When they craft their seasonal menu, the cooks at AVA Restaurant and Wine Bar aren't looking to impress diners with unfamiliar dishes. Instead, they wow taste buds with rich, robust flavors, roasted duck breast to meatloaf kicked up a notch by chipotle cream sauce. For vegan and vegetarian visitors, AVA's culinary team draws on organic and local fruits, veggies, and grains to create meals such as vegan chicken and waffles. Meatless or not, each feast can be accompanied by pours from an award-winning wine list curated by the eatery's onsite sommelier. Bartenders also serve plenty of beer, as well as custom, exotic tea blends.
Balkan Bistro & Bar has the exposed beams and wood-and-khaki palette of a tudor cabin, but it's also filled with plush booths, cloth-swaddled tables, and bouquets of fresh-cut flowers. This contrast of quaint and contemporary also marks the upscale Mediterranean cuisine, which chef-owner Anja describes as "food from the heart, with an accent." Balkan Bistro & Bar started as a stand at the Charlottesville City Market; but within two years, it expanded into a restaurant where the aromas are universally welcoming, even if portions of the menu seem exotic. A Croatian spice called vegeta, for example, lends to Istrian- and Dalmatian-style mussels, and the more familiar local lamb chops topped with housemade pesto simmer near cabbage stew with organic beef medallions. Chalkboard menus list cocktails at the bar, where rows upon rows of uniquely displayed wine bottles climb so high they require a ladder or a tall stack of books about ladders.
It's not hard to relax at Rhett's River Grill, where you'll find diners on the seasonal patio kicking back with a cold beer or cocktail in one hand and a juicy burger or shrimp po'boy in the other. The eatery's nautical theme also contributes to the laid-back aura. Faux stuffed fish and tiki-themed artwork decorate the space, and fishnets hung behind the bar catch flying wine corks. However, it's the menu of raw oysters, fresh clams, and juicy steaks that really grabs diners' attention—the food even earned three 2011 Open Table Diners' Choice awards. The selection of casual Southern and East Coast dishes, such as crab cakes and cajun chicken, blends seamlessly with upscale steakhouse and brunch fare, including a decadent smoked-salmon benedict draped with hollandaise.
Kirt's Homemade Ice Cream showcases a wide variety of rotating flavors that staffers churn and chill onsite. Stop in for cups and cones mounded with seasonal varieties, including egg nog and peppermint stick during cooler months or raspberry-lemon sorbet and red velvet during the summer. Kirt's also constructs homemade ice cream cakes and cupcakes, which are ideal for special occasions or birthday parties in Antarctica.