It didn't take the current revival to convince Amy Cabaniss that Southern food would sell here. Her well-regarded Shockoe Bottom restaurant, Julep's New Southern Cuisine, charted fried green tomato territory long before the trend re-emerged with a vengeance. Now with her second project, Mint New Casual Cuisine, in the former Davis & Main space in the Fan, she's doing a less fancy version. Actually, it's chef Travis Milton in the kitchen, recently of Parkside Café and now frying those tomatoes.
Also in the mix of Mint's starters are Southern poutine ($9), cider-braised pork belly and collards ($7), fried oysters with ham remoulade ($14), and mac and pimento cheese ($6) —familiar trends. Charcuterie and cheese, peanut soup, salads and snacks such as boiled peanuts and fried dill pickle chips add some personality to bar food. Main dishes stay Southern, with fried chicken on sweet potato waffles ($16), bourbon and sweet-tea-brined pork chops with cheese grits ($18) and smoked tofu and monkfish on the lighter side.
A Rams burger goes the novelty route — it's half a pound of beef served between two grilled cheddar-cheese and bacon sandwiches ($14). A pork-belly BLT on sourdough ($9), root beer floats, rice pudding, a beignet and pie of the day, along with craft cocktails, wines and beers, round out a menu with touches that show the Cabaniss attention to hospitality and detail. The space is brightened but still very Richmond and already busy. Weekday lunch starts this week; dinner, bar and late nosh hours are nightly; brunch is served Saturday and Sunday. 2501 W. Main St. 359-9690. mintrichmond.com.
Stratford Grill changeover: Two of Richmond's established restaurateurs, Manny Mendez (Kuba Kuba) and Chris DiLauro (Bacchus) have joined forces for their first south-of-the-James project. They've gutted the former Stratford Grill, a once-smoky, 54-year-old neighborhood joint, and are deep into redesign, name selection, menu planning and the usual start-up decisions. Will it be a mash-up of Cuban and Italian? Will it open by summer? The owners aren't saying; they know the value of mystique in this restaurant-rabid climate.
Miso Asian Grill In the former Dd33 space, a family-owned sushi bar and contemporary Asian grill with bar and emphasis on healthy preparations, fusion flavors. Outdoor dining. Lunch and dinner daily. 3601 A Cox Road. 747-6888. misoasiangrill.com.
Tio Pablo Graffiti-tagged Mexican hideaway in Shockoe Bottom; tequilas, tamales, tacos from owner of Millie's and LuLu's. Lunch hours now, expanded service coming. 1703 E. Franklin St.
Melissa Barlow, the petite powerhouse behind the Empress, is known as one of the city's most nurturing restaurant owners. She delights in feeding customers and has built a haven for those who can't eat gluten but love modern cuisine. She's survived the Justin French debacle, the loss of a chef and partner, the purchase and repurchase of her West Broad Street building and a woeful economy, and forged on with a smile that seems imperturbable.
But don't get her started on City Hall and her fight against a runaround of rules and regs that are unevenly applied and anti-growth, she says. Owners often talk about the permitting process like it's a hazing ritual, one more obstacle, with the meals tax, that makes restaurant ownership a challenge in the city. Barlow says it's a relief to be allowed to serve meals on her street-side terrace now, just in time for spring, after a convoluted process that was expensive and time-consuming.
Now, with an ambitious, 26-year-old chef, Aaron Hoskins, the Empress is making another debut. Hoskins unveiled a seasonal menu last week during an industry dinner that was startling in scope — foie gras, duck, lamb, pork cheeks, fish, quail eggs on jalapeño, steak and spaetzle — and an indicator of the restaurant's intent to unite the food community. While chefs challenge each other and share techniques and ideas, the thinking goes, customers win and standards are raised throughout the city.
The Empress serves breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday, and brunch and dinner on Sunday. 2043 W. Broad St. 592-4000. www.theempressrva.com.
D'lish Bakery & Cafe: Even though Stratford Hills and Bon Air could use a full-service bakery, it's the 'burbs of Chester that have a new one, and it's high-achieving at that. Le Cordon Bleu patisserie grad Drew Thomasson opened D'lish five months ago and is churning out bread, croissants, pies, cakes, cupcakes, muffins, cookies, cinnamon rolls and minidesserts in a range of classical styles and current flavors. D'lish also has an eat-in section with soups, salads and sandwiches, prepared by a young chef who's dedicated to his craft. 11844 Chester Village Drive. 717-2253. www.dlishbakeryandcafe.com.
The Continental Westhampton Lobster rolls, sandwiches, specials, pasta, pizza, egg creams, American comfort food and spirits in updated landmark. Lunch, dinner and bar, weekend brunch. 5704 Grove Ave. 285-0911. www.thecontinentalrva.com.
Burger Bach Grass-fed beef burgers, mussels, craft beers and hearty fare in sleek spot with lots of screens. Dinner and bar nightly. 10 S. Thompson St. 359-1305.
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Whatever you want to eat, it's probably on the menu at Lunch, a new business from longtime food pro Rick Lyons in Scott's Addition. In a fortunate trend for later breakfasts, pancakes and eggs are served until 3 p.m. and hot dogs, sandwiches, steaks and specials give the old-timey joint some new energy. For dinner, Southern griddle cakes, shrimp and grits, a meatloaf tallboy and loaded chicken nod to local icons and favorite flavors. Lunch opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner Weekdays 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. 1213 Summit Ave. 353-0111. Eatlunchrva.com.
Crossroads Coffee & Ice Cream: It is Forest Hill central, and the coffeehouse marks its 10th year with some stretching and more music. A patio enclosure out front and the potential for an upper deck are among the changes that owners Will Herring and Olivia Patrick will introduce during the next few months. Live music nights, fine beer and wine, affordable food, attention to recycling, local personality and a bunch of creative-minded regulars make this the neighborhood's favorite hangout. 3600 Forest Hill Ave. 231-2030. Crossroadsrva.com.
Next door at Parkside Café, some changes, including a new chef and menu, are in progress at this cozy charmer after a temporary closing last week. Partner Travis Milton has left the kitchen. There's strong food interest in the neighborhood, with the city's busiest farmers' markets and many chefs and kitchen folk living nearby. As things sort out we'll bring details, with hopes that the pecky cypress handcrafting at Parkside remains intact.
Positively mad: A German oompah band called the Sauerkrauts will pump March Madness into the Positive Vibe Café in Stratford Hills on March 24. Brats and chops are served buffet style with sides for $22 plus tax and tip, from 5-9 p.m. The week prior, a St. Patrick's Day bash has live local music, Irish stew and corned beef going all weekend. The Vibe graduated the 500th student from its food-industry training program last year, and continues to deliver on its teaching and service mission. Many of the city's top chefs have participated since its inception in 2005, particularly J Frank, Paul Elbling, Ed Vasaio, Walter Bundy, Dale Reitzer, Greg Haley, Todd Manley, Jim Ertel, John Maxwell and the late Bob DeCapri. 560-9622. positivevibecafe.com.
Bombolini Pasta: Local vinegars are on tap at this new pasta and food shop, bringing something different to Richmond. The family-run business has a select lineup of wine and beer, gourmet comestibles, pastas, prepared foods, breads and other items for take-out; look for recipe printouts at the counter and guys making pasta up front. Pressed sandwiches are $5.25 and soup of the day is $2.99. Pasta dishes include chicken piccatta, seafood scampi, sautéed vegetable, meatballs, smoked salmon and puttanesca, ($5.99-$8.25). 1606 W. Main St. 213-0212. From 10 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Bombolinipasta.com.
Not every soft opening is actually soft. In the case of the Continental, a supposedly quiet opening weekend for family and friends turned into a house so fully packed that owners Johnny and Katrina Giavos couldn't get out of the kitchen to greet them. The bar was six deep and booths were stuffed, while the crowd downed predictably gigantic portions of burgers, steamers and sliders, washed down by guava margaritas spiked with jalapeño.
The Continental, in the location of the longtime Westhampton landmark, Phil's, is transformed into a newer, vaulted and sky-lighted neighborhood diner with familiar themes. Wines are all-American, food is mostly hand-held, décor is nostalgic but modern, and the bar is generously scaled with a dozen trendy taps.
Former Phil's bartender Johnny Cates, who put in 18 years slinging drinks at the old place, was among the opening-weekend visitors. "They've kept the integrity of the bar," he says. "And believe me, Johnny's probably the best restaurateur in this city at this time. He knows what he's doing. And he kept the club sandwich on the menu." Those $7.95 stackers are classics, along with foot-long kosher franks, wheat-crust pizzas ($8-$9) pastas, salads and snacks. It's open daily from 11 a.m. at 5704 Grove Ave.
Now open: In Shockoe Bottom, a modern club with bright colors and atmospheric lighting claims the title of Richmond's first restro-lounge. The restaurant known as 2113 opened last week at 2113 E. Main St. after a two-year build out of a former jail cafeteria that sat vacant for decades. It couldn't look more different, and its early habitués decidedly are more dressed up and ready to party.
Chef Stephen Otto Meyer serves appetizers and small plates such as curried lamb spring rolls, calamari and oysters. Entrees include lightly fried catfish ($18) and steaks ($18-$27) and veal, duck, lamb and liver. Justin Ayars and Jesse La Vancher are partners in the venture; Nicholas Mattia is the general manager.
Ayars says a restro-lounge takes the best qualities of a restaurant, club, lounge and bar and delivers a customized experience that's service-oriented, casually elegant and reminiscent of larger cities. The group hopes to expand to more locations in a long-range business plan that targets Jackson Ward next. Weekday luncheon hours and Sunday brunch begin soon. 343-2113. 2113main.com.
Fresh baked: Longtime baker Ingrid Allen unveils Ingrid's Bakery at 2118 W. Cary St. this week. She's making pastries that use natural, local and organic products, without radiated spices. Gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free options are a specialty. 359-9308. ingridsbakery.com and Twitter @ingridsbakery.
Coming to M Bistro: Look for a new fixed-price lunch menu and wine dinner this month at the Rocketts Landing contemporary Southern and French restaurant from chef Michael Hall. mbistro-rocketts.com.