Brass Is Polished
It's been open three years, but the Brass Monkey in Chester just celebrated a second grand opening to announce its revised menu, staff and management. Fried mac and cheese, half-pound burgers, crab cakes, fish and chips and other bar foods are available for lunch, dinner and late night. Cocktails are a specialty — ask about the Jeff Davis trash can and the Chester zoo. Craft and big-brand beers, sporting events, acoustic music and live bands, karaoke and the occasional scavenger hunt are on a weekly events schedule. And once a month, Elvis impersonator Randy Roe performs his act. Nancye Hunter is general manager; David Allen is owner. 12211 Jeff Davis Highway. 715-4699. brassmonkeysbar.com.
Reader alert: "Amazing" is how reader Lisa Britto describes the gluten-free menu at Baker's Crust in Carytown. Gluten-free breads and buns are used in sandwiches and burgers, and pizza crusts with rice and tapioca flours are cooked on a separate pan in the wood-fired oven. 3553 W. Cary St. 213-0800. bakerscrust.com.
'Twas the night: Mint Gastropub will be open for dinner from 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, owner Amy Ayers says. Reservations are suggested. mintrichmond.com.
New Year's at the Viceroy: Chef Ryan Baldwin presents a five-course, fixed-price dinner for New Year's Eve. Reservations are suggested for the $55 meal, which includes a glass of bubbly and creative menu items. 600 N. Sheppard St. 342-7696. viceroyrichmond.com.
Off duty: Al Dente, which was formerly the Phoenician at 4401 W. Broad St., announces it is closing for two weeks for the holidays.
Now serving: Pesce & Vino Ristorante Italiano is open in the Westbury Shopping Center next to Douglas Freeman High School. Pasta, seafood and steak are on the menu. Lunch and dinner daily at 8801-B Three Chopt Road. 303-2769.
Bogart’s was one of the city’s major live music venues for decades, but lost momentum when it moved from its Lombardy St. location (now Balliceaux) to its current address 1903 W. Cary St. It’s possible that another iteration of the business will develop, a manager says, but details are unconfirmed. Its last day is New Year's Eve.
Tuffy Stone may be the only Richmond chef with his own Wikipedia page. He's called the Professor, although to us he's always been Clark Kent — the mild-mannered superhero of smoke, meat and trophies. He's the only person in history to win back-to-back world barbecue championships just two grueling, road-weary weeks apart. This year Stone won the Jack Daniels Invitational and the American Royal Invitational competitions, the mortal equivalent of winning the World Series and the Super Bowl in the same season. And yet he operates mostly out of sight, rarely bathing in the glow of pit-master fame. He is Richmond's restaurateur of the year, no matter who else is nominated.
"I can't really talk about it," Stone says of the wins and his unprecedented high scores on the circuit — he's that humble. "It's kind of ironic. If I lived in Kansas City or Memphis where barbecue is part of their core being, it would be, how do I describe it, bigger news." He couldn't escape notice, though, when thousands in the audience gave him a standing ovation as he got the robe, crown, throne, $10,000 check, "and there's not one picture without tears running down my face," he says of the Kansas City finale.
"Then we went to the Jack, and it was really cold, in the 20s, and the wood was green and the brisket took a lot longer to cook — that's the thing about barbecue. It's big hunks of meat and weather and wood." It's emotionally and mentally draining, but his Cool Smoke team's work paid off with another win. This is a grand slam of the highest barbecue order, but Stone says he's still learning every day.
While Stone continues to methodically expand his Q Barbeque empire, now in four Richmond locations, he also does a breakaway move in January. He's opening Rancho T (and no, it doesn't stand for Tuffy) in the former Sample space at 1 N. Morris St. It's a handsome redesign, with warm Westernish art and casual décor, and two large exhaust fans at the back to indicate a complete kitchen overhaul.
Stone co-owns the project with Ed Vasaio (Mamma 'Zu, Edo's Squid, Dinamo, 8½), and it's arousing as much interest as any restaurant venture this year. That both guys prefer to operate under the radar makes the details and delay more tantalizing. Rancho T will serve southwestern-style food but with the inevitable twists that two perfectionists require. Stay tuned.
Pun in the oven: There's a reason Saison stands apart from other gastropubs in town. It's the staff members' sense of humor and the inspired events that they bring to the scene — including placing their menus in conversation-starting hardbacks, vinyl nights and now their first anniversary bash Dec. 12.
It's the Big Pun Hip-Hop Dinner, during which a soundtrack plays while courses are presented with pun play. Owner Jay Bayer explains: "For the dinner think Eminempanadas, Old Dirty Custard, Wu Tang clams, Tupac choy, RaKimchi, the Rootsabaga, you get the idea. We will open with amuse and aperitivo followed by six courses with beverage pairing." Seating is at 7 p.m. unless demand warrants a second serving. Tickets are $45 and available at Saison, 23 W. Marshall St., or through eventbrite.com.
Saison also marks its birthday with an expansion, adding a market, lounge and deli with lunch, coffee and beer in an area that becomes more of a dining magnet with each passing season. Nitro-poured, cold-brewed coffee is a featured beverage along with sandwiches, salads and desserts in a former deli at 323 N. Adams St., now linked to Saison as one business. It's expected to open in January. Follow progress at saisonrva.com.
North for New Year's: If big, noisy crowds aren't your thing, chef and owner Andrew Wisniewski of the intimate North Side bistro Tastebuds has an alternative. Two seatings of a New Year's Eve dinner, at 6 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., feature four courses for $55. Reservations are being taken.
The business also offers a fixed-price dinner Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights for $22 per person, with a choice of salad, any entree on the menu or specials board, and choice of dessert. Wines by the bottle for $15 and up complete the deal. New to the menu this month are lamb Bolognese with acorn squash, a mixed grill with romesco sauce, and fresh cod cakes with corn grits, bacon and kale. 4019 MacArthur Ave. 261-6544. tastebudsamericanbistro.com.
Kitchen addition: Chefs Ellie Basch and Jannequin Bennett of Everyday Gourmet have moved into new quarters at 12422 Gayton Road. Customers can pick up platters from the team's growing list of meals-to-go and party foods. The business website starts with wisdom from Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiapirelli: "A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness." egourmetrva.com.
Stella as goddess: Artist Catherine Venable presents a crazy mash-up of Richmond restaurant owners and florid paintings in a show that runs this month at the Richmond Public Library. Longtime local chef icon Stella Dikos, portrayed topless, did her best to cover it up when shown the painting, Venable says. venableart.com.
Spilt milk: Food and emotions often are linked, but perhaps not as cleverly as with Doug Orleski's new calendar, Mean Eats. His cartoon, RVA Coffee Stain, is featured weekly in Style weekly. Now he shows how food relates to life in a witty gift item for $40. Find it at blunt-objects.com.
On the outside it's a generic, brown building on Maywill Street. But inside the Ukrop's Homestyle Foods office is a secret filling — a sparkly showroom with a curvy bar (no alcohol will be served), pendant lights, lounge seats and a window wall to the kitchen. This is where the catering staff meets with brides, office-party bookers and retailers to offer a taste of what's new.
Beyond the top-selling chicken salad and trademarked White House rolls, now in 30 states, there's some new in the mix. A product development team actively tests ideas, "bringing more of-the-moment ingredients and trying to mesh them into what we've already done," Ukrop's catering manager, Mary Ruth Coleman, says. Quinoa salads, pretzel roll sandwiches and dulce de leche cakes are recent entries.
Next up is a bigger presence on the retail side, when the corporation opens a storefront for catering pickup. "We're evaluating locations now," Coleman says.
The family-run grocery empire sold to Martin's in 2010, but the Ukrop's food brand has grown, now selling prepared foods under the Good Meadow Homemades label to many of its former competitors here, such as Kroger and Fresh Market.
"We're developing relationships all over the U.S.," Coleman says, selling 150 items including the Mrs. Marshall's line from here to the West Coast. But local is still pivotal to the company's mission, Coleman says: "What we're aiming for is to have the catering business facilitate a personal connection back to the community." A new website, cateringbyukrops.com, and recent tasting events show the brand's polite push for strategic growth while keeping traditions on familiar ground.
Flavors of Arcadia: Chef Nicolai Creatore's new menu at the upscale Shockoe Bottom restaurant includes: house-smoked double Berkshire pork chops, Maine lobster linguini, fried eggplant with pomodoro and Asiago cheese, and seared duck breasts with yellow split pea dal sauce. 1700 E. Main St. arcadiarichmondva.com.
Stuzzi Santafies: Pizza still dominates the menu at the Museum District restaurant Stuzzi, but owner Peter Caserta also suggests a feast of seven seafoods on linguine, prosciutto and cheese-stuffed jumbo Kobe meatballs, and house-made butternut squash ravioli as variations from its Neapolitan pies. Italian doughnut fritters and rum cake with cream are holiday sweets this month. 1 N. Belmont Ave. stuzzirichmond.com.
Level Restaurant & Bar: Sushi, Asian snacks and soups, seafood and Angus beef entrees, hibachi and full bar in contemporary cafe. Lunch, dinner and bar daily. 2007 W. Broad St. 353-8885.
Cask Café & Market: Local meats, cheeses and beer to go or dine in, with pressed sandwiches, salads, meat boards, soups and sundries. Growlers, expertise and low-key charm, plus parking. Daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m. 206 S. Robinson St. 355-2402.
My Noodle & Bar: Asian appetizers, soups and fusion veg, meat and fish entrees in family-run cellar café and lounge. Lunch, dinner and bar daily. 1600 Monument Ave. 308-1613.
Max's on Broad: Belgian-French brasserie with seafood, crepes, chowder, sandwiches, entrees and spirits. Lunch, dinner and bar daily 11 a.m.-2 a.m. 305 Brook Road. 225-0400. maxsonbroad.com.
American Tap Room Classic Grill: New location of Virginia-based chain with burgers, chicken and waffles, sandwiches, steak and 100 beers. Wine and cocktails. Patio with fire pit, party room, kids' menu. Lunch, dinner and bar daily, Sunday brunch. 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, unit 840. 308-9013. americantaproom.com.
Postbellum: In the former Mulligan's, a diverse lineup of snacks, sandwiches, burgers and entrees from chef Jen Mindell. Vegetarian options, full bar, upstairs deck. Daily 3:30 p.m.-2 a.m. 1323 W. Main St. 353-7678. postbellumrichmond.com.
Burger Bach: Raw bar, New Zealand beef and lamb burgers and fries, craft beer and wines, sports on screens. Dinner and bar nightly. 2225 Old Brick Road. 716-6748. burgerbach.com.
Kobe Sushi at Stony Point: Specialty rolls, tempura and Japanese classics, with lunch and dinner specials daily. 9200 Stony Point Parkway. 323-3333. kobesteakandsushi.com.
Big's BBQ: Dry-rub barbecue and sides in counter-service cafe. Lunch and dinner daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. 931 W. Grace St. 257-5460. bigsbbqva.com.