Fresh off a stint called the Promiscuous Palate at the swanky Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo., chef Malcolm Mitchell officially has landed in Richmond. He's prepping with Amy Ayers, owner of the re-branded Mint Gastropub at 2501 W. Main St., targeted to debut July 22. While the changes take place, Mint remains open but drops lunch service July 1. Weekend brunch and Monday through Saturday dinner hours will remain.
"It's interesting timing," Ayers, formerly Cabaniss, says of the pairing. "Malcolm has been to different places but our vision is the same. We want to try and bring to Richmond something a little different, a hip and welcoming place" with sharable plates and affordable libations.
Mitchell was a Food Network competitor mentored by Bobby Flay, and came on the local scene about a year ago, casting around for the right spot to open his own place. The concept went from geechee to Charlestonian to something Southern near the Hippodrome, along with a few pop-up trial runs. Ayers liked Mitchell's cooking — particularly duck meatloaf, bone marrow crostini and tequila-braised short ribs — and offered the opportunity to switch Mint's direction.
Their gastropub will serve small plates that are "fun but not off the wall," Ayers says, and offer local beers on draft, a lengthy happy hour with food specials, and items for vegetarian and gluten-free diners. A late kitchen menu on weekends will run till midnight. Mitchell will be a visible presence in the 50-seat dining room as well as in the kitchen, Ayers says, because he "likes to be available and approachable." His celebrity friends may make occasional guest chef appearances. "I love that he appreciates the whole experience of dining," Ayers says — "not just the food but the service and an upbeat staff." mintrichmond.com
Sundays with Claudio: Colapranzo, which is Italian for Sunday brunch, is now being served at Caffespresso, 1127 Gaskins Road. Hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and the menu includes frittatas in a pancetta crust, scrambled eggs with rosemary baked potatoes and salami, pasta, peach bellinis and other items, all for less than $10. Claudio Ragazzi is owner of the business and offers Italian language lessons, board games, book exchanges and international conversation. 350-4504. caffespressocart.com.
Coming soon: The Stagecoach is about to open at 7801 W. Broad St., No. 17. Its tag line is "for the hungry bandit in us all," with an extensive buffet and bakery in the 370-seat space, formerly an Asian restaurant. Expected to open in early July, the Stagecoach will offer Southern, Italian and Chinese dishes along with sushi and grilled meats. House-baked desserts include fruit pizza, bacon cherry pie, mini cupcakes and cookies. The lunch buffet is $7.99 weekdays; dinner is $11.99 including all day Sunday; kids' menus are $4.99-$5.99. Alcohol-free. Open daily. 308-9026.
Haiku Sushi and Lounge: Pho, banh mi, ceviche, tempura, rice lagers, sake, cocktails in airy modern dining room with bar, party room. Weekday lunch, dinner Monday-Saturday. 2222 E. Cary St. 658-0621. haikurva.com.
Boka Kantina and Catering: Fusion tacos and changing chef's specials, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, hours expanding later. 1412 Starling Drive. bokatruck.com.
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"It would have been easier and cheaper to bulldoze the building," co-owner Patrick Stamper says of the former auto shop and adult bookstore about to open as En Su Boca.
The taqueria took far longer to complete than Stamper and partner Randy O'Dell of Bellytimber expected. But the results at 1001 N. Boulevard make a splashy, mural-covered destination for daily and nightly Mexican street food.
Look for San Francisco chef and co-owner Eric Stangerone's tortas, churros, burritos and tacos, named to poke fun at the building's former function.
Mucho taco: After a stealth opening near Regency Square last week, Boka Kantina and Catering now serves weekday lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at 1412 Starling Drive. Owner Patrick Harris brings the expanding Boka fusion-food brand to its first fixed location as a catering hub and flavor laboratory for signature tacos and changing chef's specials. Dinner hours are coming later. bokatruck.com.
And South Siders have discovered Pepe's, the newest incarnation of a former Indian and Mexican restaurant at 9550 Midlothian Turnpike. The dining room is rustic and casual, servers are friendly, and the menu holds some unusual burrito options such as potato casserole with black beans, avocado, smoked Gouda, zucchini, spinach and sriracha sauce; it's served with a seasoned fruit salad. The Chesterfield burrito has slow-cooked pork, black beans, chorizo and chipotle sauce, also in the $12 range. Lunch combos are $5-$6, margaritas are on special Wednesdays, and house-made chips, salsas and sauces show finesse with ingredients. Lunch and dinner are served Monday through Saturday. 272-0920. pepesva.com.
Between the buns: Burger lovers have reason to live it up June 24-30, as Style Weekly launches the first RVA Burger Week. Burgers of all descriptions are $5 each, and 27 restaurants are participating, with gifts from Amstel Light adding to the appeal.
Look for featured burgers with signature ingredients at 3 Monkeys, Bellytimber Tavern, Buddy's, Burgerworks, Cary Street Cafe, Carytown Burgers & Fries, Commercial Taphouse, Curbside Cafe, Kitchen 64, Legend Brewing Co., The Magpie, Mojo's, Mosaic, New York Deli, On the Rox, Phil's, Popkins Tavern, Portrait House, The Savory Grain, Sidewalk Cafe, Siné, Star-lite, Station 2, Continental Westhampton, the Grill at Libbie and Patterson, The Well and Uptown Alley, each with a different take on burger creations.
Taking over from Sally Bell's and other previous vendors at Byrd Park's Fountain Lake, Croaker's Spot Express is a new concessionaire. Owner Kevin Anderson says the famous Croaker's fish boats soon will get competition from a few variations on oysters. Vegetarian options include portobello and veggie burgers. Wraps, hot dogs, snacks and ice cream are in the $5-$8 range, with call-ahead catering and boxed meals. Open daily from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. with live jazz Sunday afternoons. Pedal boat rentals on the lake are $12 per half-hour, with the same schedule as the concession stand. 501 S. Boulevard. 353-1717.
Sugar Shack Donuts finally got its OK to open, and sold 500 doughnuts in the first hour of business last week. Manager Alex Palma says toasted coconut and traditional raised doughnuts were early top sellers, with milkshakes and coffee also popular. Some customers were in line at 5:30 a.m. for the opening day Tuesday. Serving weekdays 6 a.m.-6 p.m., weekends 8 a.m.-6 p.m. 1001 N. Lombardy St. 278-5900. sugarshackdonuts.com.
Suddenly the food scene is all about noodles — with a Noodles & Co. franchise coming to the old Biograph Theatre (Hyperion and Club Xcape), and My Noodle coming to the former Cellar Door at 1600 Monument Ave., in the Stuart Court Apartments. On the upper end of the culinary scale, Haiku Sushi & Lounge has opened at 2222 E. Cary St. in the former Sensi.
It's a completely different scene, orchestrated by Hai Truong and Michael Hinerman, who bring their backgrounds at Osaka Sushi and Steak to the venture. They're serving a wide menu of Asian favorites that include several versions of pho, banh mi, tempura and sushi lunch boxes "in the blue-collar price range," Truong says, with most items costing less than $10.
For dinner, five versions of ceviche are offered, along with steak, lamb and fish entrees, and seitan and vegan options. From the bar, Japanese rice lagers and craft beers accompany a select list of wines and sakes. Newcomers to sake will find information on the menu that explains the variations.
Truong supervises the kitchen and also hand-crafted the décor, applying recycled sugar cane wallpaper and redoing booths and cushions in red. Lighting effects will change colors, and a faux fireplace in the private party room is catching attention for its unique design.
"I'm so happy to have my own space and location," Truong says. "And this is not our last."
Haiku serves lunch on weekdays, with dinner and bar hours Monday through Saturday. 658-0621.
High society: Shockoe club Lucky Buddha closed last week: Its new iteration is on the way from owners David Bess and Matthew Busch. They're launching a "modern Chicago-style lounge" and American bistro with daily lunch, dinner and bar hours. The owners hope for a July opening at 1421 E. Cary St., and promise a late-night social scene that's an entirely new creation.
"I think Richmond is ready for this next step," Bess says, "and people want a more sophisticated style. We're done with the low budget bars. People look downtown for the next new thing, and we want to be the leader of that." The partners will follow Society's debut with a similar reinvention next door at Cha Cha's Cantina later this summer.
Summer soirees: Local chefs have jumped from food festivals into a new round of special-occasion dinners. Two that inspire road trips include:
Chefs Owen Lane of Magpie and Joe Sparatta of Heritage team up with Hill and Holler for a roving farm dinner June 16 at Belle Haven in Scottsville. A garden reception with Hardywood Park beers and canapés moves to the family-style table service and King Family Vineyards wines. Tickets are $100 and proceeds benefit City Schoolyard Garden. See hillandholler.org for details about the group's mission to offer a fine dining experience in a rustic atmosphere, supporting local growers, chefs and local nonprofits.
Chef Tucker Yoder of the Clifton Inn in Charlottesville has invited Richmond chefs Sparatta, Tim Bereika of Secco Wine Bar and Jason Alley of Comfort and Pasture to create a Southern-inspired dinner in the garden July 29. Pork from Autumn Olive Farm will be featured. Guests will take home jars of barbecue seasoning as mementos. Tickets are $88 per person or $150 with wine pairings. Tax and tip are extra, and seating is limited to 100 guests. The evening begins with hors d'oeuvres at 6 p.m., followed by an eight-course dinner at 7 p.m. Reserve at 434-971-1800. cliftoninn.net.
Dinner for Dad: If Father's Day calls for a restaurant outing June 16, Style Weekly food writers offer a few suggestions for where to go for a manly meal. Karen Newton recommends the Savory Grain "for all the beer choices and large portions of manly things like pork chops and meatloaf." Robey Martin considers the Father's Day keg and oyster fest at Hardywood Park Brewery "pretty manly and family friendly" with steamed and raw Rappahannock oysters, crab cakes and beer. Don Baker recommends the upscale — Ruth's Chris, Lemaire and Amour Wine Bistro, or the sporty — Capital Ale House, or the naughty — Hooter's, for that certain kind of dad. Ellie Basch also lists some fine-dining favorites for the suit and tie, silver-haired dad — Buckhead's, Arcadia and Lemaire; or for the "young professional, cool dads" the Black Sheep, the Roosevelt, Magpie or Saison. Matthew Freeman agrees that Saison hits the mark with excellent beer choices and meaty entrees.
Foodie update: Because it's been well received from the start, the West End food court at All Saints Episcopal Church on River Road is now running weekly on Wednesdays, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
Sarahfran's Soulfood: Now open in the former OMG Café in Church Hill. Island-inspired Southern cooking for lunch and dinner. ABC pending. 412 N. 25th St. 343-0061.
Michael's Pies and Pints: Pizza, calzones, stromboli, soups, salads, beer. Dinner and bar hours nightly; extended hours coming. 304 N. Robinson St. 355-3867.
More happy: Carytown Burgers & Fries now offers happy hour Mondays through Thursdays, 3-6 p.m. at 3500 1/2 W. Cary St.
The best thing about the first annual Richmond Bacon Festival, besides the bacon, is that it's free. Baconfest Chicago costs $100 and more, and similar ticket prices are likely for new bacon festivals coming to San Francisco and Washington.
Here in Richmond, as many as 10,000 people are expected — weather permitting — June 9 at the 17th. Street Farmers' Market. Event organizer Stephen Tuzeneu of Brown Distributing calls it "a day for the celebration of bacon … which as the old saying goes, makes everything better."
About 20 local vendors will offer a couple of bacon-rich tasting plates each, for $3 a pop. Look for bacon brownies, bacon shrimp and grits, bacon-dusted oysters, bacon sliders and other sweet and savory snacks. To wash them down, Devil's Backbone Brewery recommends a smoked lager among its 18 brews for $6 a cup. Bold Rock Hard Cider will also be available, and bands including Proverbial will perform from noon until 5 p.m. Proceeds benefit the Enrichmond Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on city parks, public spaces and the people who use them.
Bacon love, Tuzeneu says, might best be explained by a YouTube video in the epic meal series — the one with bacon-croissant stuffing in a bacon-wrapped turducken that tallies calories in the thousands. While that dish won't show up at this year's festival, restaurants expected to participate include On the Rox, Roosevelt, Popkin Tavern, Station 2, Naked Onion, Aziza's, 2113, Arcadia, LuLu's, the Boathouse, Casa dl Barco, TJ's, Lemaire and the Camel. Many participated in Broad Appétit the weekend before, demonstrating how demanding the city's food scene is becoming for chefs, and how pleasurable for eaters.
Changes in Carytown
Secco Wine Bar is now serving weekend brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with sandwiches, specials, new cocktails and an always-ambitious approach to fine flavors. See seccowinebar.com for details. Curry Craft Indian Restaurant and Bar now has its liquor license and promises "finesse and complexity" in its Indian cuisine for lunch and dinner at 2915 W. Cary St. Design details are now visible online and through the large windows at the Daily Kitchen & Bar at Sheppard and West Cary streets. Curvaceous green booths and wood details convey the restaurant's emphasis on sustainable foods and healthy eating. Watch for an early summer opening.