Dayside oasis: Carving Board Café opens near 29

For those of us who live close to Downtown, a trip up Route 29 can be fraught with anxiety. Since I tend to cram all of my "north of town" stops into one grand-tour per week, I experience this strip as an endless series of parking lots, traffic lights, and check-out lines.

Which is why, after hitting just about every red-light on a hot afternoon, I found cool, friendly Carving Board Café a welcome, sanity-preserving oasis. Located in a petite pleasantly remodeled space in the Albemarle Square Shopping Center near ACAC, this month-old café gives area residents, workers, and shoppers a fresh, fast, locally owned lunch alternative.

Created, owned and operated by two young chefs, Candice Liptak and Justin VanderLinde, the Carving Board specializes in speedy, inexpensive meals ($3.25-$5.75).

"We enjoy providing excellent service, and we care more about our customers being satisfied than making a buck," Liptak says.

All dishes– from soups like seafood bisque and cold strawberry-melon to salads like gorgonzola and pear or sesame Asian to sandwiches like a crab melt or smoked beef barbecue– are prepared in-house and packaged to-go.

From the workers who show up for lunch at 10am to those who come by for an early dinner before the 6 o'clock closing– this place seems to have quite a following already. Before I could even grab a menu, regulars, spotting a newbie, enthusiastically described each item for me, making my selection a delicious challenge.


Spicy competition: Bottled curry aims to win

 You might not have heard of Irene and Ron Castelino and their small, locally owned Curry and Spice Co., but leaders in the specialty food industry certainly have.

Just one year-old, this enterprise specializing in fully prepared and bottled Indian curries happens to be a finalist in the prestigious National Association for the Specialty Food Trade's Fancy Food Show in New York City. Their Goa Coconut Curry, a rich, creamy curry from the coastal region of western India, is competing against six other innovative edibles for the Association's "Outstanding New Product" award to be announced on July 10.

But considering that specialty food retailers and grocers look to the entire list of Fancy Food finalists to discover emerging trends that will shape the industry– Curry and Spice is already a winner.

Though the spices and well-preserved family recipes are all 100 percent Indian (Irene was born and raised in Bombay), the concept for curries in a jar actually came from Italy.

"I basically took the idea of ready-made pasta sauces and applied it to curry, which normally takes hours– even days– to prepare," Irene says. Necessity definitely helped invention along. As a busy UVA nurse and mother, she didn't always have the luxury of leisurely cooking time. Ironically, her time-saving concept is keeping her busier than ever these days.

In development for over a decade, Curry and Spice Co. launched its first two curry sauces– Mogul Masala, a Persian-influenced curry from north India, and Garam Masala, a "hot" blend containing over 25 different spices– in 2004. Four others followed– Gosht Masala (traditionally served with lamb on special occasions), Portuguese-inspired Vindaloo (vin=wine), Madras Masala, and the Fancy finalist Goa Coconut.

Best-described as "simmer sauces," these curries can be used in a variety of ways (marinades, rubs, in dips) with meat, seafood or vegetables. Jar-to-table meals take 10-30 minutes.

Irene Castelino and daughter Ashley

Justin and Candice at the Carving Board Café