Brick and Mortar: A Local Restaurant Review

Once upon a time, there was a charming Italian restaurant on the outskirts of a college town where locals could get very good food at a relatively reasonable price. The restaurant was semi-conscious of its vegan and gluten free patrons, offering dining opportunities for each that were both satisfying and tasty. Then one day the owners of that delightful little neighborhood stronghold decided to go “trendy” and changed the restaurant format to poorly executed, ready- to-descend -down-the-bell-curve-of-current-food-trend dishes in an unimaginative atmosphere.

I speak of the tragic transformation of the beloved Pizza Bella on Mill Creek Road in Charlottesville to its new incarnation, Brick and Mortar. Same owners yet a total abandonment from the formula that made Pizza Bella successful.

Let’s start from the beginning…

I entered the half full restaurant and no serving staff greeted me. Strike one – all guests should be warmly greeted in a restaurant. OK, I am not the Queen of England so why should I expect to be noticed -except that I might be a paying customer- whatever.  Once I have the bartender’s/hostess'(?) attention I ask about a table for two but self-select seating at the bar. There is no hook for my purse. I remark on it. The bartender informs me that many people have commented on the lack of purse hook but the GM has ignored the request. How horrifying that such a simple request has been ignored. Strike 2- customers are paramount. I order a Moscow Mule that is presented to me with mint in it which totally screws up the ginger/vodka/lime harmony. It is undrinkable so I ask for a blush vino verde instead. $8 for a few ounces of a consumable yet much less-than-fabulous wine. OK, to be fair, I have probably paid more for worse wines but this is a neighborhood hang out not a four star establishment.

The burger I ordered came with grilled onions, pancetta and cheese (I fail to even recall what type of cheese it was, it was that unmemorable- maybe a swiss?) The onions, watery rather than actually grilled and luke warm rather than hot. The burger was cooked the way I requested and was just fine yet a bit dull in taste (I had to request salt and pepper). The salad that came with it (because there are no gluten free bread options offered) was refrigerator warn, meaning, slightly dried and not exactly fresh. It was served with a common ranch type dressing I could have easily  purchased from the Food Lion next door. When the burger was served, I had to request cutlery even though we had been at the restaurant for at least 20 minutes by that time. Strike 3. The fries…obviously from a previously frozen batch with a smattering of parmesan semi-melted atop were…well….. boring. They reminded me of a very poor version of the amazing parmesan crusted fries drizzled with truffle oil at Keswick Hall. I wonder if the KH fries were the inspiration…?

My dining companion ordered the same burger with the sweet potato wedges. The burger “was a bit bland,” according to her while the wedges were prepared with the skin on and, “mushy with uncooked bits throughout”. The most interesting thing about the meal was a spicy mayo served with the wedges, which my dining mate had to request, even though it is listed on the menu as condiment served with the dish. Strike 4- it is important not to make assumptions about your clientele. I am guessing that the server thought that a kid would dislike a condiment with a kick. Either that or the it was improperly plated in the kitchen.

Overall: My dining experience at Brick and Mortar was as exciting as staring at a brick and mortar wall. It seems to be simply copying the hot items on other successful restaurants in town without the culinary talent or the level of service to complete with them. I hope the owners quickly end this game of dress-up and go back to the yummy Italian food they do so well.

I also felt undervalued as a customer, something that is deadly in a town jam packed with good restaurants.

Ash Lawn Opera’s MADAMA BUTTERFLY flies high

“Get your hankies out,” warned Michele Krisel, Artistic Director of the Ash Lawn Opera, at the end of her curtain speech Sunday afternoon. “It is never too early to start crying during Madama Butterfly.” And she was right.  By the last ten minutes of the performance sniffles could be heard from all over the audience (including several from yours truly).

Once again Krisel and her hand picked artistic team have managed to pull off a champagne experience on a beer budget with this production.  Charles Murdock Lucas’ set is simple yet effective in depicting Cio-Cio San’s Japanese house of paper in which this story of clashing cultures is set. Lauren Gaston’s costumes are effective in developing a contrast between the sumptuous softness of the geishas and the apparent tastelessness of Pinkerton’s American wife.  And Dan Ragazzi’s minimalist direction allows the story to flow through the music- as it should. (I particularly enjoyed his use of ninja’s that flow on and off the set with necessary props.)

Krisel also knows how to cast a show to optimal effect. Pinkerton as played by Jason Slayden is just the kind of handsome devil that could break any girl’s heart.  But the star of this show is clearly Eleni Calenos who plays Butterfly.  Calenos puts forth a beautiful voice and a heart piercing dramatic performance as the naively trusting girl. She had the audience in the palm of her hand in her final tragic aria, To Die With Honor.

If you go, remember to bring tissues.  It is a truly beautiful tragic tale.

Photo by Natalie Krovetz

Photo by Natalie Krovetz

Click here for more information.

White Devils and all

Rene Thornton, Jr. in The White Devil at ASC

Rene Thornton, Jr. in The White Devil at ASC

Tonight, hopefully, I will achieve a goal by seeing the fifth play in the American Shakespeare Center’s Renaissance Season, Daniel Webster’s The White Devil.  And if this play is as good as the season’s other offerings, it should prove to be a good time to be had by all.  By “all” I mean the audience AND the actors.  This particular troupe seems to have gelled quite well (on stage at least as I am incapable of guessing what the behind the scenes situation is) bringing a wonderful sense of fun to The Taming of the Shrew (big shout out to Allison Glenzer for being such a fabulous Kate), Aphra Behn’s The Rover (love, love, love the play and particularly Lauren Ballard and John Harrell’s performances in this show xoxoxoxo), Every Man in His Humor (Patrick Midgley- you are soooo funny when you want to be), and Mother Bombie (not my favorite of the season but they do a good job with it).  Michael Amendola who plays a bunch of parts throughout the season (as does everyone in the troupe), turns every part he “touches” into gold.  His sense of humor is impeccable and I think he is perhaps the best comedic actor I have yet to see tread the Blackfriars recreated boards. And Nathan Crocker goes down smooth as an aged Scotch in every role he depicts.

I was tardy in my report on this season and I apologize but you can still catch all the Ren Season over the next couple of weeks. Plus you will have your chance to catch the cable ASC Touring Company when they return home to roost on April 8th with Hamlet (taking a group of Tibetans with me to see that with me- should prove to be interesting), Doctor Faustus, Much Ado About Nothing and Wittenberg.

See you at the theatre!

The Culture Maven

Writer’s weekend at the Homestead

Here is a great looking retreat for writers at one of my favorite Virginia resorts.




Enjoy a weekend of lectures, live demos, book signings, fine dining and more with successful Virginia authors of many genres at the legendary resort  

February 27, 2015 Hot Springs, Va. – The Omni Homestead Resort is celebrating Virginia’s history of great writers with its inaugural Writers’ Weekend, Saturday, March 21 – Sunday, March 22. The thought-provoking program will feature acclaimed authors sharing their personal experiences and insights topped off with a delicious maple-themed dinner amid the beauty of the Allegheny Mountains.

Virginia-based authors who have seen success across several genres will lead the weekend, including:

  • Lynn Seldon began writing while stationed in Germany as a young Army officer. His work has been published in more than 500 publications including Southern Living, TrailBlazer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Charleston Post & Courier and more. Additionally, Seldon has published a half-dozen travel books and his first novel,Virginia’s Ring, was published in 2014. Seldon will lead a Writer’s Session titled “Pat Conroy, Crowdfunding & CreateSpace: How Virginia’s Ring Rang Up Sales” on Saturday at 11 a.m.
  • Learn about the elements of mystery writing from acclaimed writer Mollie Cox Bryan. Author of the Cumberland Creek Scrapbooking Mysteries, the first of which was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2012, Bryan will lead a Writer’s Session titled “Adding Murder to Your Resume” on Saturday at 10 a.m.
  • Kendra Bailey Morris is a food writer, culinary instructor and cooking show host who has been featured in Better Homes and GardensGarden and GunTaste of the South and Richmond Times Dispatch. She also served as a judge for the James Beard Awards and authored The Southern Slow Cooker: Big Flavor, Low-Fuss Recipes for Comfort Food Classics. Morris will lead a culinary demonstration at noon on Saturday where she will share valuable tips, tricks, and recipes. She will also showcase her delectable Slow Cooker Apple Cider Pork BBQ Sandwiches with Creamy Cider Slaw.
  • Beau Beasley‘s Fly Fishing Virginia: A No Nonsense Guide to Top Waters won the prestigious Excellence-in-Craft Award in 2009. He is also the author of Fly Fishing the Mid-Atlantic and an editor at Eastern Fly Fishing, Fly Fish America, and Southern Trout. Beasley will be leading a Writer’s Session titled “Effect Fly Patterns for the Old Dominion” on Sunday at 10 a.m.

To round out the weekend, participants are invited to celebrate the 57th annual Highland Maple Festival that’s taking place in nearby Highland County, affectionately known as “Virginia’s Sweet Spot.” Guests can take a seat for a Maple Bourbon Dinner in the resort’s Dominion Room and enjoy a four-course menu of savory dishes such as Maple Sugar Dusted Diver Scallop and Cherry Braised Duck Leg with crispy maple Brussels Sprouts. Each course is paired with expertly crafted Woodford Reserve bourbon cocktails.

Special rates for the Writers’ Weekend start at $255 for one night, or $230 for two nights. The weekend’s full schedule can be viewed online here. For more information or to make reservations at The Omni Homestead Resort, please contact (800) 838-1766 or


ABCD Photography exhibit opening at The Bridge in Cville

This event intrigues me because I think I might learn something about feeling culturally alienated regardless of a specific background.

This info is taken directly from the Bridge PAI website.

 February 23, 2015 by 

Photography Exhibition Opening: Friday, March 6 at 5:30

That ABCD Life

ABCD=American Born Confused Desi. That’s what they call American kids of Indian descent. Why are they confused? Are they actually confused? What goes on in the minds of these people, split between two cultures? “That ABCD Life,” a photo exhibit by Madhavi Reddi, seeks to share the sentiments of Indian-Americans from all over the country. Join Madhavi and some of the models in the photos on March 6 and discover what “That ABCD LIfe” is all about.

This exhibition will be open weekdays until March 27.

This program was created in partnership with The Big Read. The Big Read supports organizations across the country in developing community-wide programs which encourage reading and participation by diverse audiences. The current Big Read book is The Namesake By Jhumpa Lahiri. With penetrating insight, Jhumpa Lahiri follows the Ganguli family from their traditional life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans.

WNRN Culture Connection for February 23rd – March 1

February wraps up with a theatrical world premier in Richmond, a collection of Chekhov shorts (not to be confused with a collection for shorts for Chekhov – spring IS coming after all) in Charlottesville and an art show in Staunton.

To learn more about these events you can click the links provided or play a podcast of this week’s WNRN Culture Connection by going to> features>culture connection.

The World We Know:

Vodka Variations: An Evening of Chekhov Shorts:

Mixed media art show:



Have a cultured week!



The Culture Maven

WNRN Culture Connection for Feb 16 – 22

One play, on ballet and some art on display.  Thus is this week’s WNRN Culture Connection- A musical version of Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park, the ballet version of Don Quixote and portraits by Lucian Freud.

To learn more about these featured events, click on the link below.

Don Quixote:

Lucien Freud:

Mansfield Park:


Enjoy the week and… get out there and get cultured.


The Culture Maven

WNRN Culture Connection for Feb 2 – 8

Punksatawney Phil master groundhog prognosticator has deemed we are in for six more weeks of winter which means it is a good time to explore some history.  This week’s WNRN Culture Connection features three events that offer you that chance:  Henley Street Theatre Company’s production of The Lion in Winter,  music from the swinging ‘60’s at Four County Players’ Songs in the Cellar: Broadway by the Decade, and a chance to view the VMI Cadets parade on post is full dress.

To learn more about these featured events click on the links below. To hear a podcast of this week’s Culture Connection go to and click on the “features” tab to find Culture Connections.

The Lion in Winter:

Songs in the Cellars:

VMI Dress Parade:

Stay warm and have a great week!



WNRN Culture Connection for Jan 19 – 25

Its January and loosing weight is on many people’s minds so now is a great time to learn about GMO’s via a film at the Central Branch of the Library, work off some calories biting your nails at Arena Racing or give it up altogether and have a great meal and watch a funny play.

For more information on the featured events, click on the links provided.

Arena Racing:

The Drowsy Chaperon Dinner Theater:

GMO-OMG: Film at the Library:


Arena Racing Champion

Arena Racing Champion

If you know of a cool event coming up, shoot me an email at

Also, on Saturday you can witness the production of seven, ten-minute plays created less than 24 hours earlier when Live Arts presents: 24/7.  More at

Have a culturally fabulous week!


The Culture Maven

WNRN Culture Connection Jan 12 – 18

Photographic portraits of Middle Eastern women, Pianist Adam Golka, and the VCCA open house are on this week’s cultural radar as winter keeps us indoors for the most part.  But the days are getting longer and before you know it little green leaves will appear on trees, flowers will bloom and birds will be making a racket in the wee hours of the morning.

If you would like more information on the featured events, click on the links below.  To hear a podcast of this week’s Culture Connection, go to:…-january-12-18/ and click on the “play” triangle at the bottom of the page.

Adam Golka plays with the Richmond Symphony:

VCCA open house:

Beyond Western Borders at W& L:

Adam Golka on the piano

Adam Golka on the piano

Note: Over the weekend I went to see Taming of the Shrew at ASC in Staunton and it was a hoot.  I totally recommend it.

Stay warm and get some indoor culture in this week.


The Culture Maven

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