Walking into The Local is almost like the feeling one might imagine experiencing on the set of Cheers. Instead of Boston, we find ourselves at a quaint and winding restaurant in the heart of Belmont, just a short distance from Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. Even from the outside, ambiance abounds, and once inside, the familiar feeling of a naturally evolved neighborhood eatery sets in immediately. Worn wood, the clanging of glasses from the full-length bar, and even the bustle of the restaurant’s kitchen (practically in view at the end of the first entry room) is soft and quotidian.
In a sense, if a restaurant could feel like a home, this one certainly does. Above the main room, there is a seeming maze of room upon room of dining areas, as well as plenty of fair weather outdoor dining nooks. Simply put, this restaurant is a pleasure to visit and is a must-try on your, or any visitor’s list. Upon my most recent visit, I was charmed with a large and diverse number of offerings from the current menu. Some of these are tried-and-true favorites that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying over the past 15 years. Some were new but equally delicious and delightful.
With long-standing Executive Chef Matthew Hart at the helm, it has become clear since 2008 that this restaurant is the kind of spot that endures. The appetizers are straightforward and great for sharing, while the main courses are fantastic stand-alone dishes, and all of the aforementioned are carefully curated with the help of seasonal ingredients from local farmers, cheese makers, and purveyors. The Local is at the heart of Charlottesville’s continuously evolving food scene and is truly not to be missed. I encourage you to also look into this restaurant for booking large parties (graduations, anniversary milestone celebrations, and birthdays). They’ve got the space and always make you feel welcome and special. On this occasion, they pulled out all the stops and offered a tasting menu that I believe certainly speaks to the mission of this local business and the scope of what comes out of Hart’s multifaceted culinary repertoire. Here is a look into our dining experience:
We started with a bottle of a simple 2019 Pinot Noir from New Zealand’s Oyster Bay.
The Local’s wine menu is nice and simple. It would be nearly impossible to choose a wine that steers you wrong.
Next was the Fried Cauliflower & Brussels Sprouts…
With these cruciferous gems cooked al dente and perfectly fried, they are the perfect hearty starter. The breading lightly coats each bite-sized piece and has so much flavor. The portioning is substantial, and with a drizzle of spicy aioli (sriracha) plus numbing Szechuan spices in the breading, the burst of flavor is unmistakable. I even loved the nature of the breading in that pieces of the breaded coating flake off, perfect if you’re the person picking leftover crunchy morsels from the plate. Garnished with crispy cilantro, the translucent outer leaves offer a sheen and toothsome bite that is subtle, but would be sorely missed if left off. After our first appetizer was the Crispy Shrimp! These full fried shrimp were just what you’d expect (similar to a Bang Bang Shrimp concept) with a hearty coating of house-made chili sauce that is sweeter than it is sour, and is a sublime compliment to the shrimp. The sauce itself tastes of thick honey – kind of like a wings coating (honey bbq) and the spice level is nice! On the side as a garnish was a run-of-the-mill Sesame Seaweed Salad, which was gummy and bright. I’ll never say no to a hint of sesame oil in any Asian-inspired dish.
Now onto Mains…
Once appetizers were finished, we were ushered effortlessly into Mains. We began with the Local “Double H Farm” Berkshire Pork Chop: all pork, no added salt (or at least an ultra conservative portion). At first I didn’t like it, then I loved it. Locally raised Double H Farm pork is special, and I enjoyed the fact that the chef relished in highlighting this subtle feature. The sauce under the chop was absolutely perfect, and the mashed potatoes added nice balance. Sweet potato shoestring fries were a bit tough, but the sweetness was nice to cut the melty fattiness of the pork and the robust quality of the spicy jus. We then tried the Steak Frites: on top of buttery confit-like haricot verts, the blue cheese could be less and the artichoke bechamel could be more. Caramelized onions are great but more are needed. The steak was cooked perfectly! The char is perfect. This meal is a choose-your-own adventure of flavors and preferred palates. While a bit out of order, we were next offered the She Crab Soup, maybe the best/better thing to start with at the beginning of your meal. This soup’s creamy, frothy, flavorful broth has good chunks of crab, and a cayenne spice with the slightest hint of sherry. It is so light and simple with a perfect punch of heat in the back of the throat. This was one of the best She Crab soups I have ever had!
And now, for what I consider to be not only the main event, but where The Local shines the most: Pasta…
Gnocchi Bolognese Pillowy dumplings with a nice crumb, coated gently in a traditional bolognese sauce, comforting and so well balanced. This is one of those dishes that can be eaten year-round and always please the palate. We had the pleasure of tasting the Truffled Mushroom Ragout over Homemade Fettuccine, by far my favorite of the night, and historically the dish that has been my favorite thing on The Local’s menu since 2008. To end our dining experience, we enjoyed a Mixed Berry Cobbler. With a cake-like topper (the kind of crisp, soft, and warm cobbler accompaniment you’d expect), this cobbler was served with vanilla ice cream that was quickly turning into a frothy sauce as it sat on the very hot tart berry mixture. This dessert certainly works in the colder months, but is particularly incredible in the summer!
With The Local’s warm and inviting, yet elevated, feel, it is the perfect casual restaurant with fine food that Belmont has become known for. Its friendly and welcoming ambiance gives it a true family vibe here, and locals + tourists alike can feel it.