We are always on the lookout for new weekend trip destinations. By using the weekends, it gives us an opportunity for a short getaway that allows for a refreshing break from routine. We had heard through various outlets that Virginia wine is consistently producing quality wine that is competitive with the west coast so it had been on our radar for awhile. Kevin’s birthday weekend was coming so it felt like a great chance to explore Charlottesville.
We drove down after work and made it to our adorable Airbnb late Friday night. The farmhouse loft was situated directly between the towns of Charlottesville and Crozet, roughly 10 to 15 minute drive to each downtown, so it gave us flexibility to explore two towns (a pleasant surprise). Since we did not stop for dinner, we had a few late night dining options marked down. Our Airbnb host recommended a BBQ joint in nearby Crozet called Smoked. We unfortunately only had ten minutes until close so our only option was takeout. Kevin ordered a pulled pork sandwich and I got the fried chicken. While Kevin would have enjoyed having BBQ sauce on his meat, the meat was still tasty and my chicken had quite a spicy kick. This restaurant was well recommended by numerous people on this trip and has a delicious creamery above it that we visited later in the trip. We ate our food in our Airbnb kitchen (even had a refrigerator so we could store our leftovers!) and turned in for the night.
Breakfast: Bluegrass Grill and Bakery
We awoke to the sound of roasters and goats, which was far less annoying than hearing the cell phone alarm go off! We set off to Ace Biscuits and BBQ but when we got there, a sign was posted stating it was closed the week we were there. Having to borrow from another day’s breakfast plans, we set off the Bluegrass Grill and Bakery, rated one of the best breakfast spots in downtown. A small cash only establishment that allows you to write your name on a paper to reserve your spot- they do not take advanced reservations. We waited around 15 minutes and got seated. The menu focused on hash- which is one of Kevin’s favorite- and the portion sizes were enormous. I ordered the “smoky joe” which was an egg, their famous bacon jam (Yum! And you can buy in a jar!), and smoked Gouda cheese on an English muffin and Kevin ordered the corned beef hash with mounds and mounds of potatoes and eggs. We also both got warm whole wheat homemade biscuits. Everything was delicious here and you certainly get your money’s worth with the amount of food! I can see why this spot is a local favorite.
Directly across from Bluegrass was a farmer’s market in the parking lot so we took time to explore the local goods. Among the tents were various vendors including produce, meat, baked goods like pies and bread, crafts such as jewelry and clothing, and many more. It was an impressive array to choose from and we did indulge in a freshly baked organic donut (yes, they brought they brought the donut maker to the farmers market- thank you Carpe Donut!). I would spend every Saturday here if I lived in Charlottesville- I love shopping locally at farmer’s markets! However, our time at the farmer’s market was short as we had a wine itinerary ahead of us.
Vineyard: Barboursville Vineyards
The first vineyard on our list was the highly praised Barboursville Vineyards where multiple wine podcasts, including Guild of Sommeliers, highlight. We arrived shortly after the 10AM opening to a large tasting room. The $7 tasting fee allowed us to try twenty one different wines! The pours are small to allow you to try everything without ending the tasting by falling over, and if you desired a second taste they are more than willing to pour again. The tasting is organized by stations so you can try three to four wines per station and get to meet different people. The vineyard was started by an Italian family that also owns multiple vineyards in Italy so Barboursville also featured Italian varietals such as Sangiovese and Nebbiolo grapes. As much as we enjoyed the whites, the French reds varietals (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvginon) were very impressive! I know Kevin already has his sights on their Reserva tasting ($25 tasting fee) in the wine library on our next trip.
Vineyard: Keswick Vineyards
Second on our wine journey for the day was Keswick Vineyards which was only a short drive from Barboursville. The property was gorgeous- a large space for picnic tables where guests can enjoy food (yes, they permit outside food and even feature food trucks on most weekends) and listen to live music. We immediately wished we brought items for a picnic (note to self for next visit!). The tasting room is located inside and was already jammed when we got there around 11:30AM. The regular tasting allowed for seven wines and the Reserva tasting included nine wines. We opted for the reserva tasting and really enjoyed the white grapes, especially their variations of the Virginia state grape, Viognier.
Brewery: Three Notch’d Brewery
Kevin’s home brew hobby has shifted our recent trips to include craft beer in addition to wine so it felt like a good time to take a break from the wine scene. There is a booming craft beer scene in Charlottesville that we wanted to take advantage of trying. We stopped into Three Notch’d Brewery before 2PM and were lucky enough to make it just in time for their free tour of the facility. Kevin admired the large scale brew process since he has gained more experience on the home brew scene. Our guide, Derek, is one of the co-owners and in addition to taking us through the brew process, he also shared their story of how they got started. The brewery is expanding to a new facility in a month so it was exciting to hear about all their success. After Kevin enjoyed a flight of beer, we swung next door to Fifth Season Gardening for home brew equipment.
After a morning and afternoon full of beverages, we were both ready for some food. We drove to the Downtown Mall area and found parking near South Street Brewery. The Whiskey Jar was well rated and the menu looked like delicious southern cooking. Since it wasn’t open for dinner until 5PM, we had an hour to walk around the Downtown Mall, looking at the different restaurants and shops. One store front that caught Kevin’s eye was Ike’s Underground Vintage Clothing And Strange Cargo. It is in the basement under the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar and upon walking in, your eyes immediately struggle to focus on one thing as there are so many collectible items. We ended up spending well over an hour rummaging through various items of clothing, home decor, magazines, books, and vinyl records, walking away with several items (including a statue we instantly loved- a 70’s rendition of the famous sculpture, The Kiss). It is a cash or check only establishment, but an ATM is close by. While this type of store may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there are a lot of hidden gems for everyone and worth a peak inside.
Dinner: Citizen Burger Bar
We were hungry when we left Three Notch’d Brewery, so we were starving when we left Ike’s Underground. Citizen Burger Bar had caught Kevin’s eye when we were exploring the Downtown Mall so we jumped inside and were seated immediately. The most exciting find for me was the Citizen Burger offers a “Mini Burger”! I love burgers but I often cannot finish them so I typically will not order them. But Citizen Burger brilliantly created a smaller version to accommodate a wider range of consumption, and it does not cost them any additional money to include a mini version. As you can tell, I was very happy to indulge in the entire mini burger while Kevin ordered the Citizen Burger. Great quality of meat and extensive beer list with many of the local breweries on tap.
Dessert: Crozet Creamery
We were told to stop by Crozet Creamery for homemade ice cream so we swung by before heading back to our Airbnb for the night. The ice cream was so creamy and had a thicker texture with a variety of flavors to choose from- glad we made time to stop by for this treat!
Breakfast: Mountainside Grill
We wanted to get an early start to the day as we planned on hiking portions of Shenandoah National Park and the heat later in the day would make it a less pleasant experience. Plus, there are typically fewer people crowding the hiking trails earlier in the morning. We found Mountainside Grill that was on our way to the park and stopped in for a quick breakfast. Kevin ordered sunny side eggs, biscuit, and homemade smoked grits (smoked due to the addition of Gouda cheese) and I got a biscuit breakfast sandwich with a heaping side of breakfast potatoes. Perfect breakfast fuel for hiking, particularly the smoked grits!
Over 100 miles long (maps here and here!), it is very easy to spend multiple days hiking different parts of Shenandoah National Park- whether it is on the trails, spotting various wildlife, focusing on the Appalachian Trail (AT, white markers), or discovering the caves scattered along the park. A $25 car entrance fee gets you access to the entire park and is valid for a week. Since we only had a morning carved out for hiking, the closest trail of a reasonable distance was the Turk Mountain trail, with portions that were on the AT. It was moderate difficulty with a lot of rocks and was mostly uphill ending at a nice summit before looping back.
Vineyard: Kings Family Vineyard
Kings Family Vineyard was another winery that continued to appear in our search for respected Virginia vineyards and their website indicated that they have a polo field that is used most Sundays (was hoping our Sunday would be one of those Sundays!). We arrived at the Kings around 12:30PM and the place was mobbed- the polo match was set to start at 1PM and it was already visibly crowded on the polo field. Squeezing into a spot for a tasting of the wines, we found someone to take our money ($10 tasting fee) in exchange for a sampling of the six featured wines. Once again, the whites were very tasty but the reds were surprisingly good as well- full and complex! Having felt unprepared to enjoy the polo match, I recalled that all of our beach gear was in the truck! I am often teased since I never take it out of the car (mostly because I have nowhere to put it in our house- as I struggle to get my shovel out from under the beach chairs in the dead of winter) and felt instantly that keeping it there is justified! We grabbed a bottle of their rosé, Crose (Crozet plus rosé!), French brie cheese and a warm baguette with the beach gear and set up camp for the polo match. Golf carts (duly named wine carts) travel the parameter to ensure everyone has a drink, as well as a copy of the rules. We had never watched polo before and while it was hot, we enjoyed learning while under the comfort of the giant, colorful beach umbrella. We had several other places on the itinerary to visit in the area but ended up staying until after 4PM at the polo field. At least it allows us to have places to automatically go on our return trip!
Drinks: Unknown Speakeasy
One thing we heard from multiple locals where to hit on our short trip were the presence of at least two speakeasy bars that are hidden in Charlottesville. With time before our dinner reservation, we found one of the speakeasy bars and made our way to the New York styled prohibition bar featuring classic cocktails. Definitely worth seeking out one of the secrets when visiting!
Dinner: Ivy Inn Restaurant
Since we were visiting for Kevin’s birthday, I wanted to make sure we hit a fine dining establishment since we enjoy the experience. Situated in a house, the Ivy Inn Restaurant has a very warm and inviting atmosphere. The menu frequently changes to highlight what is fresh and in season.
- Sautéed fresh duck foié gras with peach grastrique, caramelized peach, corn bread crumble and almonds (Right image below)
- Double H Farm crispy pork belly with corn bread pudding, sunny side up quail egg, and hot sauce (do not worry, on the side!) (Left image below)
- Hearts of romaine topped with fried green roasted tomatoes, parmesan cheese and Caesar dressing
- Tagliatelle bolognese with ragu of beef, lamb and pork, tomato, garlic, and pecorino romano
- New frontier bison New York “Au Poivré” with cracked pepper and cognac cream sauce, potato hasbrown, and green beans
- Trio of chocolate featuring frozen chocolate mousse, chocolate ice cream sandwich, and hot fudge brownie with ice cream on top
- Sticky English toffee pudding cake drizzled in caramel topped with ice cream
The appetizers and desserts in particular were exceptional. We have sampled a lot of foié gras in our travels and this one was incredible- it had a sear on it and paired with the peach accents it was an unbeatable combination. And the trio of chocolate was amazing for a chocoholic like me! We both thoroughly enjoyed our meal and are not surprised why this is one of the number one rated restaurants in Charlottesville.
After packing up the car, we spent some time with our Airbnb host seeing the chickens and the goats up close. The goats acted just as dogs would and the chickens came flying out of coup onto different perches. This was such a fun addition to our experience!
Breakfast: Moose by the Creek
With limited time today since we had the drive back home, we wanted to be economical with our time. I found Moose by the Creek on our way to Jefferson’s Monticello Estate where we would be spending the morning. Resembling a truck stop (and reminding us of our time storm chasing), we trusted the reviews and walked on in. Covered in moose paraphernalia (owner’s nickname was “Moose”), we seat ourselves and take a look at the menu and we immediately knew this had potential to be the best breakfast of the trip. Kevin ordered the “Slammwich” with egg, bacon and cheese on a biscuit and I got the “Carter Mountain Cakes” which is two pancakes topped with cinnamon butter, bacon, and fried apples along with a side biscuit. Every bite was incredible! The cinnamon butter on the pancakes was perfection and the fried apples were like eating apple pie. Make sure you eat here, especially if you are in the Monticello area. And do not forget to take your picture with the moose antlers!
Kevin is a big history buff so visiting Jefferson’s Monticello Estate was a must do on this trip. We arrived at the visitor center around 9:30AM to purchase the tickets ($28 per person allots you access to the grounds and three guided tours- Tour of the House, Slavery at Monticello, and Gardens and Grounds Tour) and then took a short shuttle ride to the house where we were corralled into our Tour of the House group to see the ground floor of the estate. It was very impressive how preserved much of the entire house is and the level of detail the guides are able to provide the guests. After the ground floor, we were able to roam independently to explore the basement where the wine cellar and kitchen were located. We then walked around the grounds exploring the houses and work areas the slaves would have used as well as the large active garden. We unfortunately did not have time to take advantage of the other two tours offered, as well as the several film documentaries and exhibits, but gives us something to do on a return trip!
Lunch: Michie’s tavern
Our Airbnb hosts insisted we check out Michie’s Tavern, especially if we would be minutes away at Jefferson’s Monticello. The premise has multiple houses to explore different shops and armory. We went straight to the tavern where we had a lunch buffet with 18th century Southern recipes, such as beans, green beans, and potatoes for sides and friend chicken and pork for entreés. I wish we went hungrier! The food was both simple by reflecting the time period and delicious. A fun novelty meal!
After our lunch, we hopped back in the car and drove back home both amazed at the amount of things we did and at the amount there is still do it! For food we also had on our list Ace Biscuits and BBQ, Bodo’s Bagels, Lampo Pizza, The Whiskey Jar, among many others that we did not get to try. Wineries that were the itinerary that will have to be completed on a return trip include Pippin, Veritas, Stinson, Jefferson and Blenhiem to name a few! Kevin had also marked down Star Hill Brewery, South Street Brewery, and Draft Taproom at the Downtown Mall were you can same over 60 beers on tap self-service style. We have enough material for multiple weekend trips and that does not include all the things we have not discovered yet. We were truly impressed with the great wine, great beer, great downtown, great food, and great variety of activities. Thank you Charlottesville- we will see you soon! Any other must hits for our return trip we should know about?