An Attorney With a Lot on His Plate
Although you could call Simon Davidson a food critic, you won’t hear the 1999 University of Virginia School of Law graduate speak ill of a restaurant, its chef or the menu. That’s because he chooses only to accentuate the positive.
Davidson is a food writer whose popular website, The Charlottesville 29, highlights what he views as the most essential 29 restaurants in Charlottesville.
“I’d like to think that in an otherwise volatile media, this is a little enclave of positivity,” he said.
The A to Z list, from Ace Biscuit & Barbecue to Zocalo, includes affordable options that students have been known to make their go-to eateries, as well as more expensive fare — for after completing those first-year exams or when family comes to town.
“Seven or eight years ago, I decided I wanted to explore the idea of food writing as a hobby on the side,” said Davidson, whose day job is as an attorney in Charlottesville. “I initially thought about the possibility of writing a book. But there are some barriers to that. So I instead decide to start a website where there are no barriers. You just get online and start writing.”
Davidson also pens a recurring food column for C’ville Weekly, which the newspaper requested about a year after he started the website. His only prerequisite in agreeing was that he got to do it his way. Snark was a non-starter for him.
“If I don’t like something, I’d rather someone go see for themselves,” he said.
Each year, he reconsiders the list, which plays off of Charlottesville’s Route 29, the highway that expanded the city’s commercial prospects, and by default its restaurant availability. When the list does change, it doesn’t usually change drastically. But Davidson said he is always open to discovering the next praiseworthy dining experience.
The only catch is there can only be 29 listed at any one time. For a restaurant to be added, one must be taken off. That’s just part of the mental exercise, he said — keeping the list small ensures it covers only places he could not live without. He prides his list for its mix of different cuisines at different price points.
“The whole idea of the website is to celebrate the Charlottesville food community,” he said. “I’m not necessarily putting this in order or saying these are the best chefs in town.”
Beyond the writing, Davidson said, what makes a good food critic is being able to enjoy food in wide variety and “leaving your expectations at the door.”
“Some people come into a meal thinking this is the way a hamburger is supposed to taste,” he said. “Preconceptions can color how you experience a meal.”
So which restaurants would he recommend to incoming UVA students?
In addition to the aforementioned Ace Biscuit, Davidson said students can’t go wrong with Sultan Kebab on Second Street downtown or the rotisserie chicken and Mexican street food offered by Al Carbon on Route 29.
And — of no surprise to locals — “For value, you can’t beat Bodo’s.” An estimated 6,000 people eat the restaurant’s bagels each day, according to his website.
“I think that the main constraint for me as a student would have been budget,” he said. “The good news is that the restaurants in Charlottesville aren’t extraordinarily expensive, but obviously there are some you can’t go to every day.”
Over the summer, The Charlottesville 29 hosted an online auction of special restaurant experiences that raised $255,241 for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which Davidson says equates to more than a million meals for the area’s hungry. He said it’s his way of giving back to the city he loves.
Davidson practices law at McGuireWoods, where he represents clients under investigation by federal and state agencies. He also conducts internal investigations and practices general commercial litigation, including securities class actions, False Claims Act cases and contract disputes.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.