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Time Capsule Thursday: Orzo and My Boys

When I got back to Charlottesville after graduate school, I knew it would not be easy to find a job. I tried and tried and tried, pursued leads, and largely, heard nothing. Woot. By August, I was pretty down and out on myself, and I decided it was time to get back off my booty and try the waitressing thing again, while I continued to look. After working for a bit at a brand-new and honestly laughable joint, places finally started to give me the time of day, and I got 3 job offers in 2 days. But the one that I took, that was offered to me at the end of my interview, became a second home to me for the next 9 months.

I think I will do another former review of Orzo at a later time–for now I want to touch on what makes it special, and my experience there. I have a feeling this will be a “To Be Continued” post…. Just sayin.

Photos of facade, interior, and Chef Tommy are from Orzo’s Homepage Orzokitchen.com

orzo facade

Orzo Kitchen and Wine Bar is an upscale-casual restaurant, wine bar, and catering venue that was born out of its owner-partners’ Mediterranean roots, driven by first-rate food, and brought home by exemplary customer service.  Orzo had actually been one of Alex and my favorite special-date spots–we went there for an anniversary, even. The dining room held about 80 seats, with an open (and tiny!) kitchen and industrial architecture offset by rustic Mediterranean decor. In short: it was my happy place.

Chef Tommy Brawley had been brought on around the time that I had graduated from Columbia, and I started work the week just prior to his new menu debut (in October). That was a great week of having NO IDEA what was in many of the dishes because I had studied the new menu!

In my review, I will go into Chef’s credentials and some of his work that I was fortunate enough to experience, but for now, I want to remember what it was like working for him. In a work: amazing. As a low-level foodie (I kept up with restaurant happenings in NYC and am fascinated by culinary pursuits. Yes, the change in tense was intentional), I reveled in the opportunity to work one-on-one with Chef Tommy, who had studied at the CIA Hyde Park, had worked at a top-rate restaurant in Westchester that specialized in farm-to-table, daily-rotating, hand-crafted delights. Chef Tommy brought that same approach to Orzo–transitioning the restaurant over to local purveyors, raising the sophistication of dishes, and bringing an even more hand-crafted approach to the menu. All pasta beyond linguini was made by hand, lettuces were especially grown for salads by local farmers, fish from the fishmonger across the aisle (we were in a market of sorts) that they broke down, pork and sausages made either in house at Orzo or cut for us by personal friends of Chef. What’s more, because the restaurant was smaller, we (the servers) worked directly with the kitchen.

Chef Tommy

Chef Tommy

Interior

Interior

Oh, the kitchen. Those boys became “my” boys. I would like to think that they thought of me as a real friend. I mean, if you still like someone and will talk to them in an amiable fashion after 2 consecutive restaurant weeks (13 days straight for them, and they did ALL prep), then I think I can honestly say we got along. Adam, Justin, and John were amazing as a team and on their own. And with Chef on the pass, the 4 of them were unstoppable, seriously. I am still amazed at the quality, consistency, and artistry of the dishes they produced.

This was the special Farmer's Harvest beet salad we ran for a few days in early January--Beet chips, beet meringue, beet tartare, red kale.

This was the special Farmer’s Harvest beet salad we ran for a few days in early January–Beet chips, beet meringue, beet tartare, red kale.

But boy, they were out of their gourds. Too many stories, basically none of them appropriate. Justin pretty much only spoke in euphamisms, but he and I rocked out to dubstep and talked music. Adam had gone to NYU for a spell, and he was just a good guy. John was the spritely one of the group, and the youngest of the crew.

Cookie Dough Paddle. I licked the ____ out of that spoon, let me tell you.

Cookie Dough Paddle. I licked the ____ out of that spoon, let me tell you.

On busy nights, Tyler would come in and expedite. He was a whip-smart local who had worked at the restaurant for years. He studied computer science and was transferring to UVA in the fall. He reminded me so much of my brother, just more extroverted. He had a solid head on his shoulders and stayed out of trouble, and I can tell you straight-up, he was our life-blood on busy nights. Good god, I don’t know what we would have done without him.

heheheh GIANT carrot

heheheh GIANT carrot

So many more people were a part of my Orzo family, and I will come back to them another time. But to me, the heart and soul of the restaurant was the back of the house. From Lorena making gnocchi and ravioli, to Miguel with his spikey hair, to Tommy cannell-ing beet tartare, or John and I nibbling on the scraps of chocolate tuille after they cut it. Now, I have no contact with the kitchen. If I mess up, and throw everything to the wind, I don’t have to deal with their screaming expletives or whatever. But I still feel bad (I will sometimes append a re-fire with “SO SORRY”).

I miss the people and the craft of Orzo. The pride and finesse. I miss the pride with which I could serve the food, and I miss the majority of our clientelle–interested and intrigued with dishes. Many were regulars, including some celebrities who lived in the community. We truly knew our diners, and they got to know us. I remember right after the Boston Marathon serving a two-top and noticing that she wore the yellow and blue ribbon on her sweater. I asked her about it and found out that she had been there, had finished a little bit prior to the bombing. I remember she got the English Sweet-Pea soup, which we had just debuted, because I talked her into it, and that she had raved about the dish. And, of course, we both rolled up our pant-legs to show that we were both wearing Pro-Compression socks 😀

My time at Orzo paid for my honeymoon as well as provided our start-up money for our new place in Chicago. Not all shifts were fab, of course, but I will forever look back on my time there with a smile and happiness.

Talk to me, Goose:

Have you had a job touch you in way that you never would have expected?

For servers, how has “being in the industry” changed you as a diner?

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