Doing wonders: A Garden grows on Market Street

Banana trees, reggae music, and Caribbean curry in downtown Charlottesville? It's no mirage. The August heat-­ along with lots of sweat and positive vibes– brought a bit of the islands to East Market Street last week.

Housed in the brick building and lush adjacent courtyard still partly animated by Live Arts, the new Afro-Caribbean eatery and open-air music club, Garden of Sheba, came to life with the sounds of Corey Harris and the smells of coco bread and Jamaican jerk last Friday, August 22.

With Fuel gearing up for gourmet gas and food service just a block away, there seems to be no fear that this end of town will fall silent after Live Arts moves to its new digs on Water Street in November. Actually, in the eyes of African drummer and Garden of Sheba co-owner Scottie B, the party is just getting started.

And he should know. In case you're one of the few people who doesn't know who Scottie B is, Dish will fill you in. A native of Reva (near Culpeper), Scottie decided to move to Charlottesville after attending a Bob Marley birthday celebration at Trax back in 1990. When he met-­ or, better, experienced– the locally based West African dance troupe Chihamba, he knew his calling.

He immediately began studying drums with the troupe, and in 1993 spent six of the most intense weeks of his life living and learning in Gambia. It was here, in this land free of clutter, that he got the inspiration to make something happen back home in Charlottesville.

"It really awoke me," Scottie B told Dish. "People over there have half of the resources we have, and they still make things happen. With a few scraps of wood, some music, and good food, they do wonders."

Scottie B organized his first Soul Shakedown Party in June 2000. It was a smash, and party after party followed, culminating in "Massive," the three-week cultural extravaganza-­ music, poetry readings, art exhibitions– held in a temporarily vacant space on Water Street last March.

Scottie B's goal is to make "Club Massive" a permanent reality some time in the very near future, or as soon as he can find a suitable space (hint: He might not need to look too far).

In the meantime, he'll continue to fill the Garden of Sheba courtyard– now outfitted with a wooden stage as well as a half dozen patio dining tables– with acts like the upcoming Soldiers of Jah Army (Roots Reggae), Foundation Stone ("Reggae twist with a jazz chaser") and the Afrikan Drum Fest. Music starts at 9 or 10pm, and there's a reduced cover for diners.

If Scottie B handles the music, who's responsible for the equally soulful food? Dish walked through the airy, light-filled dining room (painted pale green floors, a bamboo bar, swirling ceiling fans) to find Ras Abba and his wife, Sister Julia, a native of St. Maarten, busily chopping sweet green peppers, onions, and carrots in the kitchen formerly occupied by Anything Goes.

The husband and wife team started catering Scottie B's parties back in 2001. When the reggae revelers couldn't seem to get enough of their "Tofu Run Down Stew," they decided to join Scottie B in the once-mythical– now real– Garden of Sheba restaurant. Inspired by the Caribbean tradition of simplicity, by a desire to stress the history and "commonality" of certain foods (curries, for instance, found in places as distant as India and Jamaica), and by the cooking couple's own primarily vegetarian diet, the menu offers appetizers like plantains and cod fish fritters, a handful of entrees– Jamaican-Jerk salmon, Ghanaian salad, a Soul Plate-­ and warm banana bread and fresh fruit for dessert.

"We're not interested in offering a three-page menu," Abba explains. "You know, in the Caribbean, most of the best restaurants are beach shacks with only four or five foods on the menu."

"This whole place is much more than just food," Julia adds. "It's about nourishing the soul."

Now open only for dinner, Abba says that in a few months' time, it will be possible to lunch, too, in the shade of the banana trees.


Ciao mein?

Those heading to Fuji Bar and Grill for platefuls of all-you-can-eat sushi and Asian cuisine got a rude awakening last week: The gargantuan buffet, located in the former Wood Grill space on Seminole Trail, locked its doors less than eight months after opening.

Fuji owner Gui Chen, who also owns the behemoth China King Buffet just a few hundred yards further north on Seminole Trail, did not return messages, and the restaurant phone is out of service.

But Fuji fans shouldn't lose heart. The doors, says landlord Jim Morris, will reopen. The owner wanted to do some "tweaking on renovations," says Morris, adding that Chen has told him Fuji will reopen in a couple of weeks.

Dish will keep you updated.