Elizabeth Lee is a dentist and watercolor artist who says she reads cookbooks like they’re novels. “I’ve cooked since I was a kid, so I’ll be cooking here,” she says of her newest endeavor as co-owner of Peacock’s Pantry in the Fan.
Lee and John Purcell, a software sales exec, are opening their gourmet bistro in early December at 1731 W. Main St., a recent revolving door of restaurants. “We looked at so many spaces,” Lee says; this one feels right with its 60-some seats, corner visibility, even its proximity to the Visual Arts Center across the street, where Lee has taken painting classes.
They rented the restaurant at the end of July and have reworked the kitchen, developed a menu and concept, and added plenty of the namesake bird’s blues and greens to the once-white interior. Then they unveiled it to family members with a surprise Thanksgiving dinner and their first real meal in the new space.
Peacock’s Pantry will offer dinner Thursday through Sunday evenings, weekend brunch, and prepared foods for takeout. The menu “is familiar foods taken to another level,” Lee says. She’ll create soups, dressings and sauces to complement a mostly Continental menu of steaks, seafood, lamb, cassoulet, a bistro burger and other entrees in the $14-$29 range.
Desserts are a specialty, and will include a chef’s pastry basket of small sweets designed for sharing. Brunch offers truffled egg toast, red velvet waffles, huevos rancheros, sandwiches and sides, priced in the $10-$15 range and showing the owners’ desire to offer a casually elegant experience. 732-3333.
Fond Farewell: Fans of Jazzbo’s Rollin Gumbo, the nearly 4-year-old food cart on MacArthur Avenue, are mourning the recent death of chef Jamie Dickerson. He and Molly Buford had a passion for Cajun food and their business was among the area’s first mobile servers.
North Side sparkler: Tastebuds American Bistro presents its annual all-sparkling wine tasting dinner Dec. 11 by reservation. The menu is being developed, the tariff is $55 per person, and it’s a good opportunity to try out this intimate, independent dining room in a food-destination neighborhood. Two seatings for New Year’s Eve dinner are another holiday option. See details at tastebudsamericanbistro.com. 4019 MacArthur Ave. 261-6544.
Tastes like Christmas: Can Can Brasserie always gets lighted up for the holidays, and then rolls out the seasonal breads (cranberry pecan, walnut raisin, apricot pistachio, cherry almond, Normandy apple and pear hazelnut) for customers to order for pickup. See details on other specials and featured wines at cancanbrasserie.com.
Weekly wine: Of all the new food pitches around town, Matt Brehony’s spiels for Secco Wine Bar are the most fun to read. He goes by the title minister of propaganda, which gives an indication of the principles that guide this idiosyncratic Carytown establishment. On Monday and Tuesday nights, Secco now offers flight nights, three ways to sample three different wines — dealer’s choice ($10), customer’s own ($12) or flight of the week, chosen by Secco owner Julia Battaglini. The deals run all night on those evenings, sometimes with specials on appetizers from chef Tim Bereika’s kitchen. 2933 W. Cary St. seccowinebar.com.
Pasture, the about-to-open downtown restaurant pairing chef Jason Alley and owner Ry Marchant, knows what it doesn’t want to be: “This place isn’t stuffy, it doesn’t take itself too seriously,” general manager Michele Jones says, “and it’s local and green without sacrificing delicious and fun.”
“The food is not aggressive, not pretentious, not crazy complicated,” Alley adds, “and it’s super-badass,” a descriptor not in the usual litany of soft-opening self-praise. What Pasture does want to be is a designated hot spot staffed with some of the city’s heaviest hitters.
Joe Sparatta, after a short stint at LuLu’s, is sous chef. Sergio Gomez (Pescados China Street), Thomas Arrington (Aziza’s) and Andy DeGrange (Lemaire) are working the line. Alley, owner of nearby stalwart Comfort, returns to the kitchen to expedite and mastermind through the wide service window. Jeff Farmer (Blackberry Farm in Tennessee) moved from Six Burner to this project as bar manager; front of house staff includes Dare Jearman (Perly’s), Chris Simons (Lemaire) and Emelia Sparatta (LuLu’s).
This wasn’t poaching, Jones swears. “I didn’t make a single call” to recruit them from other restaurants, she says, “but when you work with people 70 hours a week you want them to be fun, and to translate that into something guests will feel.”
Lightheartedness at Pasture starts with boiled peanuts, curried or truffled popcorn and pimento cheese in the snacks department ($4); cold plates are steak tartar with jalapeno and quail egg ($12), sweet-tea-smoked trout with bacon ($11), pork rillettes with quince mustard and parsley on toast ($8). Hot stuff jumps from cheeseburger and fries ($11) to fried chicken with Tennessee-style hot slaw ($11), braised beef cheeks with grits ($13), fried Barcat oysters ($10), lamb sausage with navy beans ($12), marrow bones and parsley salad ($11), noodles and turnip greens in pot liquor ($8) and several vegetable options. Desserts, all $7, verge on Southern insanity: fried apple pie with salted caramel, 7-Up cake with cherry-vanilla ice milk, rice grits pudding, a chocolate-wafer candy bar and pecan pie with maple-bourbon ice cream.
The room is spare and spacious; its statement feature is the wood-crafted walls reclaimed from a Hopewell building. Wide windows, simple lighting, school-house chairs, cantilevered banquettes and low-backed booths by craftsman Tom Brickman feel like Comfort’s educated cousin from a few miles north. The absence of art and even of bottles behind the bar (they’re all in concealed drawers, bucking the usual bar-look notions) makes the space a clean slate and a far cry from its days as the chic clothier Montaldo’s. That shop’s former fur vault is now home to the walk-in and beer cooler, which feeds a 16-tap lineup of Eastern seaboard brews. Metal barstools have spring-back rockability, the better to enjoy Alley’s self-described great taste in music, and one of the perks of ownership — a hand-picked soundtrack to cook, and woo customers, by.
Pasture opens Monday through Saturday from 4 p.m. Lunch hours will be added early in the new year. 416 E. Grace St. 780-0416. pasturerva.com.
Change at the Bank: The beauteous downtown restaurant Bank is temporarily closed for some retooling of menu and concept, spelling the end of the club Vault as we know it. Watch for details when the business reopens.
End of an era: Another local music venue is shutting its doors. Shenanigans, the long-running divey North Side pub-with-stage goes out with the old at the end of this year. Its owner is taking the MacArthur Avenue spot into a dining-only direction. Many area bands are bemoaning the loss of a semiregular booking and a loudly loyal audience.
Byram’s specials: Chef Danny Klubowicz introduces daily specials at the under-new-ownership longtimer Byram’s Lobster House at 3215 W. Broad St. Monday: pasta night, $11. Tuesday: Calabash seafood, $16. Wednesday: dinner for two with wine, $40. Thursday: prime rib, $15. Friday: half-price wine. Daily happy-hour specials are ongoing at the newly redecorated space.
Our review of the Roosevelt generated a fair number of comments among bloggers, tweeters, food writers and general onlookers about our new contributor, Ellie Basch. Should a chef write restaurant reviews?
It’s not a first for us. Joe Cates, a former chef and line cook, reviewed restaurants for Style Weekly for several years before retiring to academia. Here’s a reader comment from Eatingrichmond.com organizer and food blogger Jason Guard:
“Food reviewing generally amounts to a display of writing ability, personal tastes and acquired knowledge — professional or enthusiast. There are no widely accepted credentials for reviewers or agreed-upon regulations (though there are some tired templates floating around). Some say you have to have worked in the restaurant industry, while others believe that a reviewer should identify with the perspective of the public at large. Are we supposed to visit twice or three times, and on whose bill? Is it possible to be truly anonymous and/or to divulge all of our connections to the kitchen staff and servers in small-town RVA?
“Although there is nobility in following a few professional traditions, the idea that anyone should be silenced by gatekeepers, or some imposed standards, is a load of crap. There are no rules, except our own personally cultivated comfort zones. Typically, chefs sharing their favorite foods and pet peeves is a product that’s eaten up with gusto by Richmond readers of media, print or social. And the insights are usually educational for us non-industry eaters. The fact is, media needs to come at stories from a range of perspectives, the fresher and more intriguing the better. The last thing an editor should want to publish is another 700-word foodgasm about everyone’s favorite restaurant. We need content that makes us more discerning diners and pushes our restaurants to higher levels of deliciousness. If it takes a chef to do that, then hats off to the restaurant in question, and long-standing food-writers and kitchens should be put on notice to be weary of complacency.” — @RVAfoodie
What do you think? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Church Hill may be in the midst of a restaurant revival, with the Roosevelt a certified hit, the longtimers holding steady (Alamo BBQ, Patrick Henry Pub, the Hill Café) and new players coming on strong. Similar movement in Shockoe Bottom portends at least some owners’ confidence that the market wants more.
DéAndre and Stephanie Johnson-Brandon are preparing the former Jumpin’ J’s Java space at 2306 Jefferson Ave. for an upscale dining spot, Johnson’s Southern Comfort, which is set to open in early 2012.
“When I saw that letter J in the sidewalk,” DéAndre says of Jumpin’s monogram embedded in the threshold, “that sealed the deal. We want to make Church Hill the epicenter of fine dining in Richmond, and I’m doing this for my customers.” The couple also operates O.M.G. Café & Lounge a few blocks south at 412 N. 25th St., and opened its adjacent dining room, a 20-seat lounge called Jazz, last weekend.
“I’m always in my kitchen working on new desserts and dishes,” Johnson-Brandon says, such as a chocolate cake with peanut butter filling called the funny bone, and classics culled from his family’s Brooklyn restaurant background. Chicken and waffles, fish, bologna burgers and rich desserts attract a diverse following, and the owners take pride in learning customers’ names and preferences.
At Johnson’s Southern Comfort, tables, wine racks and a long bar are being crafted by carpenter Sherman Pleasant, known for eye-catching work at all three Croaker’s Spot restaurants, including a large new one in Petersburg. When the Church Hill restaurant is ready, Johnson’s will offer “a bigger menu, more soups and salads, and a large array of Virginia wines,” the co-owner says, and O.M.G. will change to a breakfast and lunch format. For now, the cafe is open daily until 10 p.m. or later, except on Sundays when it serves from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 269-0531.
Ejay Rin, the Manchester noodle bar that opened four months ago, closed last weekend. Chefs Bill Foster and Andy Howell agreed they weren’t meeting goals despite attempts to lure customers with deals such as cheap bastard night. Howell is changing concepts for the space and will be serving a different menu at the newly named Camden’s at the Dogtown Lounge. More details are coming as Howell develops the concept. 201 W. Seventh St. 745-6488.
Paul Keevil is at it again, creating another character in the convoluted fable that is Richmond’s restaurant scene. His long-running Millie’s Diner and its younger sibling, LuLu’s, are getting a little brother — or actually, an uncle, next month as Keevil unveils a Mexican cafe called Tío Pablo in Shockoe Bottom.
Tío Pablo, a variation of Uncle Paul, has the usual Keevil trademarks — punched-up food from kitchen veterans, a lively, music-rich atmosphere and a strong identity. It’s coming together in the former PapaNingo space, which was briefly Boom Boom Burgers, at 1703 E. Franklin St. Keevil’s bride, Linda Lauby, is busy painting murals inside the cozy 50-seater, where Keevil is “resurfacing with our little vision — maybe it’s Carlos Castaneda goes to the desert, something no-holds-barred,” with mystical animals and a festival of flavors. “There will be a lot to look at inside, and the food will be authentic Mexican,” with roasted meats and peppers, house-made tortillas and salsas, fresh juices and tequilas on a changing menu with no American food in sight.
Keevil’s optimism includes his refusal to let ongoing problems in Shockoe Bottom derail legitimate, food-based businesses there. “That’s one of the reasons I’m doing it,” he says, “to attract a wide range of clientele, a cross-section of the neighborhood and the town, where everyone is welcome, and where it’s going to be delicious.” He’s seen better times in the restaurant business — “we’ve all been impacted by the homicides, and I think the tipping point has come” — though it’s not clear whether clubs will close as pressure increases. Keevil could be playing guitar or slowing down these days but says the buzz of opening a new place is irresistible. “Oh God yeah, you do it because it’s right. I’ve got the big hurry-up right now.”
Closed in Chesterfield: A sign on the door at Kebab Grille near Chesterfield Towne Center says the business is closed and that the restaurant may move; reader Suzanne Jenkins says the loss of the independent cafe is a disappointment for the area.
Busy Bobette: The Shockoe Slip French bistro that’s attracted a fair number of Lincoln movie cast and crew members is looking ahead to the holidays; it will open Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 1209 E. Cary St. www.bistrobobette.com.