as good.

So how come I kept forgetting about this place? Well, probably because it's buried in Woodbrook Shopping Center, has no illuminated sign, doesn't advertise itself very well (if at all), and no one I know has ever gone there. I'm sure I would have continued to forget if not for one of my favorite local food-finding sites, so I have to say thanks to it.

According to its rating there, Cazon Tropical is one of the top-rated places in Charlottesville. I don't think can agree with that just yet, but considering I only ordered appetizers, it certainly deserves another visit or two. The cazuela cazon looks like an adventure, and I am compelled to try the tacos. Either way, I'll be getting another order of the empanadas de plantanos. Dems sum reel good eatin'.


The Southern

subject: The Southern
take-out vehicle: plastic boxes

cost: $5*

The café at The Southern hasn't even been open a week, so I know a critical review wouldn't be fair to give. I mean, they haven't even decorated the walls yet. But today I saw an open door and a person behind the bar, so my curiosity got the better of me.

The brunch/lunch menu was kinda different than what I was expecting. I still don't actually know what I was expecting, but I never thought I'd find black-eyed pea cakes, fried chicken biscuits, or open-faced meatloaf sandwiches there. Not that I'm complaining. Black-eyed peas, fried chicken biscuits, and meatloaf are a wonderful, often underappreciated Southern delights, so I was thrilled to see them get some love at The Southern. I was torn, though, between the meatloaf and the (not quite as) Southern Chicken Salad—oven-fried chicken, bacon, avocado, cucumber, tomato, sliced brie, chopped romaine, and creamy pesto dressing—so I asked the girl behind the bar for her favorite of the two.

I ended up with the salad, and my body no doubt appreciated it. My diet this past week has been rather lacking in fresh vegetables, and this salad provided a good amount. I won't lie, though; given the weather outside, the meatloaf sandwich (served warm with caramelized onions and a mushroom gravy) would have been nice. There's always next time, I guess.

As for my salad, the oven-fried chicken was chunky and tender but not quite as crispy as it could've been. The real texture came from the fresh veggies, and they balanced well with the saltiness of the bacon. The brie was also a nice touch. It was creamy and rich but sliced thinly enough to be manageable with just a fork.

I was confused by the dressing, however. The menu advertised a creamy pesto dressing, but the dressing I got was purple and tasted...not like pesto (buttermilk and blueberries, maybe?). It wasn't bad, and I suspect I was just given the wrong thing by accident, but it still made me kinda regret not getting the meatloaf.

If I could make one suggestion, it would be to serve the salad with a biscuit or some of the "ABC" bread that accompanies some of the appetizer dishes. The chips were fine, but some real bread would have been much more appreciated.

Chips aside, it was definitely a healthy lunch, and all together a pretty satisfying one. I look forward to watching The Southern grow and flesh itself out over the coming weeks, and I'm curious to see if the menu will continue to be refined as well. From what I saw, they're definitely putting a big effort into the café side of The Southern, so I hope it prospers.

If anyone is interested in going in the next few days, the kitchen is fully up and running from 11:00am to 3:00pm, and they do offer a full bar, wine, and a decent selection of bottled beers at all shows, including the entire line of commercially available Starr Hills. Soon a late night menu will be available, so I'm especially interested to experience that scene once (if?) it gets established. Maybe I'll have to don my cVillain reviewer hat and wander over there some evening.

A point of interest: the bar and tables in the café were hand-crafted specifically for The Southern by the 74-year-old father of one of the owners (and they're very handsome).

ps—If anyone has the meatloaf before I get back there, let me know how it is.

* My salad normally would have costed $8.50, but the bartendress thought I was super sexy**...and they didn't have enough lettuce to make a whole salad, so she discounted it for me.

** At least, I assume she did.


Cobb's New York Pizza & Grill

subject: Cobb's New York Pizza & Grill
take-out vehicle: paper bag

cost: $8.67

It's been a long while since I've wandered up Hydraulic in search of food, and as I waited inside Cobb's for my New York steak and cheese sandwich and fries, I started to wonder why. Previously Mario's, and before that Vinny's (I think), Cobb's kinda reminded me of the pizza parlor on "Everybody Loves Raymond": a friendly, unpretentious, neighborhood place for pizza, burgers, and maybe a beer. Who doesn't like a place like that?

Well, considering its near-complete lack of customers, apparently everybody. Curious as to why, I started looking around. The menu was filled with comforting dishes with mass appeal (pizzas, calzones, burgers, hot sandwiches, etc.), and, from my limited view from the small lobby, the dining room seemed cozy enough. The staff I spoke with seemed nice and eager to please. The sliced pizzas in the front display case looked a couple of hours old, but wasn't necessarily indicative of everything else.

So what's the problem? Whatever it is, I don't think it's the New York steak and cheese.

Had I ordered my steak and cheese sandwich straight from the menu, it would have come with chopped steak, mozzerella, peppers and onions, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, but I didn't; I got everything but the mayo. I can't stand mayonnaise. Luckily for me, the sandwich was just fine without it. The steak was juicy enough to not require the extra moisture, and the cheese gave the sandwich just the right amount of fat to hold everything together.

My favorite part, however, may have been the bread. According to the guy I spoke with behind the counter (Cobb?), the bread comes in thrice weekly from a place called Carter's Bread Company, which is apparently local (though I've never heard of it before). Wherever it is, Carter's sandwich roll had a super soft white interior and an ever-so-flaky exterior that lent itself very well to its steak-cradling task, and it had a really nice, light, bready flavor to boot.

The fries, on the other hand, were disappointing. They obviously came from the freezer and were not that high in quality. More disappointing was the fact that they were underseasoned. Skimping on cheap frozen fries is one thing, but not ponying up the extra $.002 it would take to properly salt an order of said fries is totally another. I guess it's a good thing that the sandwiches normally come with chips instead (the fries were $1 extra).

I was also disappointed by the fact that I had to wait almost 30 minutes for my food after walking in and placing my order. Had the dining room been full, I would have understood, but the only other people I saw were the four or five staff and the grumpy-looking older guy who was in the same boat as me. I'll just have to remember to call in next time. (To be fair, I was given several apologies when I was finally given my order, so I assumed the delay was abnormal.)

All in all, I'm not going to say that Cobb's has the best food around, or the most efficient staff, but it was certainly good enough to warrant a few more patrons than I saw, and the problems weren't anything a few beers couldn't fix.

Now I just have to try the pizza.


Chaps Ice Cream

subject: Chaps Ice Cream
take-out vehicle: paper bag

cost: $3

It turns out my tour of local donuts wasn't as done as I thought it was. After running into Tony, the owner of Chaps, at a Halloween party this past weekend, it occurred to me that a) he's been making his own donuts for quite some time now, and b) he didn't really dress up for the party, he just threw on his old black and white prison outfit.*

Anyway, for breakfast this morning I had three donuts: one chocolate, one banana, and one pumpkin. Each had the same cakey, moist, and slightly oily texture, but as can be seen in the picture, the pumpkin was by far the biggest. The exterior of the pumpkin donut also had the most bite to it; it may have been fried before the others or in another batch of slightly hotter oil.

Of the three, my favorite flavors were the pumpkin and chocolate. The pumpkin was sweet and seasonal, and the chocolate was rich and also sweet, but pleasingly less so than the pumpkin. I could see it going very well with a cup of coffee from The Java Hut, which sits right outside his door. (Come to think of it, that could be why he started making donuts in the first place.) The banana flavor, on the other hand, wasn't very apparent in the banana donut. It tasted more like a regular cake donut with just an itsy bitsy bit of something banana-esque.

While certainly good for those of us on the mall in the mornings, these donuts probably won't lure many who aren't in the vicinity, but then again, Tony isn't really in the donut business. Tony is an ice cream/diner man, and he's a darn good one. I'll have to go back soon for scoop or two, and maybe a cheeseburger beforehand.

* Of course I'm joking. I know Tony and it was just a costume...at least I'm pretty sure.


Café 88

subject: Café 88
take-out vehicle: bento box
cost: $8.58

I love places like Café 88. Quiet, kinda off the beaten path, and really good. For those who haven't been, Café 88 is the newest restaurant of the former owner of Ming Dynasty. As many times as I've seen her, both at Ming and Café 88, I'm ashamed to say I don't know her name, but she's probably one of the nicest people in town. And now, freed from her standard Americanized-Chinese food shackles (and the pressures of a larger restaurant—Café 88 has only 24 seats), she's also one of the better Chinese food cooks in town.

By "standard Americanized-Chinese," I'm referring to all the types of dishes that most Americans think of when Chinese food is mentioned: Kung Pao this, Hunan that, and of course General Tso's whatever. There's none of that at Café 88. Instead, Ms. Nice Lady at Café 88 (NLaC88) prepares just two kinds of food: dim sum and bento.

I can't comment on the dim sum because I haven't yet tried any yet. Why not? Because the bento rocks.

Despite being a Japanese idea, Ms. NLaC88 fills her bento boxes with very traditional Chinese fare, most of which revolves around chicken, pork, or tofu. On this visit, I opted for the Amazing Chicken (yes, that's what it's actually called). While "amazing" might be a tad strong, the Amazing Chicken certainly didn't disappoint. Ms. NLaC88 described it to me as marinated, pan-seared dark meat chicken with a slightly spicy sauce (she compared it to the Wonderful Chicken, which was deep fried white meat chicken and not spicy at all).

Perhaps due to the marinade, or perhaps the nature of dark meat chicken, the two pieces of Amazing Chicken I received were very tender. The sauce had only a hint of chili but good flavor nonetheless, but most of it soaked into the bottom of the sticky rice next to the chicken (though that gave me a good excuse to eat more of the rice, which also boasted a bright yellow slice of mildly-pickled daikon).

With the chicken came two vegetable sides: one serving of stir-fried bok choy, carrots, and mushrooms, and one serving of fried Asian eggplant (it had a thin, light purple skin, but even after a little research, I couldn't tell if it was a Chinese, Japanese, or Taiwanese varietal).

The stir-fry was simply prepared. The cabbage was by far the dominant flavor, but it was light, crunchy, and a pleasing contrast to its aubergine neighbor. The eggplant was soft and sweet except for the occasional bite of its crisp skin. It was sauced with a soy-based brown sauce and accented with chopped red bell peppers. I couldn't decide whether I liked it more than the chicken...but as I write, I'm leaning towards "it was better."

As I left with my dinner, I asked Ms. NLaC88 why she named her restaurant "Café 88." She explained that 8 was a lucky number in Chinese culture and wanted to be "double lucky," and smiling, she motioned to the menu behind her: just about everything was priced $x.88.

I guess it never hurts to have some luck, but with Chinese food like hers, I doubt she'll need it anytime soon.