It turns out the winners were up there onstage the whole time, their names already etched into loaves of bread on a table, prizes guarded by the teenage daughters of co-host Brandon Fox. But the Elby awards, run by Richmond magazine, still packed a surprise or two in a third annual celebration of Richmond dining Sunday at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Before a crowd of about 500 guests, Fox -- the magazine's food editor -- and contributor Jason Tesauro cracked clever and wise, winners teared up, and kitchen staffs whooped for their favorites. Sexy dresses and up-dos, dark suits and pocket flasks, Tweeters, preeners, the humbled and the less so -- all had their moments. The winners are:
Pastry chef: David Rohrer of WPA Bakery in Church Hill.
Wine program: Gary York of Enoteca Sogno. “I’m kinda shocked,” he said. The scene here is good, but “there’s still another level we can get to. We’ll never be a great food town until we’re a great wine town.”
Neighborhood restaurant: Garnett’s Café in the Fan, chosen by public voting.
Best new restaurant: Estilo Una Mesa Latina. “I waited my first table nine years ago at Stella’s,” said an emotional Jess Bufford. To get the job, “I lied to Katrina Giavos,” she told a laughing audience, claiming she had some waitress experience. Now Bufford and her husband own two restaurants – Toast gastropub and Estilo, the South American bistro with the Scottish chef, both in the Village shopping center in Henrico.
Spirits program and rising culinary star: Dutch & Co. in Church Hill. Co-owner Phillip Perrow accepted his rising star award from business partner Caleb Shriver, a previous winner.
Best service: Lemaire at the Jefferson Hotel.
Front of house manager: Michele Jones of Pasture, encouraging every waitress who wants her own place that it’s possible and “it feels good!”
Restaurateur of the year: Travis Croxton of Rappahannock, who promises more projects from the oyster and dining operation that’s quickly become a regional favorite.
In that category, nominee Ed Vasaio didn't attend, perhaps just as well, as his name was misspelled in all of the materials. The audience did hear how to pronounce a few names -- Estilo is es-TEE-yo, Philip Perrow sounds like Perot, Dinamo is DEE-na-mo, Garnett’s is pronounced garnet.
No phonics guides were needed for restaurant and chef of the year: The Roosevelt in Church Hill and its chef, Lee Gregory, by now are household names with accolades mounting. (We named the Roosevelt our 2012 Restaurant of the Year in our annual State of the Plate.)
The night had textural contrast, from editor Susan Winiecki’s tender tribute to writer Hollister Lindley at mid-point, and a finale of butt-shaking, phallus-waving Oderus Urungus of Gwar steering the party to the Marble Hall for cocktails and nibbles from local culinary students.
Chef Paul Elbling, for whom the awards are named, appeared dazed by the denouement. Thirstier guests wished the 90-minute ceremony took the form of Hollywood’s Golden Globes with table seating, free flowing refreshments and more mingling -- this is, after all, a crowd that isn't used to sitting still. But no one’s complaining about a city where the food scene is bona fide and its practitioners more collaborative and ambitious, and award-worthy, than ever. This was their evening to be served, and it was humorous and elegant with a touch of crass.