the best food in charlottesville: boylan heights

i’ve decided to start a series on this blog about the best food in charlottesville.  i’ve tried a smattering of restaurants around town, some icky, some mediocre, and some absolutely fabulous ones.  i’ll share my favorite meals and restaurants here so that you can go try them out!  the first post in this series is about my number one favorite place to eat around UVA: boylan heights.

i’m about to make you jealous.

if you have never heard of this incredible establishment, it is a “gourmet burger bar” where you can pick from a selection of ridiculous creations already set on their menu, or pick up a scantron sheet and make your own.  they come with delectable shoestring or sweet potato fries (and sometimes tots!!) and you walk out at the end of the night in the middle of a food coma.

they boast natural and local ingredients (right up my alley!) which you can totally taste in each bite, from the burger buns from local bakeries around town, to tomatoes and lettuce grown from small farms that i see selling the same produce at the farmers’ market every weekend.

can i please just tell you about their veggie burger?  it is about as far from a Boca burger as you can get.  nothing is processed about this patty–and it is certainly not a flat hockey puck of rubbery beans.  it is a quinoa base (a grain high in protein and fiber!) with fresh bell peppers, corn, black beans, tomatoes, charred zucchini and all sorts of green herbs (parsley, cilantro, and oregano i’m guessing).  it is loosely formed into a fat patty and grilled on the flat-top just like a regular burger is, so it even has that crust on the outside.  i recommend the veggie burger to absolutely everyone that i take to boylan and i have it almost every time i go (and i’m not even a vegetarian!)

photo courtesy of boylan’s flickr

there are other things on the menu besides burgers, however.  i have heard tell that their BLT is just the right ratio of bacon to lettuce and juicy farm-stand tomato, and it is grilled to a crispy crunch on the griddle.  their salads are refreshing (and you can get any burger bun-less in a bowl on top of a bed of mesclun greens instead of with fries!).  but there is also my mother’s favorite item that makes her crave boylan every time the fam comes to visit:  the grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.  it is a gorgeous creation of PB&B on toasty white bread, grilled until everything is melty inside.  it even comes with a side of honey for dipping (which is my mom’s favorite part :] ).  i’m not saying it won’t cause the onset of diabetes, but it surely is a treat every once and a while.

but by far my favorite part of going to this restaurant is finding out what the B.O.M.B. is (“burger of the month” for you first-timers).  it is always some new and exciting creation that leaves me drooling once i see it pass by.  i’m not just talking about making a “featured burger” that has some interesting topping every month.  nope.  these BOMBs go all out: salmon burgers on a bed of asian sticky rice and veg, chorizo burger with avocado, lettuce, tomato, and spicy siracha mayo, etc.  absolutely nuts.  this month (october), the BOMB was a pork, veal, and beef burger topped with a tomato/basil/mozzarella salad and a light pesto mayo on a local olive-oil roll.  i went most recently for my birthday with a huge group of friends and had the masterpiece:

the october BOMB, courtesy of boylan’s website

like i mentioned before, if you are an inventor of your own, you are also welcome to build-your-own burger.  there are a million toppings, from tillamook cheddar to a fried egg, to a big fat onion ring.  a friend of mine built her own at my birthday bash and i snapped a quick shot before it was demolished:
to summarize, boylan heights is completely and totally a must-eat when you are looking for a delicious meal in charlottesville.  it is not super expensive, the atmosphere is casual and fun (sports games on flat-screens galore!), and i hear they have legendary brunch on the weekends.  
go check them out!  you will not be disappointed! 

couscouscouscous.

guys!  i finally got to use my adorable tri-colored pearl couscous!  i know that might not seem super exciting to you, but i bought it like at the beginning of the semester and haven’t had a chance to cook with it before now!  (it’s dried.. don’t worry.  it doesn’t go rancid).

i recently stumbled upon a recipe for a stuffed green pepper that used a mediterranean couscous stuffing instead of the traditional ground beef filling.  i was SUPER excited to make up my own recipe for the stuffing (because this would give me the excuse i needed to use my pearl couscous!) and made a special grocery trip just for this dinner.  it made enough for 4… but i generally eat dishes for a few days afterwards as leftovers, so it worked well for me.  but i would totally recommend making this dish for a dinner party or just as a quick, healthy dish for the fam on a weeknight!

here’s what you need:  four green peppers, two chicken breasts, one small zucchini, one large tomato, one cucumber, one cup uncooked pearl couscous, chicken bullion cube (or chicken stock), a cup of feta cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, S&P, and a 1/3 cup of fresh cut cilantro.

to start, clean out your four green peppers by cutting off the tops (save them!) and removing the seeds and ribs.  **note: these are sweet peppers, not hot ones like jalepenos or anything, so removing the insides is just so you can eat the entire pepper, not to remove the heat.   once cleaned, put them in a pot of boiling water for about 6-9 minutes or until they are firm but slightly tender.  these are the edible cups for your couscous filling!  set them aside to cool.

follow the instructions on the back of your pearl couscous package and cook it accordingly, adding either one chicken bullion cube to the correct amount of water, or just substitute the water for chicken stock.  add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the couscous after it has cooked to keep each individual grain separate from the others!  let this cool.

next, take the green pepper tops that you saved and cut them into bite-size pieces.  cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and slice it into half-moon shapes roughly the size of your green pepper pieces.  at this point, take two chicken breasts (responsibly raised / organic if possible) and slice them in to the same size pieces.  **note:  is your chicken too soft to cut into small chunks?  put it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes and it will be easier to cut!

throw this whole mixture into a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil and sauté until soft and sizzl-y.  put this off to the side to cool.

while the other pieces cool, wash and dice one large tomato and one medium sized cucumber.  you are welcome to seed (aka take the seeds and insides out) of both the tomato and the cucumber, but i would recommend leaving them in as they have lots of flavor!  chop about 1/3 cup of cilantro (or you can use parsley if you’re crazy and not a cilantro person..).

time to assemble!  take the cooled chicken and sauteed vegetables, the chopped tomato and cucumber, the fresh cilantro, and a cup of feta cheese and toss them all together with the pearl couscous.  add a generous squeeze of lemon juice (fresh preferably), a drizzle of olive oil, and some S&P to taste.  here’s what the stuffing should look like:

finally, take your four cooled peppers and stuff them generously with the stuffing.  if you have leftovers of the filling, it is great with pita chips as an appetizer or just with a spoon for a light lunch!  i would recommend serving this dish with a cool greek salad on the side and maybe some toasty slices of baguette with butter.  
enjoy this fresh and healthy supper!

lo mein, 捞面, delicious, 美味.

i think i have made it pretty clear in the past (and anyone who knows me should absolutely know) that i am in love with all chinese food.  its the kind of food that i constantly crave and can eat for every SINGLE meal of every single day for the rest of my life.  its the perfect cuisine for me:  salty, full of veg, obsessively uses rice and noodles, etc.

so, the other day my friend Lindsay and i were at the gym getting our sweat on, and i started to crave chinese hardcore.  we both decided that it was kind of counterintuitive to work out and then blow all the work by eating chinese right afterwards, so we waited.  but i continued to crave it.  two nights later, i finally broke down and HAD to have it.  but, instead of calling up my trusty friends at Yuan Ho (“by da dumpstah! two minnes!”), i decided to make it myself.  Lindsay and i hit up Teeter, stocked up on veg and lo mein noodles, and i went home to cook.

here’s what you’ll need:
the veg:                                                       the other:
-one small eggplant                                     -one package of wide lo mein noodles
-one bundle of baby bok choy                    -1 1/2 cups of cooked peeled shrimp (or chicken or beef)
-one large carrot                                          -teriyaki sauce
-half a pint of sliced button mushrooms      -soy sauce
-a handful of snow peas                              -sesame oil
-half of a medium vidallia onion                   -minced garlic
-one small can of bamboo shoots
-a handful of bean sprouts

here’s what you do:

i started by prepping all the veg and piling them together on a plate for later.

cut the carrot in half and half again, and then slice into small matchstick pieces. clean the bok choy in the sink to remove the grit or dirt that gets trapped between the layers, and chop the pieces into bite size chunks. wash and dice the eggplant into sugar cube-sized squares.  i left the skin on because it gets tender when stir-fried, but you can peel it if you’d like! peel and slice the onion in half-moons and separate the layers. drain the bamboo shoots, and leave the snow peas and mushrooms as is.

in the mean time, i had a pot of water on to boil for my lo mein noodles.  i used a wide noodle that i found on the asian aisle of my grocery.  if you can’t find that kind of noodle, any other thick one will do. or–just use spaghetti!  make sure to toss the noodles with a little but of oil when they come out of the water or they will be impossible to separate later on when you get ready to stir-fry them.

next, get a wok or a large non-stick skillet on the stove, heated up to high with a few tablespoons of oil.  once you see the oil begin to ripple (that tells you its really hot!), add the onions, carrots, and eggplant into the pan.  stir-fry them for just about a minute and then add the rest of the vegetables (except for the bamboo shoots and bean sprouts).  stir-fry the whole mixture for a good five minutes, adding a clove or two of minced garlic towards the end (make sure it doesnt burn!).  add some sesame oil for flavor, along with some soy sauce and teriyaki sauce to taste.  add the bamboo shoots and continue to fry.

**note: i forgot to get ginger when i was at the grocery!  ginger will kick up the spice and flavor of this lo mein, so make sure to grab some when you go.  a knob of ginger is cheap and will last for a few months in the freezer!

at the last minute, add the cooked shrimp and stir-fry until it warms through and picks up the flavors of the sauces.  at this point, take the cooked noodles and add them to the pan with the rest of the veg and shrimp.  add more sesame oil and soy/teriyaki to taste (which might be more than you think– remember the noodles need to be flavored and they soak up the flavor!) and stir-fry everything together until the flavors combine.

take the whole dish off the heat, add bean sprouts right on the top for a cool crunch, and voila!  or should i say, 瞧!  here is the finished dish (sans sprouts, oops!).  enjoy!

Kara’s Shrimp and Vegetable Lo Mein