The online restaurant rating site Yelp is out with its annual list of the nation’s top hundred restaurants, from fine dining to food trucks. Sandy Hausman reports on one surprising Virginia spot that made the cut.
Shannon Campbell was living in South Florida when her brother Rob called and begged her to consider moving. He was in Charlottesville and needed help with his kids.
“He was working a corporate job, and he was so burned out," she recalls. " I said, ‘Just quit. We’ve got one life. Let’s be happy!’ And I said, ‘You know what would be fun? Let’s open a restaurant!’
Se had worked in the business and loved it. So did her cousin Mike. They found a little storefront next to the Food Lion west of downtown Charlottesville and named the place after Shannon’s Dad – Croby’s Urban Viddles.
Shannon’s mother and Mike’s mom, Sandy Rankin, had retired to South Carolina but would make the eight-hour drive to Virginia to visit.
“Our kids had just opened the restaurant," Rankin explains. "They could give us 15 minutes of their valuable time. My sister said, ‘In good conscience we cannot go back to South Carolina and watch Netflix. We’ll sell what we have, move to Charlottesville and help our kids, and here we are!”
They wait tables on weekends and do other jobs as needed.
“My sister cleans this restaurant two days a week," Rankin says. "I clean the kids’ house and do their laundry so they’ll have time for Croby’s. Sherry laughs all the time and says, ‘Who ever thought when we were in our 70’s you would be a waitress, and I’d be a dishwasher?’”
The fare is Southern comfort food:
Fried green tomatoes, okra fritters and pimento cheese, for example.
"Mike makes a big pot of chicken and dumplings on Tuesday," Rankin adds. "They fly out the window. For $7 you get a big bowl of chicken and dumplings with two sides of bread.”
And, of course, there’s barbeque! Don Lucas of San Antonio told us, “We try to pretend that we have the best barbeque in the world in Texas, but we may be wrong after visiting this place,”
His wife Lisa favors the okra fritters, while Rob Squatriglia, visiting from North Carolina, crowed about the barbeque sundae -- with layers of chicken, pork, cauliflower, baked beans and cheese. "The vinegar from the cole slaw brings it all together, and everything’s really tasty," he concludes.
“I cook, and I’m a good cook," says local Bob Barber. "Their chicken and dumplings are better than mine. Now that’s saying something!”
The restaurant does give a nod to modern culinary trends – subbing cauliflower mash for whipped potatoes. But on weekends, they’re old school, with cat head biscuits and gravy.
“Jeanette makes our biscuits, big as a cat head," Rankin says. "She hand pats them with love. They’re not rolled out. They’re flakey and good. The kids mix their own sausage, make sausage gravy. They also have our French toast, made with homemade honey house bread. Shannon warms the syrup, she puts a little bacon and a pinch of cayenne. Best French toast you’ll ever taste.”
With so much pride in her family and their food, Rankin wasn’t surprised by the news that customer rankings put Croby’s on the annual Yelp list, but the founders are still recovering from the shock.
“I was just floored!' Shannon recalls. "I was like, ‘Look at this!' And then everybody started pulling open their phones, and it just kind of blew up from there. We just can’t believe it. We keep our staff happy. They work hard, we treat them well, and we’re a big family. That’s what it is.”
Croby’s ranked 60 on the Yelp List of Top Places to Eat in 2020 based on diner ratings – behind number 3, Farmbird in D.C. and number 31 – Greek Unique in Ashburn, but ahead of number 72 -- Stella’s in Richmond and number 74 – Noodle Man in Virginia Beach.