An Epcot ride changed Melissa Krumbein's life. She rolled through the Disney World hydroponic gardens on a family vacation three years ago and became enthralled researching sustainable foods. Then she went "very far out on a limb," she says. "I put my house up for a loan, and either I believed it was going to work, or I was going to live in a cardboard box."
The gamble: a commercial kitchen-for-rent called Kitchen Thyme, which she opened not quite six months ago. It's making a profit, and plans are coming together for a second location with a big, sustainable, hydroponic garden. Some out-of-state franchises also are in development.
Oh, and Krumbein has become friends with some of Richmond's most celebrated chefs, learning about their craft while getting an inside view of the pop-up restaurants and food trucks that use her business. The experience has put her "on cloud nine, actually," she says. "I can't believe half the stuff that is going on. A year ago I never would have thought of myself going to menu tastings and openings."
Kitchen Thyme, at 7801 W. Broad St., is touted as Richmond's first culinary incubator, helping emerging food businesses find their footing without the expense of running a restaurant. It was born of Krumbein's personal need for a larger space to cook Passover dinners for a large family, and to make birthday cakes in quantity. Home cooks and professionals can rent the space ($25-$37.50 per hour with a four-hour minimum), and groups can hold events there. A recent team-building project brought Capital One employees together to bake lasagna for a homeless shelter. Two more pop-ups and a third food truck client are booking space, along with private clients and the cooking school Mise en Place.
The two-room setup "has all of the big toys that the chefs like to play with or don't have in their own kitchens," Krumbein says. A 30-gallon tilt skillet, a double-stack Vulcan oven, a 20-quart steam-jacketed kettle for soups and jellies, a 60-quart Hobart mixer, and large work surfaces are available 24 hours a day. Krumbein can watch the action via video on her phone. She's gotten to know food on a whole new level — "I have to Google half the stuff these guys are making," she acknowledges. She's tried oysters, squid-ink agnolotti pasta, clams and chorizo, a far cry from the kosher diet followed by her family. She won't let her three children eat fast food anymore, instead urging them to eat local, to support the city's independent businesses and to learn to cook from the pros.
"Sad to say, but I don't know if Richmonders know that the local restaurant scene is where the best food is," she says. "But I think in the next six months, some of this will be more mainstream."
Next up: The Empress at 2043 W. Broad St. is closed. In a news release, owner Melissa Barlow cites personal, economic and spiritual reasons. City Limit at 7007 Three Chopt Road is changing its ownership and name, and will be known as Toast. S
Church Hill's ebb and flow of restaurant activity might be a microcosm of what's happening across the city. One place closes, another stalls, and two more manage to open, while the longtimers all hope for the steadiness of regulars at the bar. The newest dining spot east of downtown opened July 5, when well-known local baker Michael Calogerakis introduced Anthony's on the Hill at 2824 E. Broad St. To say that neighbors have jumped at a new option is an understatement, with take-out orders making a brisk sideline.
Calogerakis sold his Flour Garden bakery business last summer but still uses some of the products. He makes his pizza dough and marinara daily, along with Bolognese sauce and eggplant Parmesan. "Everything is made from scratch and it's all fresh," he says, "and we pride ourselves on that. It's our mission." So he picks basil from a plant on the counter to garnish the margherita pizza ($9.50), and uses Sausage Craft for the three-meat pizza, ($11.50). Pastas such as baked ziti and ravioli are $11-13. A wine and beer license is expected any time now, enhancing what the 28-seat spot, formerly Buffington's, can offer from its bright corner location.
Calogerakis loves his new work schedule after waking up at midnight to bake "every day for 12 years," he says. He's already hinting that a positive neighborhood response could lead to a sibling business. Anthony's on the Hill serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday and expects to add lunch hours in August. 344-3374.
Meanwhile on the Hill: Johnson's Southern Comfort is expected to open next month. Its sister business OMG Cafe, which is still operating, has been listed for sale. Sub Rosa Bread, across from the Roosevelt, is in progress and its mill has been installed. Proper Pie Co., with chef and owner Neil Smith and Nikki Price, is preparing to open on East Broad Street with an array of sweet and savory New Zealand-style pies.
View of Franklin: Now under construction on the north side of the Jefferson Hotel, an outdoor dining terrace for Lemaire promises alfresco-loving Richmonders an elegant new perch in an area that has few.
Belgian identity: The folks at Belle Vie European Bistro in Midlothian hope they can deepen customers' knowledge of the restaurant's cultural roots. A new missive from the owners points to these Belgian originals: Jean-Claude Van Damme, René Magritte, Django Reinhardt, singer Jacques Brel and the Smurfs — as well as fine chocolate, beer and fries. Weekly specials on wine, mussels and rib-eyes, plus lengthy happy hours Tuesdays through Saturdays, are an incentive to chat more with chef Xavier Meers about his heritage and the food that sustains it. 1244 Alverser Drive. 379-3338. bellevieva.com.
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We have food-truck courts, farm-to-table dinners, tasting menus, Kickstarter campaigns, farmers' markets, test kitchens and pop-up restaurants (including the next one, Meddle with Spoons, coming July 22 to Ironfish by Pescados). Now in the world of food trends, Richmond enters the realm of kitchen surfing, in which a chef comes to a private home to prepare a meal for paying friends and guests, getting everyone a little closer to the action.
A trial run July 9 brought the kitchensurfing.com guys down from Brooklyn, N.Y., to see whether an elegant Church Hill house owned by Richard Souter could portend a new era in food service here. Organizing the event was Caitlin Kilcoin, who worked with Pizza Tonight's Stephanie Lebow. They hatched a Calabria in Three Courses menu of spicy pickled eggplant and goat cheese focaccia, sausage and fennel ravioli, and almond-bergamot cake with citrus crema, prepared in Souter's spacious kitchen. Ardent Brewery co-owner Paul Karns brought honey-ginger beer, and the group assembled about 40 friends to mingle, chat with the chef and consider the potential for future events.
Kitchensurfing.com contends that "food eaten alone is not delicious." The website business takes a cut of the admission price and helps coordinate the chef, the place, the menu and the attendance. They are, according to the site: "building a better way to connect with the people who make the food you love. Bring great chefs into your kitchen; eat the world's food anywhere." The program is up and running in Brooklyn and Berlin, which should make Richmond feel rather worldly.
Kilcoin says it's a good fit for a foodie town. One of the guests, Lianna Woods, who works with Tumblr here, sees interest in the idea. "It's encouraging people to get together to talk about food and the culinary industry," she says, "to have chefs and laypeople" sharing the meal and the experience. Will there be more? Kilcoin, who runs the YRichmond campaign for the Greater Richmond Chamber, hints that the next event might be on a downtown rooftop.
Mexican Beer and Other Things at Acacia Mid-Town: If there's one restaurant that Richmonders and their guests should experience, chef Dale Reitzer's Acacia should be on the short list for its overall consistency of experience and its quality. An incentive this month is a Mexican beer dinner July 19, and a corkage-fee-free evening with handcrafted dinner July 25, both strong values. See acaciarestaurant.com for details.
Keep It Down: Pasture, the ultra-hot, small-plates restaurant downtown that has a tile floor and a noise level that makes for some hoarse throats at the end of an evening, has installed a solution. Manager Michele Jones says ceiling panels have just been lowered to hold in some of the decibels. Being popular is a mixed blessing, as restaurateurs have learned at Stella's and elsewhere. Noise and the chattering of excitable crowds are entertaining to some, annoying to others, and the guys who help ameliorate it are doing good business.
Phil's Fan Call: Look for ladies' nights on Fridays and Saturdays at the relocated Westhampton classic Phil's Continental Lounge, 5810 Grove Ave. Owner Kyle Measell is running drink specials to bring in the summer crowds, along with karaoke on Thursdays from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. 288-8687.
Cutting the Ribbon at 2113
Dwight Jones blessed a pimento-cheese fritter with an approving mayoral bite during the grand opening of East End bistro and lounge 2113 on July 9.
The leader of the First Baptist Church of South Richmond had given the place a thumbs up, boasting of having a drink named after him at the bar. That tells you how comfortable his congregation is with socializing, the mayor and minister joked.
As co-owner Justin Ayars explained later, the bar sometimes christens cocktails with an honorary name for a patron, though none has made it to the printed menu.
And it's a menu that's been changing. The restaurant 2113 opened less than five months ago in a vacant former jail cafeteria that underwent a two-year overhaul. In late May it was pummeled by a one-star review in The Richmond Times-Dispatch just as it was readjusting with new kitchen heads, unveiling changes by consulting executive chef John Maher — who doubles as house DJ — and chef de cuisine Aaron Hoskins.
Along with pimento-cheese fritters, the chefs offered tastes of hamachi crudo — pickled mushrooms, radish, fennel pollen and dashi vinaigrette — and pan-roasted duck breast with braised greens and vanilla-glazed Tokyo turnips.
A former lawyer and a godson of Liberace, Ayars was called a pioneer by Jones during the small, late-afternoon ribbon cutting, led by the city's economic development director, Lee Downey, and including brief remarks by this writer and others. Then Ayars and his chefs closed the kitchen, venturing into the Fan for some more toasts. 2113 E. Main St., 343-2113. 2113main.com. — Jason Roop
After months of looking for the right location and then refining his Italian menu, chef Giuseppe Scafidi (Stuzzi, Azzurro) has launched Deco Ristorante in the Museum District. It's the sort of place where fish soup, sardines, sweet arancini — fried rice balls — and other dishes take lead roles on a menu that doesn't pander to red-sauce stereotypes.
Sicilian street snacks, such as chickpea fritters, eggplant salad and fried cauliflower, are $4-7. Pastas with a variety of vegetable and seafood options are mostly $14, and veal, chicken and steak entrees are $16-24. The tiny spot, with fewer than a dozen tables, is minimalist but welcoming with warm service and the chef making frequent appearances to check on customers.
Dinner nightly, lunch weekdays. 2901 Park Ave. 342-4278.
Lovely Linda: Ending its run after 27 years is chef Linda Marcuse's beloved Shockoe Slip business, A Movable Feast. She's known for a tireless work ethic, mellow Mediterranean flavors, sumptuous soups and desserts, and a warm earth-mother love for the workers of downtown Richmond and beyond. Her catering business will continue but not from the cafe at 1318 E. Cary St. She closes that storefront at the end of this month and prepares for a new opportunity farther west. Word is that landlord Tom Papa and his son are preparing to install a pizza business in the Shockoe location. Stay tuned.
Transitions: Longtime West End restaurant Bogart's, at 443 N. Ridge Road, has closed and its phone is disconnected. Farther west, L'Italia at 10610 Patterson Ave. remains open, but its owners say they're looking for a buyer for the popular neighborhood business.
Cupcake camp: Just in time for summer doldrums, the Shockoe Slip cooking school Mise en Place offers a four-day cupcake camp for junior bakers. Jenny Tremblay of Sweetest Thing Bakery and Jannequin Bennett of Everyday Gourmet will lead the sessions, teaching icing techniques and cupcake creation, Aug. 13-16. You can find details at miseenplaceshockoe.com.
Chef gets new vibe: As it prepares to graduate its 600th trainee in its nationally renowned food-service program for people with disabilities, the Positive Vibe Café in Stratford Hills also has chef news. Craig Smith, recently of Jamie Oliver's restaurant Jamie's Italian in Glasgow, Scotland, now runs the Vibe kitchen. Sample his wares at German night on July 14 from 5-9. A buffet dinner with music from the Sauerkrauts, an oompah band, is $22 per person, plus tax and tip. Call 560-9622 for reservations. Positivevibecafe.com.
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Kevin Healy, who owns the area's two Boathouse restaurants, has a project in the works that finally will give a new calling card to the city's Canal Walk, an area that's been slow to develop. He's about to begin construction on Casa del Barco (boathouse in Spanish), in a former Reynolds Metals building - now called the Italianate - at the Locks, a new development along the canal walk downtown.
Healy isn't the first person to consider the hulking factory a sort of Berlin Wall that separates people on either side. Its prominence on the canal has made it an eyesore and a prime opportunity; Healy will lease the 5,700-square-foot, first-floor space for an upscale Mexican restaurant he hopes to launch on the Day of the Dead, Nov. 1.
"I believe just having those ugly brown windows fixed with glass will be a breath of fresh air," he says. "There's so much going on at Brown's Island, and with 2,000 apartments going in this year, the city is coming alive."
Competition in a crowded restaurant field doesn't deter him. "There are one million people in Richmond and we're looking for 150 a night," he says. "I have some Mexican restaurant experience and really love the food. There is quite a bit of heritage and reasoning for it."
Chef Todd Richardson, who has Mexican roots, will help develop the menu and return to Texas and Mexico to gather authentic recipes and techniques. Décor, planned by Helen Reed, will emphasize the earthiness of the late-1800s structure, with concrete floors and peeling paint protected but revealed, and outdoor dining along the canal serving as a destination.
Directly across the canal, Black Finn Saloon is re-formulating its approach after closing last month. Another handful of restaurants along the canal are in various stages of development. Healy's award-winning-designed Boathouse at Rocketts Landing turns three in August, giving him an itch for the next big project. "We're one for one," he says, laughing, and the hard hats are about to go on.
Well-oiled: In the 20 years that Chez Foushee has fed the Richmond dining public, there has never been a fryer in the kitchen. That just changed, along with a seasonal menu, and the historic downtown charmer now offers crispy sweetbreads, calamari and cod, along with customer-requested fries and the occasional special. Weekday lunch, weekend dinner, Sunday brunch. 203 N. Foushee St. chezfoushee.com.