We started with a walking tour of my alma mater. The school was quiet on a Saturday morning. We stopped in at Finch, a small town version of Anthropologie, where he bought a t-shirt by Southern Proper with a black lab (wearing a red bow tie) on the black, underneath which appeared "Haberdashery for the Southern Gentleman." I bought a pretty little mint julep cup, one of which I have coveted ever since I saw them being featured in magazines as vases. My budget doesn't afford for weekly fresh peonies, so I'm considering going the fake route...I've heard if they're good, it doesn't really matter much that they're fake. A big hydrangea bloom would be lovely, too.Next stop, Feast!, a gourmet local foods shop that has become one of my favorite stops in town. They bottle the tastiest olive oils, always have plenty of samples of chutney and Virginia cheeses (including the amazing, creamy, onion-y Grayson from Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, VA), and offer the most wonderful, pungent, spicy molasses cookies that I have tried, tried again to replicate. I usually buy them out of their stock; this weekend I only bought four. Feast! is part of Main Street Market, a little collective of local stores, including an organic butcher, wine bar, and bright flower shop. It has become an increasingly popular stop since I first started making my weekly pilgrimage in 2006.
On and just off the Downtown Mall are unique shops selling antiques, vintage clothing and jewelry, and beautiful things for the home (like Quince, Posh, 2 French Hens, and, formerly, Rock Paper Scissors, which has since moved to Barracks Road).
We left shortly after five with the explicit intention of arriving at Mas--one of my all-time favorite restaurants, which serves some of the best tapas I've ever had (and I studied abroad in Spain)--by the time it opened at 5:30. We weren't the only early birds waiting for them to unlock the doors. The wait sometimes reaches two hours for the maybe 20-table restaurant, nestled into the Belmont neighborhood, which is mixed but undergoing a renaissance.
We started with a delicious collection of olives, followed by homemade bread and olive oil. We checked off our tapas selections on the paper menu (T for tapas size, R for a racion) and awaiting the slew of dishes. First, a platter of thinly sliced jamon serrano and manchego. Next, patatas bravas with aioli, salty and hot. After that, the tenderest gnocchi with simply the freshest pesto I've ever had. Bread with lavendar honey and melted cheese, bacon-wrapped dates, carne asada, chicken and pork meatballs, Wagyu and rice-stuffed poblano peppers followed in rapid succession. We were stuffed and I was happy. Oh--I mustn't forget the blood orange margarita. Mas alone is worth the two-hour drive.
Charlottesville is quickly gentrifying and catering to wealthier students and residents, eager to enjoy chic boutiques and foodie hangouts. It's even better now that I don't have homework....
Image 1 - flyfinch.com
Images 2 & 3 - flickr.com
Image 4 - thinkrockpaperscissors.com
Image 5 - quincedesigns.com
Images 6 & 7 - monticello.org