A FORK IN THE ROAD | Mockingbird Restaurant opens in Charlottesville

Charlottesville chef extraordinaire Melissa Close-Hart has opened Mockingbird Restaurant in the town Mr. Jefferson built. It replaces in location and style Close-Hart’s previous southwestern-style eatery, Junction. We first encountered her culinary prowess years ago at Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards. 

The chef says the eatery, whose name refers to the novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” brings her Southern Alabama roots to town with Deep South flavors.

We were fortunate to be invited to Mockingbird’s soft opening on Sunday, July 17, 2022; the restaurant opens to the public on Wednesday, July 20.

Folks were greeted on the porch outside with a number of nibbles and an addictive Rye Whiskey Peach Punch. 

Bites included two pots of boiled peanuts soaking in their addictive bridges: one cajun and the other classic salted. 

There were also Country Ham Puffs, Deviled Eggs, Shrimp Cocktail, and Grilled Conecuh Sausage. 

Conecuh Sausage has an almost cult-like following. Family owned-and-operated in the small town of Evergreen, Ala., the company began in 1947. There are a number of products offered, with the hickory smoked sausage being a signature product. 

After spending some time on the porch, chatting with Chef Melissa and other local luminaries such as Chef Craig Hartman (owner, Barbecue Exchange and Champion Ice House, both in nearby Gordonsville), and Craig’s charming wife, Donna we moved indoors.

The dining area is split into several spaces, including a smaller room up front, and a larger room that includes a bar. We sat in the former, against a brick wall (with a vintage Pepsi advertisement painted on the side), glowing wooden accents, and a wall painting in a comforting, slate blue. Decidedly Southern dinner plates of various sizes and patterns adorned the blue wall. Windows let in natural light. 

Inside, we sat down with the Biscuit Basket, and were rewarded with five delicate housemade buttermilk biscuits, piping hot, and offered with whipped Main St. Creamery honey butter, housemade pepper jelly, and Esso Goot Farms apple butter. It was hard to pick a favorite topping, so we just kept dipping into all of them until they were gone. 

We moved on to two appetizers, the first being Mixed Green and Caromont Goat Cheese Salad, offers with finely chopped candied pecans, fresh grapes, and a delightful honey-poppy seed vinaigrette. It was light and fresh, and the quality local cheese from farmer/producer Gail Hobbs-Page was the start of the plate.

Also lovely was the over-stuffed ramekin of Baked Mac & Cheese. This classic Southern dish, which many count as a vegetable, featured perfectly cooked elbow macaroni tossed in a three-cheese cream sauce. Garlic-olive il bread crumbs were scattered on top, baked, and gave a delicious dichotomy of tastes and textures.

Looking over the assortment of main courses, my eyes were drawn to the Catch of the Day: pan-seared rockfish with corn pudding, served over a smattering of peas and pearl onions. The rockfish was resplendent in a peach-bourbon glaze and topped with peach compote. 

The delicate fish was cooked perfectly; it literally flaked with the slighted application of the fork. The lightly flavored white flesh paired gorgeously with the fruity peach accents. 

We also enjoyed the Grilled Marinated New Frontier Bison Hanger Steak, prepared medium-rare and fork-tender. The bison was finished in a Virginia Whiskey-Black Pepper demi glacé, adding a warmth depth to the dish, and served over garlic mashed potatoes, with slow-cooked green beans on the side and a garnish of crispy shallots on top of it all.

The potatoes were delicious, but the green beans stole my heart. This was so familiar to the green beans and other Southern vegetables I grew up with a half-century ago, that I was transported back to many fond suppers past. 

With our entrees, we loved a gorgeous glass of Rosemont Vineyards & Winery Virginia Red, a classic medium-bodied, fruit-forward table wine that is a blend of Chambourcin, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. 

For dessert, we indulged in Classic Banana Pudding. Presented in a mason jar, housemade vanilla pudding was layered with Nilla Wafers and fresh bananas, topped with a light, delicate whipped cream. We literally scraped the jar clean, it was so good.

We ended the dinner with two cocktails:

Italian Cold Brew showcases Nonino Amaro, vanilla Creme de Cacao, Belle Isle Cold Brew Moonshine, and a coffee reduction, served up.

Bless Your Heart mixes Creme de Cacao, Almade Baileys, and Com Benedictine, served up. 

Mockingbird is a restaurant worthy of it’s nod to the Harper Lee classic novel. It’s easy to think of suppers on lazy Deep South days that linger from the heat of the day into the cool of the milky twilight, with folks saying, “I couldn’t eat another bite,” but do, because its that good.  

Mockingbird is at 421 Monticello Rd., Charlottesville. Call 434-465-6131 or visit www.Mockingbird-Cville.com

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