CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Revolutionary Soup looks like your average student joint. A bit grungy but cheerful, with a menu of comforting and, more important, cheap soups and sandwiches.
Besides the prices, there's nothing cheap about the food at Rev Soup, as the locals affectionately call it. The tofu in the signature spicy Senegalese peanut soup is organic and local, made just 30 miles away in Louisa. The wheat for the homemade biscuits is grown in Virginia and ground at Byrd Mill in Ashland. And diners can pick from an impressive selection of wine bottles for sale at retail prices -- and then open and drink the wine at one of the cafeteria-style tables at no extra cost. "It hurts my margins," admits chef-owner Will Richey, who worked for five years as a sommelier around town. "But I love the idea of people drinking a nice Burgundy with a paper cup of really good soup."
That way of thinking is typical in Charlottesville. And that's why the food here is far better than it should be in a place with about 40,000 year-round residents and 20,000 broke college kids. True, college towns tend to have a disproportionate number of educated, affluent residents, but even by that standard Charlottesville's food scene stands out. In a city best known for Thomas Jefferson's architecture, there's sushi worthy of Nobu in New York (the chef, Bryan Emperor, trained there), rustic but transcendent tapas, plus all the other things a great food town requires: standout bread, real espresso, artisan chocolate and locally brewed beer. The vibrant city farmers market supplies ambitious local chefs and the community, which, thanks to restaurateurs like Richey, is used to food that's a cut above.