South and Central Hits the Spot

When I finally decided to go out for dinner for the first time in over a year the choice was obvious - Will Richey's new South and Central Latin Grill in the Dairy Market building.

When I finally decided to go out for dinner for the first time in over a year the choice was obvious - Will Richey's new South and Central Latin Grill in the Dairy Market building. Why? Well, while Richey has opened 10 restaurants in Charlottesville since he took over Rev Soup in 2005, a venture he actually hadn't planned on (the wine guy at L'etoile on West Main at the time, he and a partner had planned to close on another restaurant that year but the deal fell through), South and Central was the concept he'd always been after.

"Every one [of his restaurants] was a chance to open my steakhouse but for one reason or another, the circumstances weren’t quite right," writes Richey on his website. "That never swayed me from opening other projects and have been happy to see them come to fruition. The Steakhouse has been my white whale for nearly 20 years and now I have finally caught up to it."

What's more, South and Central was conceived in the midst of the pandemic, which hit the restaurant business particularly hard, both financially and philosophically.

"It was time for a reset," says Richey the optimist, standing outside South and Central, talking about how the pandemic has perhaps offered those in the biz a chance to reimagine what cooking and serving food for people is all about. "Of all the restaurants I've started, this was by far the hardest to open."

Our server for the night had an interesting story as well. In a kind of reverse trajectory, she said she had left a job as an academic advisor because she had tired of not being able to meet face-to-face with students, something she realized she really enjoyed, which put her in touch with how her own mother enjoyed cooking and hosting guests, and by extension her own natural desire to make people feel welcome and cared for. Pre-pandemic, perhaps you could find a server with the same altruistic motives, who had left a white-collar career to work in a restaurant, but it certainly wouldn't have been the norm. Hopefully, the idea of serving as a serious profession, with all the benefits, management support, and good pay that should accompany it, will begin to take root as restaurants emerge from the darkness.

As for the food, space, Richey and his team - chefs Kelvin Barrera and Tres Pittard, bar manager Mike Stewart, general manager Jonathan Corey, the Bebedero's River Hawkins - have created a "steak house" unlike anything I've ever seen in Charlottesville, showcasing the Central and South American style of cooking meat -- locally-sourced flank, skirt, lamb, ribeye, t-bone, strip, and cap sirloins seared quickly over red-hot wood coals with traditional sauces combining salt, pepper, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, cumin, ancho chile or chipotle and other surprises. Throw in Spanish-style tapas selections like grilled octopus, pupas, and ceviche, a selection of South American wines, custom South American cocktails, and South and Central's take on the hamburger, the Hamburguesa (Timbercreek farm ground beef, onion jam, camembert cheese, chimichurri, brioche bun), and...is your mouth watering yet? The space, too, is great, bright and wide open, filled with the chatter of humans gathering -- what a concept! - but modulated just enough to preserve the intimacy of dining out. Highly recommended!