Bartender Bobby Kruger has moved around a lot in the last year, from Julep's New Southern Cuisine to the Fanhouse and most recently to Bistro 27 on West Broad Street, where he took over as beverage director in the spring. The foam has barely settled, but Kruger's heading out of the area code and into New York. A local bartender since 2005, Kruger made a name for himself with his craft cocktails and handmade ingredients, and recently landed the best mixologist title in Style Weekly's Best of Richmond readers' choice survey. We threw a few questions his way while he manned a busy bar during a Friday night dinner rush at Bistro 27.
Style: Where are you headed?
Kruger: I'm going to New York to work in a bar called Back Forty West. It's located in SoHo. … It's a farm-to-table-style restaurant up there. Heavy focus on the beverage program. And I'm going up to basically take over the cocktail side of the program, and I'm going to be the bartender as well.
How did you find out about it?
They actually contacted me. They were interested in importing some new talent, and I have the Richmond connection down here. So actually part of the plan is … to basically bring up Richmond-based products too, and try to introduce them in their bar. So I'll be bringing in a lot of the Serrano ham, actually the Humdinger Ginger Ale from Church Hill. … This will be for their restaurant, but I will actually use it. We've got a martini we're going to do with ham-stuffed olives.
Why the move?
That's a long answer. Just kind of to get out and be somewhere where there's a lot more competition. I mean, not to say there's not competition down here, but it feels like everywhere I go the burden is on me to pack the house and bring in as many people as possible. Where I'd rather go somewhere where the emphasis is on me making great cocktails, and hopefully they can provide the clientele — that's New York, it's busy enough.
What are you going to miss about the Richmond bar scene?
The beer. And of course all the friends I've made. But for us … we have more beer here than they do. We're really a beer hub. It's a fantastic thing for the city.
What do you hope to get out of this?
More experience, really. Just more advanced education, kind of be in more of a hub. Be able to walk out the door and go in any direction really and go to a phenomenal restaurant that serves world-class products. There's a lot of stuff that we don't get to serve down here because of the way that the ABC controls everything. This way I can go up and I can play around with some stuff that I just don't have access to down here.
And you'll be splitting time for a little while?
I'm going to be doing the back-and-forth thing for about three months. I'm probably going to continue to do some guest bartending down here. I just won't be working while I'm down here, I'll be able to play a little bit more. S
Starting next month, local drink slingers will show off their skills, ham it up with the crowd and work to prove why they deserve $1,000 in the annual bartending competition held by Cha Cha's Cantina at 1419 E. Cary St. Weekly showdowns happen Mondays at 9 p.m. — July 9 and July 16, leading to the finals July 23. Competitors can sign up by calling 726-6296.
The ingredients will be a mystery, but none of them will have faces. The competitors, however, are well known to those who follow local chefs with a passion for fresh produce and inventive combinations. Jenna Sneed of Fresca on Addison, Greg Johnson of Citizen and Jen Mindell of Rooster Cart are set to compete in a vegan "Iron Chef" challenge at the Richmond Vegetarian Festival this weekend.
The cook-off is a highlight among a diverse array of vendors, live music (Moosa, Rattlemouth, Miramar, Hotel X and Thompson and Blake) and community building in an atmosphere that welcomes kids, dogs on leashes and people of all culinary stripes. The free event is June 23, noon-6 p.m., in the azalea gardens at Bryan Park, with a rain date of June 30. Festival goers are asked to bring a can of vegetables for Lamb's Basket, an emergency food pantry in Lakeside; donations to Tricycle Gardens are encouraged online at veggiefest.org.
Stronghill changes hands: A spokeswoman for Eat Restaurant Partners confirms recent reports that they hope to close by the end of June on the purchase of this restaurant at 1200 N. Boulevard. The group, which owns Osaka Sushi and Steak's two locations along with Wild Ginger and the Blue Goat, is keeping quiet about plans. But partner Ren Mefford is on a research mission in Southern cities, if that's a clue to the next chapter. Stay tuned for details.
Sensi Italian Chophouse: A former staffer of this Shockoe Bottom restaurant reports getting a severance email that the place was closing within hours. Sensi's listing on Open Table has been removed and its lights are off. Famed Sichuan chef Peter Chang had considered the property for a downtown expansion, and other owners have been looking at the space during the past year.
Shockoe Bottom update: A new, lighted sign is up at the Luncheonette, 104 N. 18th St., and interior changes are nearly finished. But owners say they won't open the Brooklyn-style diner until August when students are back. When it's ready, late-night eats will be a feature on weekends, with classic breakfast, lunch and dinner (hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches) during the week. Look for celebrity photos on the walls, retro bar stools and pink neon in the small space that once was home to Zuppa and Bistro 104.
Oyster saloon fires up: Among the fraternity of local chefs and purveyors, the owners of Rappahannock River Oysters are particularly well-regarded. Now cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton are joining the downtown food renaissance by leasing the former Louisiana Flair spot at 322 E. Grace St. for Merroir RVA, an oyster saloon with raw bar, craft beer, cocktails and small-plate delicacies that change with the seasons.
The focus will be on their oysters — Stingrays, Snow Hills, Olde Salts and Rappahannocks — prized by chefs for their sweet, briny flavor profiles. The Croxtons' tasting room, Merroir, in Topping, Va., is a forerunner and has received national attention for its ambitious young owners, who also have expanded into the Washington market. They appear with chef Jason Alley on the PBS series "Chefs A'field," a program not airing on the local network affiliate but broadcast nationally. More visible to locals will be construction at Merrior RVA, which has a projected opening date of September or October. rroysters.com.
Lotta parking: Among the improvements at natural foods grocer Ellwood Thompson's, the new parking-lot layout is earning raves from shoppers who've hated the previous layout for years. An added bonus, at least for meat lovers, is the waft of grilling beef emanating from neighbor Burger Bach. Looking east, construction continues on the new Fresh Market grocery store, where a spokeswoman says the new store will be approximately the same size at the area's other two Fresh Market locations, and is on track to open in late summer or early fall.
525 at the Berry Burk Striking setting for new American cuisine from chef Taylor Hasty. Lunch, dinner and bar Monday-Saturday, brunch Sunday. 525 E. Grace St. 525-6490. 525rva.com.
Accanto New bistro with chef Ryan Baldwin; seasonal cuisine with international twists; 30 wines by the glass, cocktails, comfy interior. Nightly except Sundays. 10478 Ridgefield Parkway. 741-1218. lvaccanto.com.
One of the city's busiest night life corridors, Robinson Street in the Fan, is getting some re-branding to help it compete with flashier parts of town. While the Fan House waits for a buyer and Buddy's has at least a three-year lease renewal, hair salons are sprucing up their paint jobs and Metro Grill has changed hands and gotten a major makeover.
New co-owner Tony Hawkins of the Republic has added an energy and cash infusion to Metro. The bar and bathrooms are new, the paint job and lighting are bright, and the new logo painted out front merges the Metro and Republic identities. (See Punch Drunk, page 40, for a take on last week's soft opening.)
"We're a restaurant first and foremost," its general manager, Kevin Mandeville, says, "and our food's going to be focused on entrees and good times, with a lot of previous employees returning." Among them are chef Shaun Watts, who'll serve Southern comfort fare; manager Jami Bohdan; bartenders Patrick McClynn, Camille Kostin (a Style Weekly Best of Richmond winner) and David Bolton. Specialty beers, local produce and a staff with a following — all are from the Republic playbook and intended to make Metro equally viable in a competitive field.
"We want to be a little more accessible to everybody — young professionals, people in the neighborhood, people who might not have come in before," Mandeville says. "We stand out by having a great, very experienced local team that wants to bring Metro back."
The 75-seat, circa-1907 building will open from 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday, with brunch from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sundays. 301 N. Robinson St. 353-4453. metrogrillrichmond.com.
For Dads: With flavors such as bourbon pecan, deep dish apple pie, chocolate-covered peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie, there are man-friendly cupcakes selling well at Pearl's Cupcake Shoppe. Owners Laurie Blakey and Laura Condrey are running a Father's Day benefit through Wednesday, giving 30 percent of proceeds to two charities, the American Diabetes Association and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, in honor of their fathers. Sugar-free products are available. The shop is open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at 5812 Grove Ave. 285-2253. pearlscupcakeshoppe.com.
Tarrant's Café: Consider the new, later hours at this downtown restaurant a signal that Richmond is ready for later dining and delivery options. The Tarrant's kitchen now serves its full menu until 11 weeknights and midnight on weekends, including delivery and takeout. The bar is open late according to demand, and work continues on the sibling business, Tarrantino's, down the block. While the city works to expand the arts district enterprise zone, this is an example of a business that's leading the charge and pleasing the players. 1 W. Broad St. 225-0035. tarrantscaferva.com.
Accanto: New bistro with chef Ryan Baldwin; seasonal cuisine with international twists; 30 wines by the glass, cocktails, comfy interior. Nightly except Sundays. 10478 Ridgefield Parkway. 741-1218. lvaccanto.com.
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The ingredients are trendy — crispy chicken skin, pork belly, duck confit — and the tag line is "rustic eclectic." But with a sleek décor, concrete countertops, Italian lighting and a long bar and lounge, the new West End restaurant Accanto hardly lacks polish. It's been in the works for more than a year, as brothers Alberto and Peppino Mastromano of the longstanding Italian success Little Venice decided to expand their empire into the space next door.
Enter chef Ryan Baldwin, one of the city's food industry up-and-comers, formerly of Tastebuds on MacArthur Avenue. "They came to me with a great vision," he says of the Mastromanos, "knowing that I was capable of developing the whole thing and letting me run with it." Baldwin's menu of seasonal plates starts with salty, crispy bar bites to pair with 30 wines by the glass and cocktails from bar manager Ben Naylor.
Entrees have mostly familiar flavors, from Asian to Southern, but with upscale presentations and twists — oysters are served with a shooter of moonshine; grilled romaine gets hand-torn croutons; golden beet tots are coated in buttermilk. "I really wanted to bring what we would do in the city," Baldwin says of the menu, "but that will appeal to a lot of people out here." Open nightly except Sundays, Accanto hopes to find a late-night audience of food-service workers, who currently head to Keagan's and Halligan in Short Pump. 10478 Ridgefield Parkway. 741-1218. lvaccanto.com.
Change-up at 2113: It's already a downtown nightlife staple, but the self-described restro-lounge 2113 is getting a new food identity after some personnel changes. Chef Aaron Hoskins, recently of the Empress, and chef John Maher, of the pop-up restaurant Spoon, are collaborating on a series of new menus that combine French, Southern and Asian influences for brunch, lunch and dinner service. A roll-out of new tastes is expected late this month; meanwhile, Maher's fans can find him in the booth as a frequent DJ. 2113 E. Main St. 343-2113. 2113main.com.
Six Burner redesign: Chef Phil Denny introduces a new menu of small plates — as well as entrees — to a redecorated Six Burner Restaurant this week. Owner Ry Marchant says food will be more affordable, the place will have a more casual vibe, and "significant interior changes to décor" include new colors, surfaces and seating at the Fan District standout. An unveiling is scheduled for June 8. 1627 W. Main St. 353-4060. sixburner.net.
Broad Appétit faves: Style Weekly food writers tried not to talk with their mouths full at the city's best and biggest food event June 3. Some of their favorite dishes were Magpie's curried goat, C'est Le Vin's goat cheese-stuffed piquillo peppers, Sticky Rice's pork belly buns, Lehja's ginger curry sea bass and Shyndigz' salted caramel chocolate cake. Chef John Maher won the event's top prizes, an onstage chef cooking challenge, and a $2,000 check for best signature dish: seared diver scallop with charred corn, bacon lardon and tomato marmalade.
Amuse at VMFA: Among the jewels now on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where the "Marahaja" exhibit is in full force, the fine-dining restaurant Amuse is doing tie-ins with Indian-themed cuisine on its changing menu. Look for a fixed-price dinner from 5-6 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. For $28 per person, an appetizer, entree and dessert are offered, with vegetarian and gluten-free options and drink specials. Amuse hosts its first wine dinner with Michael Shaps on June 12. Call 340-1580 for details and reservations. vmfa.museum.
Black Finn reboot: Many drinkers were surprised when the canal watering hole Black Finn Saloon closed in late May. An ownership change and some retooling of the former hotspot are in progress; meanwhile all of those sorority sisters and bachelorettes and other ladies vamping for photos on the bar's website will have to quench that desire elsewhere. It also isn't clear where the lawyers from upstairs will migrate.
Scouting kitchens: Now that Richmond has an unusually active presence on food-related television shows, word is getting out to producers that this is fertile ground. Recent scouting visits here include a Cooking Channel host checking out the Roosevelt, where chef Lee Gregory and owner Kendra Feather aren't sitting on their laurels. Meanwhile, watch for the Black Sheep and its giant chicken liver sandwich on the Travel Channel; Clemenza Caserta of Stuzzi on "Hell's Kitchen"; and Malcolm Mitchell on "Food Network Star" — all in June and beyond.
The Pits: Tuffy Stone of Q Barbeque returns to the "BBQ Pitmasters" series as a judge instead of competitor; the series moves from TLC to a new channel, Destination America, and airs Sundays at 9 p.m.
Maximo's Spanish & Italian Bistro: Shrimp, chorizo, fritters, pastas, small plates and entrees, bar in refined Shockoe setting. Chef-owned. Monday through Thursday noon-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon-11 pm. Sunday brunch begins June 10. 14 N. 18th St. 447-0654. www.maximosbistro.com.
Gelati Celesti: Second Richmond location of this popular handcrafted-ice-cream business, 30 flavors of ice cream, with shakes, sundaes, cones, floats and splits. Open daily. 3004 Stony Point Road next to Martin's. 320-0000. gelatiicecream.com.
Buz and Ned's: Second, larger location of this famous barbecue joint from chef and owner Buz Grossberg. Pulled pork, brisket, ribs, sides and bar with outdoor dining, party space, industrial-vintage décor. Open daily. 8205 W. Broad St. 346-4227. buzandneds.com.