Every sliver of concrete that legally can hold a table and chairs is ready for Richmond’s insatiable desire for outdoor drinking and dining. A few new options join the many longstanding terraces, and even when you’re sizzling on a slab like so many fajitas, owners are carving out space for you wherever they can find it.
New to the scene is an eight-table sidewalk corral outside the Republic at 2053 W. Broad St. Full menu and bar service attracted a crowd from opening night last week, and smokers are allowed to indulge both inside and out.
Patios and decks are bustling at Conch Republic in Rocketts, and coming soon to the White Anchovie on Lauderdale Drive. Keegan’s Pub in Short Pump has an active following for its street-side barstools; Nuevo Mexico’s covered patio is a neighborhood winner on Huguenot Road. A bigger deck has arrived at Ashland Coffee and Tea, and the petite balcony at Xtra’s Café in Carytown is busy late into the evening most nights. Readers are encouraged to share their favorite outdoor options online at Styleweekly.com.
Greek Gods: Richmond’s 35-year devotion to the Greek Festival ramps up June 2-5. See the website for menu, parking, to-go options, culture, charities and other reasons to attend at greekfestival.com.
Moonlight Magic: This ninth annual fundraiser for Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center is set for June 10 from 6:30-10 p.m. at James River Cellars. Events include a silent auction, foods from Champagne Taste Catering and Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe and music from Flat Elvis. Tickets are $40 before June 9, and a free shuttle is available. Get details at massey.vcu.edu/moonlight.
Cocktails at Company: New to the Tobacco Company in Shockoe Slip is a lineup of craft cocktails created by its bar staff, and an appetizer sampler from chef David Mussi. The summer-long promotion runs weekdays from 5-7 p.m. and costs $10.
Readers eat and tell:
“The Phoenician has become one of our favorites — the food is always fantastic and the staff knowledgeable and courteous. What is really disappointing though is that they never seem to be very busy. I love the food, there isn’t much else like it in town and everyone that we have ever taken there has also loved it. Whenever we eat there (several times a month now), everyone in the restaurant is always raving about their meals.” — Megan Compton
“Quick request for a locally owned and operated restaurant. My family and I have been enjoying the new El Cerro Azul Mexican restaurant in Midlothian Village. We’ve tried many others in the area and have decided that this is our new favorite. … I’m concerned that many people will never find them.” — Ryan Pierce
Fantasies on wheels can run in lots of directions. Airstreams, Harleys and Corvettes all have their mystique, depending on who's doing the dreaming. Same for the stainless steel beauty that is a 2009 Creative Mobile Systems custom food truck, now rolling with ex-wine merchant Henry Reidy at the wheel.
Reidy's new business, Meat on the Street, pulls up at some of the higher-visibility events around town — First Fridays next to Quirk Gallery, Wednesday afternoons at the new Souther of the James Market near Westover Hills Boulevard and Forest Hill Avenue. Reidy also books a lot of private parties.
The rig is a top-notch — "a full restaurant kitchen on wheels," Reidy says — a 6-by-10-foot trailer with a 12-foot awning and the works inside: a flat-top griddle and grill, two burners, a steam table, three built-in coolers, two exhaust hoods, a three-compartment sink so nice "the state Health Department hasn't seen something like this," Reidy says of the roughly $30,000 investment. He's selling products from his wife Tanya Cauthen's established Belmont Butchery and local farmers' markets.
"We're not going to be overly complicated," Reidy says of the chalkboard menu's three or four items — usually grass-fed burgers on Sally Lunn rolls for $8, wagyu beef hot dogs, sausage and egg biscuits, and eggs scrambled with asparagus, spinach and green onion. "We're cooking to order, doing a restaurant-quality product out of a small space," he says. "It's not grandpa's hot dog cart." And there's almost always vegetarian option. Compostable plates, cutlery and cups are for takeout or dine-by at a couple of tables under the awning.
Reidy's not the only one riding the food-truck wave that hit the West Coast a decade ago and is now making its way deeper into Richmond's Twitter-fed trenches. Christopher's Runaway Gourmay, Nate's Taco Truck and Boka Tako are the old timers, and chefs such as Carlos Silva of Bistro 27 downtown are next in line. Silva's been scouting the right vehicle up north and is quietly developing a concept. Stay tuned.
Bottle fed: Both locations of Barrel Thief are adding hours and new menu items. They now open Mondays through Saturdays until 11 p.m.; the kitchen closes at 10. A new menu expands the bruschetta line-up and includes food specials from 4 - 6 p.m., with Friday tastings from 5 - 7:30 p.m. through summer. Also, the Patterson Avenue location has live music on Saturdays, 7 - 10 p.m. barrelthiefwine.com.
These are delirious times to be a diner in Richmond. Serious, big-scale projects are coming online at a clip not seen for the past few years. Construction budgets are increasing. Ambitions and concepts are finding dollars and the imagination to use them. Big, shiny kitchens are putting those old Fan and Bottom grunge pits to shame. One fun aspect of being a food writer is hearing how gross the previous owners left particular kitchens. There's considerable sniping about this topic.
A meticulous example of the new wave burnishes the Goochland countryside — while Benedictine grows down the road — and comes with a veteran chef and partner. Paolo Randazzo, beloved and sometimes undersung among Richmond's elite chefs, continues at the helm of Sensi, his Tobacco Row project, but he's in full construction mode on Portico in the former Edible Garden space.
The transformation on River Road is a beauty, maintaining the vintage compound's footprint, but stepping it up with a craftsman build-out by Steeber and Father Co. that includes a large outdoor fireplace and terrace surrounded by gardens, a doubled-in-size dining room with green granite bar and a covered walkway to the kitchen cottage. Interior designer Helen Reed, who has a corner on restaurant work here with dozens of high-visibility projects, selected a soft palette and vintage fixtures and admits to being enthralled by this little gem.
While Randazzo is keeping quiet on Portico for now, he's at work developing a lunch and dinner menu that's versatile (pasta, burgers, pizzas) for an area that can appreciate this infusion of relaxed Italian glamour.
Goat growing: Another big-scale project moving toward a summer opening is the Blue Goat in the former Peking space on Grove Avenue. New windows are transforming the 1940s building — first a grocery store, later a restaurant called Jim West's Charcoal Hearth — into a 4,600-square-foot urban gastro pub with a 40-foot concrete bar, private chef's table dining room, and a view from the street to the kitchen, where chef and partner Kevin LaCivita will be a visible presence working the line.
He'll be baking baguettes daily in the new steam-injected bread oven to complement smoked scallops, charcuterie, and a lengthy list of European-influenced foods, craft cocktails, and beers and boutique wines. "Eventually we'll be doing our own hot dogs and buns," LaCivita says, as well as smoked vanilla-bean ice cream and seasonal small plates. Chris Staples will be general manager of the space, which seats 120 inside and 20 on the front patio.
Owner Chris Tsui says the project, in a building where he got his restaurant-career start, will be a "comfortable neighborhood spot with an urban-tavern feel," featuring brick walls, restored terrazzo flooring, reclaimed fir paneling, and tables crafted by Ren Mefford, who manages the five properties in the Osaka group.
Lunch at Aurora: Look for more Thai influences on the luncheon menu at Aurora downtown. Chef Scott Davison says spring rolls and other dishes are part of a kitchen revamp at 401 E. Grace St. 644-5380.
Fan more and less: Six Burner Restaurant has renewed its lunch hours, serving weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Business under chef Philip Denny is consistently brisk, recently helped along by the post-Picasso crowd. sixburner.net.
Goodbye: Mainstream, in the former Cirrus and Dogwood Grille space, is for sale and no longer operating.
Closed: Boom Boom Burgers shut its doors last week after a three-month run in Shockoe Bottom. Owner Joshua Eftekhari-Asl stirred charges of racism after issuing a letter to the public on Richmond.com that blamed the neighborhood's bar-oriented clientele for negative impact on his business.
He tells Style Weekly that he's paying bills and sorting out the aftermath of a difficult few days. "I stuck my foot in my mouth and made a big mistake," he says of his online commentary about Shockoe nightlife, "but I'm not done with this concept. I don't want to bury this thing away — I want to learn from this experience."
While there are no imminent plans for a new location for the grass-fed burger concept he hoped to franchise, he says, "I don't see any doors open at this moment, but something could change in a matter of days or hours."
If you get technical about it, Selba would be selva, meaning jungle in Spanish. But Todd Boyd takes a little leeway in a project notable for the high degree of specificity in its mission. Details such as planting four types of bamboo are keeping minds racing for Boyd and Alan delForn, who owns the property and part of the restaurant. So far, the pair's three-year discussions have wrought an extreme build-out now moving toward a punch list.
The building was once Cliff's Honda, a '40s era shop at 2416 W. Cary St., and the partners, who are also real estate brokers, pounced when it came on the market. For delForn, it's a two-block walk from his bar-oriented business, Star-lite Dining, in a neighborhood that could cater to a different crowd altogether. Selba's significantly expensive redesign tops 6,000 square feet, with a separate lounge-style smoking room facing the street, its new-tech ventilation system a feature of interest.
The front dining room has so-called Mafia booths and tables widely spaced. A baby grand piano sits at the entrance, to be played by performers, students and perhaps guests on amateur nights, a rare piece of entertainment during dinner hours here. Beyond the long wood bar by noted craftsman Josh Kayer, is the project's jumping off point — an airy garden room with planting beds, folding windows, skylights and romantic lighting through the bamboo, with edible fruit, herbs and blooms that change seasonally along with the menu.
Look for kitchen manager Abram Jackson's take on what Boyd describes as healthy comfort food, casseroles and ragouts, Californian in approach using local farmers' goods. Boyd's graphic-design background and avid interest in eco tourism drive the look and philosophy of the project. "Get to know your food," he says. "We will disclose the nutritional content, the sources," and accommodate low-salt, gluten-free and other special requests, without an overt hand. Servers will be highly trained, he promises, and the staff will sign pledges to be harmonious and happy. Is this a new Richmond? One answer comes by midsummer.
Now serving: Enoteca Sogno, dinner and wines in a new space from Italy-fluent owner Gary York, Tuesdays - Saturdays from 5 p.m. 1223 Bellevue Ave. 355-8466. enoteca-sogno.com.
The Hard Shell: In their first move south of the James, restaurateurs Michelle Williams and Jared Golden are opening the Hard Shell Bellgrade in the former Outer Banks Seafood and Bottega space in Midlothian. Longtime general manager Leandra Dunlevy is managing partner in the 8,000-square-foot business, the largest in the Richmond Restaurant Group's six holdings. It will have a 50-seat patio and the same raw bar, fish and steak menu as the 1995 Shockoe Bottom forerunner.
"The location has all the elements we need," Williams says, "and a lot of friends out that way have asked for it. We want it to look as much like the original as possible," and demolition started last week for a fairly extensive redo. Murals, a fireplace in the bar, a stage with potential jazz acts, and three private rooms will pitch toward rehearsal dinner biz, long a mainstay for the home base. Dinner hours will be the focus for now, and a September opening is the target.
A Different Fish. Also, Pearl's Cupcakes is more open than ever, and new brunch hours at Pescados China Street
When chefs get excited about ingredients, you can expect a certain reverence for their finished dishes as well. It's a trait that binds chefs Todd Manley (Pescados) and Matthew Tlusty (the former Limani, Bookbinder's), making their launch this month of the White Anchovie a mutually appealing partnership. Tina Manley shares ownership of the restaurant at 3061 Lauderdale Drive.
The White Anchovie, in the former Seafire Grill in a shopping center with martial arts and dance classes, hopes to appeal to palate-stretching families, couples, and people who appreciate an independent restaurant with a Fan-type menu and ingredients. Expect fish, creatively prepared, along with pasta such as Sardinian lasagna with ground lamb, veal and pork layered on crepes, oxtail fettuccine, specialty pizzas and other fresh options for about $20.
Tlusty sees the partnership with Todd Manley as a natural. "We both have a good time in the kitchen," he says, "but business is business and you've got to do it right every time." They'll serve dinner Mondays through Saturdays and develop longer-range plans, including patio dining and a babysitter's club, while the business finds its neighborhood niche. 249-4515
Eight and counting: Julep's New Southern Cuisine hits the eight year mark in its historic Shockoe Bottom location this month, and celebrates with a spring wine dinner. Chef Branden Levine, fresh from an audition for reality-show favorite "Top Chef," is preparing five wine-matched courses, including crispy pork belly braised in molasses and bourbon and served with watermelon, a Southern starter for a filling evening. Reservations are required for the May 19 event starting with a reception at 6:30 p.m. and cost $75 per person. 1719 E. Franklin St. 377-3968. juleps.net.
Sunday with Mary: Pescados China Street has added Sunday brunch hours to its lineup.
Pearl's wisdom: In case you missed the giant banner in front of Pearl's Cupcake Shoppe that reads, "We Are Baking For You," owners Laura Condrey and Laurie Blakey also are working social media outlets to reassure customers that their business at 5812 Grove Ave. is open and in expansion mode. (As we noted in a correction last week, Style Weekly erroneously reported that Pearl's had closed during a temporary renovation.)
"We've grown tremendously in our first year," Blakey says, and the staff has doubled to 14 employees. A new delivery truck, an iPad point-of-sale system, and a rollout of 40 new cupcake flavors are the results of a commitment to hard work shared by the former real estate colleagues.
Pearl's sells cakes, cookies, muffins and other items, but its cupcakes such as the Wilma Ray — named after a "classic Richmond beauty" and described as a "champagne batter cake frosted with an Italian champagne butter cream and topped with a real miniature rose" — and customer contest winners such as the Bill Porter deep-dish apple pie cupcake, that give the shop its character and committed following. Vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free cupcakes are available in the case and by custom order.
"We really have a great team," Condrey says, "and everybody loves what they do. We have a lot of fun doing it, and that's important." Particularly when they're baking daily, handling multiple wedding and corporate clients weekly, and tempting passersby with a case of changing options. "It's a single indulgence," Blakey says of the cupcake. "You walk in and you feel like the sky's the limit, that it's simply yours to pick an individual serving." 285-2253. pearlscupcakeshoppe.com.Editor's Note: The print edition of this article lists the name of the restaurant as "The White Anchovy." Style Weekly has since learned that the owners will be actually be naming the restaurant "The White Anchovie."