Parallel 38 is not even one year old, but as of Sept. 18 it had already hosted a James Beard dinner.
Co-owner and sommelier Justin Ross was shocked when he received the esteemed invitation only four months after opening on New Year's Day. “We were hoping in two or three years we would get the opportunity,” says Ross, “but to be invited after four months was awesome.”
Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the restaurant is named for the 38th parallel, which crosses through regions such as the Napa Valley, Southern Italy, Spain, and Virginia. Ross’ vision was to create a space where the foods and wines of this celebrated latitude could shine.
Diners quickly took notice. In a town saturated with Southern comfort food staples like fried chicken, grits, and Pimiento cheese, a high-end Mediterranean restaurant with an extensive wine list stands out.
But how does such a young restaurant catch the eye of one of the most important foundations in the industry? Serving a dinner at Beard’s former West Village home to members of the James Beard Foundation is not only a huge honor, but also highly coveted among chefs because those members go on to select the winners of prestigious James Beard awards.
Executive Chef Alfredo Malinis Jr. believes Parallel 38’s commitment to originality, while remaining true to Mediterranean cuisine, is what resonated with Charlottesville residents as well as with the James Beard Foundation.
“From the beginning, we decided it was best that we did our own thing and stuck to what we knew, and I think people noticed that really quickly,” says Chef Malinis. “We did a lot of research on what items are quintessential Mediterranean, and what people expect when they go to a Mediterranean restaurant. Then we took those foundations of flavors and expectations, and we changed them so it was familiar yet original.”
The restaurant’s inventive dishes that were served at the Beard house include a hummus made with walnuts, blowfish ceviche, and Rock Cornish hen topped with foie gras butter. All of the selections were paired with wines from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Turkey.
“I’m a sommelier,” Ross says. “So I look at wine regions and climates and things like that, and I don’t think a lot of people look at cuisine that way. Our restaurant is based on the temperate climate of the 38th parallel, so it’s a new way to look at food.”
But a novel approach is nothing without a team that can transform the concept into a delicious meal. According to Chef Malinis, Parallel 38 has proved successful because of “the dedication that everyone puts forward, and the hard work and the time spent making sure we are providing food that is as good as it can be.”